Album Premiere: Madisons’ No Man’s Land

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

“There’s a lot of ways to be lonely in West Texas.”–Roy Orbison

Everything ends up being romanticized. Often, West Texas is blown up to epic proportions. The land of a blazing sun and relentless wind. There’s a harshness to the weathered people. Everyone’s calloused, yet earnest. It’s as though a sepia lens has been thrown on along with a Ennio Morricone score.

And there’s certainly some truth to that. That’s one way to be lonely–that almost-fantasy world, it’s well represented. It’s everyday darkness that really kills hopes and dreams.

On No Man’s Land, the fourth album from Austin Indie-Folk outfit Madisons, vocalist Dominic Solis and company expand their world past the borders of West Texas more than ever before, but they’re still peeling the layers off the mythic West Texas, revealing a real-world darkness that’s bleak and full of disaccord.

Along with Solis, fellow vocalist Cass Brostad (who joined the band between their third album and No Man’s Land), explore a kind of self-deprecation that’s hinges on honesty in the most brutal form. The stories they’re telling are the kind you retell and relive in the moments before you fall asleep every night. They’re the kind that keep you up as you toss and turn. But where Solis and Brostad may have dwelled too long in the past as younger writers, they’ve found a way to work past it here on No Man’s Land.

Sonically, the band’s sound too has matured and aged with rich melodies and harmonies. Still, the band’s passionate, raw energy remains as captivating as ever. It’s still the driving force for the seven-piece.

On “Second Chance,” Solis starts off with, “I’m usually in good mood, oh and son, you would be too if you were as resigned to being born to lose–cause we’re all born to lose.” It’s very much in-line with his desgraciados, born-loser outlook that he’s had on previous Madisons efforts. But he ends with “I don’t want a second chance. I want to be forgiven and walk away,”–a sentiment seldom heard previously.

On “No Man’s Land,” Brostad echoes something similar with the sobering and weighty, “Sometimes you gotta die a little so you can survive.”

Still, there’s no better example of this than the sprawling narrative of “Basketball Practice.” At nearly 10-minutes long and more of a monologue than a song, it’s the band’s most experimental and artistic challenge to date. And while it may seem strange as an opener, it sets the table for the album.

The range of emotions Solis goes through on “Basketball Practice” is as wide-ranging as it is long. It’s raw, yet refined. And at times, it’s a difficult listen, but not because it’s cumbersome, rambling, or dull. But because it can leave you feeling dejected, dispirited, and blue. It’s Terry Allen meets Tennessee Williams.

So much of No Man’s Land is just that–fighting past the conflict, past indiscretions, slights, and well, the motherfuckers. Forgiveness may not be as cool as revenge or holding on to those grudges. But it’s what’s makes No Man’s Land their finest album to date. There’s some resolution.

No Man’s Land is officially out Friday, July 07. Exclusively stream the album in its entirety below. Order it here.

Song Premiere: Hunter Rea Band’s “Woman to Hold”

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

After releasing the EP Worrying Kind in 2014, Texas-Americana outfit Hunter Rea Band will be releasing Lovin’ Ain’t Free, their full-length debut, this Friday, July 07.

With singles “Memories,” “Find A Way,” and “Somebody Got It Wrong” leading the charge, the four-piece–Hunter Glaske, Adam Rea, John Allen Davidson, and Mason Hightower–deliver a promising, smooth blend of Country Blues-tinged sunbaked heartbreak anthems with delicate, down-home heartfelt confessions. With Pat Manske at the producing helm, they were able to forge a temperate sonic palette that bends, but never breaks. There’s a consistency within the 11 tracks of Lovin’ Ain’t Free that allows the band to move off in different directions without ever feeling out of place or foreign.

For the most part, Hunter Rea Band’s Lovin’ Ain’t Free breathes the same crisp and cool air as the likes of Grady Spencer & The Work, Erick Willis, and Prophets & Outlaws–a Country-Soul base with a pop of contemporary Blues-Pop. At their best, they delve into foot-stomping Americana singalongs much akin to the likes of The Wheeler Brothers and Jamestown Revival.

Below, listen to the New Slang exclusive premiere of “Woman to Hold,” a gritty slow-burning duet with singer-songwriter Jane Ellen Bryant. We caught up with Glaske, Rea, Davidson, and Hightower this past week to talk about the making of Lovin’ Ain’t Free–which you can pre-order on iTunes here.

 

New Slang: Y’all released the EP Worrying Kind a couple of years back, but with Lovin’ Ain’t Free being your first full-length, it’s really like your proper introduction to people. How important has it been taking your time and really honing in on what you want to say with this full-length debut rather than jumping the gun and releasing something you’d maybe look back at as being half-baked?

Hunter Glaske: It does kind of feel like an introduction for us. The Worrying Kind EP was a big learning experience, and we still love playing some of those songs, but this album gives a much better look into who we really are and our style of music. We started recording this album while we were finishing up college. So between classes and graduation and work, we had to spread out recording dates to fit everyone’s schedules and day jobs. From start to finish, the album took about two years to knock out. We all knew if we could hold out and keep knocking it out song by song, that we’d be put out the best album we could, and we’d be proud of the product.

NS: You guys did this record with Pat Manske. He has quite the resume. What drew y’all to him and vice versa?

John Allen Davidson: The Zone was close to home for us, and we were big fans of some of the guys who had recorded there in the past–Robert Earl Keen, Walt Wilkins, Jason Boland, Ryan Beaver. But it wasn’t until we showed up that we could tell we were lucky to be working with Pat. He was with us from the beginning on Worrying Kind and became a huge part of our growth from Day One. He knew how to pull some stuff out of us that we didn’t even know was there, which was really cool. 

NS: Was there a specific album or artist he’d worked with before that resonated with y’all–something that you felt would highlight, elevate, and/or properly capture what you wanted with Lovin’ Ain’t Free?

Adam Rea: I remember when we were getting close to going to the studio for the first time, Hunter and I were on a huge Ryan Beaver kick and had his albums on repeat. Some of Beaver’s songs get up and go, and others hit you right in the heart. We knew that we had both types of songs that we wanted to record. Once we spent some time with Pat, we would hear about other projects that he was working on that started to inspire us as well. One was K Phillips, who had this great Van Morrison feel.

NS: It seems as though you all really enjoyed the recording process with this record. How much of the album was built while in the studio? Or did you guys walk in with clear-cut ideas on what wanted to happen on each song?

Mason Hightower: We would go into the studio with a pretty good grasp on each song, but would usually walk out with something that either turned out better than we imagined, or something that was totally unexpected. We wanted there to be some magical studio moments in there, and I’m really glad we let those moments happen.

NS: What song ended up changing the most–from original & early conception to how it’s being released on the album?

HG: “Memories” was one of the tracks that evolved the most. We found some lyrics that John Allen (bass) had been working on, but were originally put down to a slower tempo. It started turning into a jam every time we played it live, so we followed that direction in the studio. We loved it so much that we released it as our first single.

NS: In many ways, this album lends itself more towards closer to a country blues album than anything else—somewhere in the Prophets & Outlaws, Erick Willis, Grady Spencer & The Work, and Zac Wilkerson, etc realm. There’s a slow burn in songs like “Champagne & Roses,” “Dark & Light,” and “Woman to Hold.” Where’s that laid-back slow-moving groove come from?

MH: It’s really cool hear that, we’re big fans of each of those guys. I think it’s the product of each band member’s different styles coming together. Our rhythm section likes to keep it simple, while I have a more traditional country background, and Hunter has a this bluesy voice that seems to fit into whatever style of song we come up with. Those laid back, slow burning songs represent us both growing as musicians, but also getting older and singing from a different perspective.

NS: So far, the three singles released–“Memories,” “Find A Way,” and “Somebody Got It Wrong,”–all have these anthemic choruses with sharp guitars and crisp upbeat grooves to them. Feels like a lot of up-and-coming artists these days are picking up on the pop sensibilities and the crisp, clear, and refined vibe of artists like John Mayer, Ray LaMontagne, etc types. Has that been an influence on the Hunter Rea Band sound?

JAD: Definitely. We wanted to have some songs that we could move around to and were fun to play live. It was fun to let Mason loose on those tracks and see what he came up with.

NS: A lot of Lovin’ Ain’t Free is really counting the missteps, miscalculations, and dead-ends in the dating world. Figuring out the difference between love and lust—and being on both ends of that. Is that, in part, what you mean by love not being free–that the trek and journey takes part of you along the way?

HG: That’s how we see it. When you’re roommates for six years like we were, you see each other go through a lot, and that became the theme of our album. Whether it’s falling in love, a relationship ending, or even losing a loved one, there’s always a sacrifice involved.

NS: Despite the album being filled with heartbreaker moments, it’s capped off with “Champagne & Roses,” which is filled with optimism, hope, and belief. Where’d that song come from?

AR: I wrote that song for my wife and for the day that I proposed to her. The band and my friends and family were all there, they helped me surprise her at her parent’s house. It started pouring on us while we were setting things up, so we had to make some last-minute changes, but it ended up going great. The guys took the lyrics and gave it this great acoustic direction that really rounded out the album.

NS: How did the duet “Woman to Hold” come together with singer-songwriter Jane Ellen Bryant? Was it always thought of as a duet or did that come in later?

AR: We had been playing around with the idea of the song for a while and knew that a female vocal would be a great touch. My wife and Jane grew up together, so we’ve been fans of her music for a while. When we finally got out to one of her shows in Austin, we were blown away. That girl can sing. She agreed to come to the studio, and we co-wrote and recorded the track that same day.

Interviews: John Baumann

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

On the first three releases of his career, Texas songwriter John Baumann displayed, more than anything, potential. He was a young, budding storyteller who morphed into characters who were familiar, sometimes flawed, but endearing nonetheless. You knew them because you’d met them at whichever Texas school you were attending. He described regional affairs and painted vivid landscapes with a vast understanding. He went off exploring with West Texas Vernacular, High Plains Alchemy, and Departures.

Hell, for the first two, he even had three names, John Edward Baumann, much like the songwriters he was often compared to–Robert Earl Keen, Willis Alan Ramsay, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Fucking Clark.

Two weeks back, Baumann released Proving Grounds, an intimate and personal journey that detailed the highs, the lows, and most often, the unknown of growing up. Proving Grounds is a point in which Baumann’s growth and maturation as an individual and as an artist has crossed. Previously, you only caught glimpses of the real Baumann on previous projects. Here though, you’re introduced to John Baumann, the artist, storyteller, songwriter, and most importantly, the man who behind them.

So many songwriters are great on the technical side of storytelling. Getting from Point A to be B, C, and D within a song. But often, they lack understanding that those stories must have something worth saying. Proving Grounds is Baumann having something to say. There’s a lesson in it all.

The songs of Proving Grounds are lived in. They have fingerprints on them. The pages are worn. You see Baumann’s boot heels as he paced back and forth. But instead of these songs being (day)dreams, they’re memories. Instead of being transported to the Panhandle, the Permian Basin, or down to Eagle Ford, Baumann’s pulling back the curtains and letting you into his own world.

Opener “Here I Come” lays the foundation and by the time you reach the culminating “Pontiacs,” you’ve seen a transformation and progression of a child with a dream into a maturing adult having to deal with tough losses, difficult decisions, and life.

Album highlight “Old Stone Church” is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. It’s the ultimate example of how fragile and unfair life can be. But Baumann proves that while these moments can wear on an individual down to a state of unknown and void, you too learn to appreciate the time you’re given.

While “Old Stone Church” may serve as the cornerstone for Proving Grounds, other songs explore the life of an up-and-coming musician (“Here I Come,” “Holding It Down”), addictions (“Heavy Head,” the Aaron Lee Tasjan cover “The Trouble With Drinkin'”), missed connections (“Meg”), and deciding the difference between love and lust (“Turquoise,” “Lonely in Bars”). At times, it’s a rough map of how to navigate through your twenties without becoming engulfed.

Still, more than anything, Baumann’s Proving Grounds tells the story of how just when you think you’ve figured it out, life has a way of showing you that you don’t. All you can do is forge ahead. It’s alright to come out the other side with a couple of scars. No one makes it unscathed.

We caught up with Baumann last week to discuss Proving Grounds. Find it on iTunes here.

New Slang: To this point in your career, your song catalog has been dominated by geographical sketches and character-based storytellers. With Proving Grounds, you started telling your own story. These songs are more personal and intimate. How’d you get to where you were more comfortable with revealing yourself more?

John Baumann: I came home from Steamboat in 2016 and saw a lot of acts who I was impressed with. I thought it was time to dig a little bit deeper with my songwriting material. I’ve always been my harshest critic and I was never really happy with my previous projects and felt like it was time to dig deep and do my best I could possibly do. We’re all getting up there. I’ll be 30 in November.

The very first song I wrote was “Meg.” It’s still a song about someone else, but I was able to put more of myself into it. I started going down these rabbit holes. “Old Stone Church” is 100% my story. That led to “Heavy Head” and then “Here I Come.” It felt like it was becoming more and more me. I was kind of tired of writing, like “Bay City Blues,” which was about a friend in a semi-fictional kind of way.

NS: This progression, was it easier getting these songs out since you weren’t necessarily putting them through another filter of a character–since they’re more based on your own personal feelings and thoughts?

JB: This came a lot easier. My buddy Chisum and I were talking and he said it felt like the first record without any geography songs on it. With the first three projects, I was always able to mentally transport myself into an area. Those songs always felt like they took a little longer to write. Almost everything on Proving Grounds, nothing felt more than a few hours per song. There wasn’t any that took months to end up finishing. “Pontiacs” took some time. But a lot of these came out faster.

NS: You think that’s partly because there was “less homework” involved in these songs? You weren’t having to look up street names or anything. 

JB: Totally. Nothing where I was looking up the county name to see if there’d be a better rhyme than the city name kind of stuff. One thing I was kind of getting irritated at was after shows people constantly coming up and saying “You write songs about this place. You from this place?” Well no, I’m not. “Well, how come then?” I’ve kind of had enough of that. I’m a Panhandle-born guy. Spent time in Lubbock at South Plains College. But I’ve really lived all over the state. I really don’t like being boxed in as an up-and-coming geographical songwriter.

NS: Yeah. There’s not any specific geographical songs, but there’s still that Texas backdrop. You still have an homage to Texas in your writing. I always thought Guy Clark was the best at writing about Texas without falling into the cliché tropes of writing about Texas that we often see. “Here I Come” and “Holding It Down” have a lot of that in them. It’s easy to fall into those clichés as a writer. How do you avoid the potholes?

JB: I love being from Texas. As a musician, you kind of develop a love-hate relationship though since it’s a lot of the same places every weekend. It’s a lot of the same highway. I’ve got to the point of knowing which gas stations to hit in Coleman, Texas and which to skip. It’s the difference between quality of fruit and getting shitty burritos.

When it comes to writing, I really can’t stomach clichés. It has to be genuine to me. So like with “Here I Come,” everyone has a troubadour blues song–a song about how tough the business is. I was really trying to draw from where my love of songwriting started. It really started with Lubbock (on Everything) back when I had my first day job. I really hated that job. It was drawn from hearing Robert Earl Keen on boomboxes at summer camp. Those images are so ingrained into me. Like my dad taking me to Floore’s Country Store or to Gruene Hall to see Cory Morrow when I was fourteen. I thought that was heaven. “Here I Come” was so easy to get out. It was easy to stay genuine with.

“Holding It Down” on the other hand, I’ve gotten mixed opinions because I say Texas like 12 times in that song. That song though, it’s really about just being another dude in Texas trying to do the best I can to make a living. I’m not necessarily crushing it. I’m just holding it down.

NS: Yeah. I think there’s typically a misconception about the music business. A lot of fans think if a band is playing around every weekend, they must be earning a lot of money. They think everyone is successful and–

JB: –living the dream. People have said, “You opened for Willie [Nelson]. You noticed a huge change yet?” or been told by some that we’ve already gotten the money and accolades.

NS: That line–“Too soon for accolades, too late to quit” is just great. It’s a powerful line. You remember when you actually thought of it?

JB: I was sitting at my kitchen table writing that song. It was over two or three days doing like forty minutes at a time. I always liked the word accolades. I was doing David Wilde’s West Texas Live show and remember singing it and afterwards seeing him giggling over saying, “Holy shit. That was a line.”

I’m like any other guy. I get online and read reviews and press. With West Texas Vernacular and High Plains Alchemy, I was getting some praise, but I’d listen back to the record and just know I wasn’t ready. It didn’t sound like it was ready to me. I think with this record, I’m closer to some accolades. But when I was writing it, we were really in some middle ground just busting ass and consistently growing, but we’re not where we need to be.

NS: Something we’ve talked about before with those records was how sometimes you’d try to cram a whole lot of words into songs. You’d say as much as possible. Departures had a lot less of that happening. You started finding a balance of space and vocabulary. You really let Proving Grounds breathe. 

JB: Yeah. I think I had a clear vision with what I was wanting to get across in each song. A lot of these songs were simpler. I wasn’t trying to outsmart anyone or be over someone’s head. I think a large part of that was having the guitar in my hands before writing down lyrics. I was picking, thumbing, and working out melodies before. Before, I’d type out two verses and a chorus on a Word doc and then take it to a guitar.

NS: We’ve already mentioned how much more personal this record is. Family and specifically, your father, are very much on it. You talk about him on “Old Stone Church,” some on “Here I Come,” and while I don’t think you specifically mention him on “Pontiacs,” it’s a song about growing up and maturing. That transition runs through the Proving Grounds as a whole. 

JB: Absolutely. My dad died in 2013. On High Plains Alchemy, the last song on there is called “Last Great Eagle Scout.” It’s a mess. My dad passed halfway through that project. I really couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. I wasn’t taking good care of myself physically or mentally at the time. I was in my mid-twenties and not sure about where I was in a music career, who I was as a person, just all of it. I didn’t know what was happening. Four years have passed since then. Time does heal wounds. I think I’ve evolved quite a bit since then. I’m comfortable and confident now. A lot of that anger and bitterness has gone away.

My dad is kind of split into three songs. One about what you want to be when you grow up and him taking me to my first Texas Country shows, one about me kind of making peace with his death, and one kind of about becoming an adult at the end of the record.

NS: “Old Stone Church” is one of the best songs you’ve written–maybe the best. How difficult was it to write out? Revisiting that time. 

JB: I wrote that in my bedroom–in my bed actually. Just me and my guitar. It’s a pretty simple song structurally. Each first line repeats at the end. It wasn’t hard to write, but it was hard to record. I’m no softie–OK, I’m a little bit of a softie. I cry during the National Anthem and stuff like that. But, we were in the studio and I lost it. There’s a part of that song when the drums, this big cannon drum, and this droning guitar kicks in midway through. I remember my producer asking if I was alright. I said I was, but he told me to take 20 minutes. I just went outside by myself. If you really listen to my vocals, there’s some quivering.

I haven’t really performed it much. There was a few times I was able to get through it when it was new and no one knew it. But to be completely honest, I’m not really looking forward to playing it live.

NS: Sonically, the album pops. It’s concise and flowing. “Pontiacs” has a nice, long outro though. Was that  always the idea for that song or was that an addition in studio? Was this sprawling outro always something you visioned for the album?

JB: Yeah. I love any song with a sprawling intro, outro, or midsection. This song was the one to do it. There were some people in my camp pushing me to have it third or fourth on the record since we live in a time of instant gratification where people listen to the first couple songs and never move on. I thought it had to be at the end though. From a music fan point of view, I love putting a CD in the car and driving and getting to the last song when it goes on for eight or nine minutes. I’ve dreamed about that for a long time. I’m glad we were able to execute it. It’s probably my favorite thing on the entire record.

NS: It feels like punctuation for the album. A statement. A ribbon that wraps it up.

JB: Right. It’s kind of making peace. The record is kind of an emotional rollercoaster. But it feels like we’re making peace at the end. Life goes on.

The Best Releases of 2017 So Far

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Like any kind of list, this one too is incomplete. No one is ever able to listen to everything they should. If they tell you they have, they’re lying.

Two weeks into June, here’s 40 albums and EPs that 1) I listened to,  2) I really liked, and 3) were released by Friday, June 16. The amount of music released these past six months is virtually impossible to keep up with–though, I guess iTunes probably has a rough estimation somewhere–which means I’m already going to apologize for not including some that I haven’t had the time to properly dive into and soak up.

These rankings? They’re really just rough estimations. They all have a +/- of 3 or so. Don’t get too hung up. We’ll go ahead and break each of these albums up bullet points–Three Things I Like and One I Don’t.

Listen along and follow the Top 50 Spotify Playlist below.

 

15. From A Room: Volume 1
Chris Stapleton

  • Ultimately, what makes Chris Stapleton a successful artist is his uncanny ability to deliver songs that are sing-alongable without losing much of their dignity or integrity. Much of From A Room is replicable within a chorus. You’re singing or at least humming along within seconds.
  • Despite having one of the largest song catalogs in the modern era, From A Room is split into two volumes with nine songs theoretically on each. And it’s not just any room; it’s A Room for good reason. It’s RCA Studio A in Nashville, Tenn–a room that’s been used to construct much of what we think of as good and timeless in the Golden Age of Country music.
  • “Up To No Good Livin'” feels like a prequel of sorts to Traveller‘s “Nobody to Blame” in both story and in style. The narrator in both throws out cliché lines about being untrustworthy and the aftermath of that untrustworthiness. And even though Stapleton does throw out cliché expressions like fastballs, they fit the context and limits of the songs well.
  • “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning” is one hell of a heartbreaker. But, Stapleton doesn’t have as much restraint as Gary P. Nunn or Willie Nelson–mainly because he’s a better vocalist than both–to fully make the song as heartbreaking as its meant to be. It’s OK. But meh. Also, “Them Stems” is kind of a dumb song that feels like a wasted spot for such an accomplished writer–I get drug songs are needed too, but hell, Traveller‘s “Might As Well Get Stoned” was at least in a groove.

14. Canyons of my Mind
Andrew Combs

  • Andrew Combs continues to push his sonic palette with Canyons. There’s darker territory and tones explored with a lush foundation of elegant strings, soft piano, and delicately layered melodies that blend effortlessly with his velvety, warm vocal delivery.
  • With songs such as “Blood Hunters,” “Dirty Rain,” and the jangly “Bourgeois King,” Combs all but conquers subjects previously unexplored in-depth on prior albums. With his sights set on political, humanitarian, and environmental concerns, Combs doesn’t hold back. On “Dirty Rain,” he paints dystopian destruction and crisis as blue and misery as possible while still keeping his sharp, beautiful vocabulary.
  • “Silk Flowers,” “Hazel,” and “What It Means To You”–a semi-duet with co-writer Caitlin Rose–shows Combs’ strongest suit as an artist is still delivering heartbroken, country ballads in the same vein as Mickey Newbury and Kris Kristofferson. His melancholy vocal delivery perfectly fits his turn of phrases.
  •  While Canyons does feel personal and has Combs going down darker routes on the map in subject and sonically, it doesn’t have the gut punches gloom of Worried Man or fit as seamlessly as All These Dreams.

13. Adios
Cory Branan

  • Lead single “Imogene” finds Cory Branan delivering one hell of a tongue-in-cheek heartbreakers. On the surface, Branan is writing Imogene off–he couldn’t have broken her heart or done her wrong–he didn’t even try. And that’s what makes it so heartbreaking on Imogene’s end. Being dismissed with a “I never tried” is right up there on the heartbreak power rankings–especially if you know deep down that they did.
  • Branan is a genre-bender. Punk tinges here. Countryfied rock there. Singer-Songwriter balladry here again. On Adios, picking out those subtleties becomes a game. It’s the Tom Waits piano on “Cold Blue Moonlight” that morphs into bar blues guitar hero. It’s the Born to Run-era  brass of “Blacksburg” that elevates the rambler into an anthemic rush. “Just Another Nightmare in America” plays to Branan’s pessimistic outlook with a punk-infused attitude and a Ramones worthy chorus chant to boot.
  • Branan’s heartbreak and humor go hand-in-hand. They play off one another. It’s not necessarily always heartbreak in the classic sense–down in the dumps and self-deprecating. His humor isn’t knee-slapping or excessive either. The best example of Branan’s wry humor goes back to “Imogene” with the lines “You could say that I’m a no-account ne’er-do-well, roustabout, detestable, itinerant, execrable degenerate–fair enough.”
  • At 14 tracks long, Branan’s Adios takes a 2000s approach to record making and length. It lags on at times and probably would more well-rounded at 10 or 11 songs.

12. Harry Styles
Harry Styles

  • Like Justin Timberlake, Harry Styles always had the most raw talent in his boy band group. And like Justified, Styles’ solo debut goes off into numerous directions with promising success. At times, it’s strange Art-Rock like late ’70s solo Peter Gabriel, ’90s Britpop Rock like Blur and Oasis (mostly Oasis), blue-eyed British Soul-Pop like George Michael, and even at times, reminiscent of the sad folk balladry of Ryan Adams or George Harrison.
  • The David Bowie cosmic tinges of “Sign of the Times” has melodramatic cliffhanger crescendos that are part “The Funeral” by Band of Horses and part “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis.
  • “Two Ghosts,” “Ever Since New York,” and “From the Dining Table” show off Styles singer-songwriter side that show he’s already more developed as a storyteller than many of his contemporaries.
  • Other than “Sign of the Times”–and maybe “Meet Me in the Hallway” and “Carolina”–there’s not a bona-fide radio hit. There’s less flare to the album that what most will expect. It’s more mellow than trying to chase One Direction radio success. “Kiwi” (and “Woman” to a lesser extent) both feel like strange additions to the album’s vibe and tracklist order. “Woman” isn’t necessarily as bad as “Kiwi,” but nevertheless, feels awkward at best within the context of the album.

11. Furnace
Dead Man Winter

  • Dead Man Winter–the moniker used by bluegrass band Trampled By Turtles lead vocalist David Simonett–is a rootsy, isolated cabin of a record. After a divorce, Simmonett was searching for closure and therapy. In many respects, these songs are Simonett working his way through, coming out on the other side with those wounds scarred over and healing. The obvious comparison would be Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, with its’ cathartic songs of heartache and woe.
  • Simonett keeps the writing honest, blunt, and straight to the point. On “Red Wing, Blue Wing,” lines flow like late night drunken confessions–“I’m full of charm and I’m full of whiskey and I’m full of shit most the time”–come delivered casual and matter of fact. “I Remember This Place Bigger” is a sobering followup that has Simonett recalling tidbits of a fading memory.
  • While “Red Wing, Blue Wing,” “I Remember This Place Bigger,” and “The Same Town” all have Tom Petty Americana streaks running through them, Furnace shines brightest on tracks where you feel like a fly Simonett’s wall. On “This House Is On Fire,” “Cardinal,” and “Weight of the World,” you’re catching one side of telephone calls. Simonett pulls you into his world and state of mind.

10. Colter Wall
Colter Wall

  • At 21, Colter Wall is an absolutist. He’s as earnest and devoted to the idea of being a great storyteller and singer-songwriter as he is to the craft of actual songwriting. That youthful fervor is the fire of Colter Wall. That flame remains throughout making the album faithful to storytelling in the traditions of country and folk. He doesn’t concede or compromise.
  • Lyrically, you almost see Wall’s growth in real time. What I mean by that is you see him trying different styles. “Bald Butte” and “Me and Big Dave” go into full storyteller mode with little resembling a chorus. You’re not meant to singalong; you’re meant to listen. On the flip side, “Motorcycle” and “Thirteen Silver Dollars” to an extent are almost exclusively chorus worthy and just begging you to join in.
  • Wall at times reminds you of a young Johnny Cash. His vocals are as large and booming–Paul Cauthen comes to mind as a rivaling bellow. And while the raw talent is certainly there, Wall too knows how to hold back. On murder ballad “Kate McCannon,” it’s even intimidating.
  • At various points, you wish Wall would develop tales a little more. While “Kate McCannon” is certainly a standout narrative, Wall barely goes in deep with the details. It ends abruptly without telling us anything we didn’t know with the beginning verse. As perfect as it opens up with the first handful of verses, it leaves you suddenly and cold without much being resolved.

09. Out of Exile Trilogy
Kirby Brown

  • Kirby Brown’s Out of Exile EPs really begin with Part 1 being released last Fall with 2 and 3 being delivered these last few months.
  • “Little Red Hen” and “Gimme a Week” in particular show Brown’s keen sense of humor in the same vein as John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, and Roger Miller. There’s a down home casualness that’s endearing in Brown’s “aww shucks” delivery.
  • “Paint Horse,” “Sweet Shame” and “Broken Bell” capture Brown’s pensive lonesomeness. He’s at his reflective best with composed, heartfelt regret of “Broken Bell.”
  • At nine songs total and in three-song increments, the only real flaw for Out of Exile is that right when you feel you’re picking up any kind of real momentum, the EP is over. Of course, on the flip side, it means Brown is giving you just enough to keep you hooked for another EP installment.

08. Middle Kids
Middle Kids

  • Everything stars with “Edge of Town” when it comes to Australia’s Middle Kids. It’s a sugary, windows down, wind blowing through your hair summer anthem with multiple singalong hooks. Even as nostalgic and melancholy as “Edge of Town” is at times, it’s still a rush when vocalist Hannah Joy really belts it out and when that ear candy of a slide guitar comes racing by. Also, I feel like it may be influenced/about Stephen King’s It–though, that’s all speculative on my part at this point.
  • Part of Middle Kids’ charm is their smart, sharp pop sense. Like “Edge of Town,” “Your Love,” “Never Start,” and “Fire In Your Eyes” are all loaded with hooks and choruses that beg to be shouted. They all build up to these soaring crests before crashing down in organized chaos. They’re the prime moments in which Joy really shines as a frontwoman shifting from cool and calm into raw, unhinged vulnerability and emotion. Songs end with an exhale.
  • There’s something very familiar with Middle Kids. There’s a mid-2000s nostalgic glow with the band’s debut EP. They capture a sense of suburbia, breakout, and discovering heartbreak similar to Local Natives, Ra Ra Riot, The Shins, and Rilo Kiley.
  • At six songs long, Middle Kids is just enough long enough to keep you appeased as we wait for their full-length debut release–something they’re currently in the process of working on. Still, a projected release date can’t come soon enough.

07. Big Bad Luv
John Moreland

  • Moreland’s greatest gift as a lyricist is his uncanny ability to paint ample, vivid images while never being too wordy. His lines are stark, bare, and purposeful. He rids his songs of useless words or lines that may bog down or get in the way of the narrative. A shining example is with the album’s namesake highlighted in lead single “Sallisaw Blue” with “There’s a neon sign that says ‘Big Bad Luv’ and a noose hanging down from the heaven’s above.” Another is from the acoustic “No Glory in Regret,” with the opening lines “Did you hear the devil laughing from the ambulance passing? Or was that just my troubled mind? Don’t you wanna shake the ground and tear heaven down?”
  • While Big Bad Luv is certainly more robust and hearty in sound than the bare-esque bones of High on Tulsa Heat or the nearly all acoustic In The Throes, it’s a sensible step into Moreland perhaps stepping back into a full band setting. Still, Moreland and company know their strengths–never overpowering Moreland’s booming vocals or getting in the way of his emotional words of wisdom. Dobro, Wurlitzer, piano, and organ all have practical appearances throughout, often warming the foundation for Moreland on heartfelt songs like “Old Wounds,” “Love Is Not an Answer,” “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before),” and album closing highlight “Latchkey Kid.”
  • Even more so than even Jason Isbell, Moreland is Americana’s most intimate songwriter. Songs feel as though only you and him are in the room. They’re one on one conversations. “Latchkey Kid”,” “No Glory in Regret,” and “Slow Down Easy” are personal entries that tug on every emotional string. While Moreland’s been known for heart-aching rootsy balladry, Big Bad Luv isn’t another collection of heartbreakers. Still, he’s as heartfelt and sincere as ever.
  • This isn’t even a complaint. But as good and successful as Moreland is as a solo artist, I wouldn’t mind seeing or hearing more of his punk-rock roots. Endless Oklahoma Sky by John Moreland and The Black Gold Band and Everything the Hard Way by John Moreland & The Dust Bowl Souls are two hidden gems that have Moreland delivering Gaslight Anthemesque punk-tinged and beer soaked anthems.

06. Way Out West
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives

  • Way Out West isn’t meant to be consumed in little nuggets. It’s meant to be taken in when you have time to sit, listen, and think. It’s as much of an instrumental score and escape as it is a lyrical exercise for Marty Stuart. “Mojave,” “El Fantasma Del Toro,” “Torpedo,” etc are as integral to the magic and mythos of Way Out West as “Way Out West” or “Whole Lotta Highway.”
  • Stuart and company do a lot of blending on Way Out West. Their guitars are paint brushes warping, welding, and merging Spaghetti Western, Surf Rock, Rockabilly, Mariachi, Western,  Psychedelic, and Country. It’s just as Joshua Tree burnout hippie desert rat as it is Marty Robbins’ trail songs.
  • There’s even hints of Lee Hazelwood (and Nancy Sinatra) eccentric sun-baked pop on tunes like the trippy mirage-inducing “Way Out West.” The slow burner gives Stuart and company the opportunity to throw out layers of full harmonies that echo down the canyon walls.
  • For some, the journey Stuart and company are on is just going to be a bridge too far. Those expecting a dozen truck-driving anthems like the rambling “Whole Lotta Highway” are going to be disappointed by all the instrumental pit stops. Still, it’s one of the most beautiful sounding albums released in years.

05. Corners
Dalton Domino

  • The artistic maturity between Dalton Domino’s 1806 and Corners is exponential. Spurred on by spurn ex-lovers and an honest and stone cold attempt at sobriety has made Domino a bold, clearheaded songwriter. Rather than delivering an album of paint-by-number Texas Country tropes–something that would have been easier and probably gained much more success in the short run–Corners has Domino pushing his own limits as an artist. Corners wasn’t easy. Domino returned to the drawing board a handful of times returning with new songs that were better and more well-rounded.
  • Domino wears his influences on his sleeve. Songwriters Travis Meadows, Tony Lane, Jack Ingram, Sturgill Simpson, and Red Shahan all provided artistic inspiration. You hear Shahan on “Sister,” Lane on “Rain,” and maybe most notably, Simpson on the album’s sprawling, twisting bookends, “The River” and “Monster.”
  • “Rain” and “Mine Again (I’d Be a Fool)” are vulnerable compositions that show Domino isn’t just the loud, confident everyman of “July” or 1806’s “Killing Floor” and “Dallas.” In ways, they’re even more vulnerable and bold than “The River” or “Monster,” which could easily just be written off by the casual fan. But “Rain” and “Mine Again (I’d Be a Fool)” are almost certain to be considered for radio single release. They challenge the current status quo of what a prototypical “Texas Country Radio” single is with their refined, polished, and cultured sound.
  • The only real drawback and concern for Corners is on whether the album is replicable on a nightly basis. Producers Nick Jay and Jay Saldana helped create an ornate, rich sonic world for Domino and company to exist in. So much of Domino’s live show is based on a–at times, sloppy–raw live energy that relies heavily on spur-of-the-moment spontaneous decision-making. It’s quite the juxtaposition next to the calculated and prepped Corners.

04. Spades and Roses
Caroline Spence

  • Caroline Spence has a feathery, whispery, and gentle vocal delivery. It’s delicate, yet demanding. For long stretches of Spades and Roses, she pulls you in with road stories and diary entry confessions. Like a Wildflowers, a Nebraska, or a 1000 Kisses, Spades is tightly wound in its’ own world of dreamy piano, fleeting harmonies, and even while sparse at times, still rich with warmth.
  • While Spence is armed with a delicate delivery, she’s a sharp and honest lyricist. “You Don’t Look so Good (Cocaine),” “Southern Accidents,” and “Goodbye Bygones” all have heart-wrenching images that cut to the bone, are honest but cold, or leave you teary-eyed and alone.
  • “Heart of Somebody” and “Slow Dancer” wrap around you like a thick quilt or a hearty fire with lines about real love after being calloused and reserved by previous lovers.
  • At times, Spades and Roses can be too sleepy–which, it’s not like Spence advertised it being a party starter.

03. Proving Grounds
John Baumann

  • After his first three releases (West Texas Vernacular, High Plains Alchemy, and Departures)–a trio of storytellers in which he morphed into multiple character vignettes and landscape sketches, John Baumann finally ventures into telling his own story on Proving Grounds. A family’s impact on an individual is immeasurable. You see a Baumann’s father’s handprints and guidance on John’s personality and character throughout with songs like “Here I Come,” “Pontiacs,” and none more so than on the crisp, refreshing, and redeeming “Old Stone Church.”
  • Ever the growing artist, Baumann has always set a high bar for himself as a lyricist, storyteller, and songwriter. Proving Grounds finds Baumann maturing and confident. Songs breathe. He’s comfortable with sprawling instrumentals (“Pontiacs”) and realizing that, ever so often, sometimes the silence speaks too (“Lonely in Bars” and “Old Stone Church”).
  • Guy Clark wrote the best songs about Texas. They were just never just about Texas. Texas was the climate, the setting, the rust, the dust, the language, and the mood. Where previous work maybe relied too much on specific regions, Proving Grounds never settles down anywhere for too long. It criss crosses back and forth across the state using it more so as a canvas backdrop than ever a full-blown sketch. “Here I Come,” “Holding It Down,” and “Heavy Head” do it best with lines about East Texas Rust, West Texas Dust, The Flatlanders, Terry Allen, and more.
  • At times, Proving Grounds dips its toes into Texas Radio territory. There’s certainly nothing wrong with testing the waters and trying to push into new markets. And while there’s nothing too egregious or ever a decision to curb a song and trying too hard to shoehorn into being Texas Country pop radio worthy, you do wonder if a song like “Love #1” would be “better” without the “ooohs” in the chorus. “The Trouble with Drinkin’,” an Aaron Lee Tasjan cover, isn’t a bad song–or a bad cover. It could eventually turn into Baumann’s “Whiskey River” or “Bloody Mary Morning,” but it does come across as the weakest song on a spectacular album.

02. The Nashville Sound
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

  • Jason Isbell is still the king of the craft. Songs are tightly wound with familiar expressions, descriptive analogies, and lines that are sharp, poignant, and never wasted. Whether it’s the wry sense of humor on “Last of My Kind” with lines like “Everybody clapping on the one and the three” or the raw and direct “Last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know” of the soaring “Hope of the High Road,” Isbell rarely holds back or dishonest.
  • The sobering and weighty “If We Were Vampires.” Isbell’s vocals have a gradually growing quiver that are real, raw, and capture a moment that’s as authentic as it is genuine.
  • Isbell isn’t just honest with you, the audience. He’s honest with himself that often lingers with self-deprecation and holding himself accountable. This all culminates on “White Man’s World”–specifically with the verse” I’m a white man looking in a black man’s eyes. Wishing I’d never been one of the guys who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke. Oh, the times ain’t forgotten.” That’s what sets Isbell apart from the pack.
  • The only real complaints of The Nashville Sound is every once in a while–typically on larger, anthemic songs (“Hope of the High Road,” “Cumberland Gap”)–Isbell’s vocals can get lost within the mix.

01. DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar

  • Kendrick Lamar is the king. Still, even after plunging deep and head first into the avant-garde, Lamar continues being hungry and never settled with previous achievements. DAMN. is just the next link in what has become one of the longest winning streaks in modern music. Lamar has cultivated an unrivaled artistic freedom and expression while maintaining a pulse on what’s relevant and significant in today’s world on both a macro and micro level–and in the pop culture, political, and socio-economical realms.
  • Lamar really started this narrative, open forum, and discussion with 2011’s Section.80. With each concept album released since–good kid, m.A.A.d. city, To Pimp a Butterfly, and untitled unmastered– Lamar challenged his audience to keep up with the next theory, thought, and wrinkle in the next chapter as a Corner Philosopher. Again, Lamar is constantly telling two stories as once. One that’s in the moment and one that fits within the whole.
  • DAMN. closer “Duckworth” is one of Lamar’s finest to date. It’s an example Lamar’s prowess as a rapper who can shift gears with his delivery. As a street tale, it’s a microcosm for Lamar’s entire catalog. At its core, “Duckworth” shows how every decision, no matter how insignificant or seemingly trivial, is consequential and creates waves in the grand scheme. DAMN. is, in many ways, an ouroboros of an album. It’s ends where it began. It’s whole and complete.
  • For the novice listener, Lamar can be too complex, raw, dense, or coarse. At times, he’s uncompromising and uninterested in success in terms of radio. While still having more pop sensibilities than most, Lamar will not be confused with the laid-back G-Funk era of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg or the anthemic heights of some of his modern contemporaries.

35 Other Albums Liked:

50. Culture by Migos
49. In Mind by Real Estate
48. This Old Dog by Mac Demarco
47. Graveyard Whistling by Old 97’s
46. FUTURE by Future
45. God’s Problem Child by Willie Nelson
44. The World We Built by The Wild Reeds
43. Drunk by Thundercat
42. Near To the Wild Heart of Life by Japandroids
41. Highway Queen by Nikki Lane
40. Pilot by Greg Vanderpool
39. Green by Kody West
38. & I’m Fine Today by Susto
37. Halloween by Ruston Kelly
36. Prisoner by Ryan Adams
35. The Navigator by Hurray For the Riff Raff
34. The Native by Vandoliers
33. Pure Comedy by Father John Misty
32. Duende by The Band of Heathens
31. Along Alone Tonight by Jonny Burke
30. Felony Blues by Jaime Wyatt
29. More Life by Drake
28. Process by Sampha
27. The World’s Best American Band by White Reaper
26. Starfire on the Mountain by Starfire on the Mountain
25. Stars by Michael O’Neal
24. The Order of Time by Valerie June
23. Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band by Bruce Robison
22. Jason Eady by Jason Eady
21. Run the Jewels 3 by Run the Jewels
20. This Tall to Ride by Robyn Ludwick
19. Close Ties by Rodney Crowell
18. Dirty Wonder by K. Phillips
17. Life Without Sound by Cloud Nothings
16. Hot Thoughts by Spoon

Other albums/EPs that are probably/possibly great and worth listening to:

  • Capacity by Big Thief
  • The Spark by The Builders and The Butchers
  • Not Even Happiness by Julie Byrne
  • Adios by Glen Campbell
  • Ghosts On The Car Radio by Slaid Cleaves
  • Kids In The Street Justin Townes Earle
  • So You Wannabe an Outlaw by Steve Earle
  • Pleasure by Feist
  • HNDRXX by Future
  • You Only Live 2wice by Freddie Gibbs
  • Humanz by Gorillaz
  • Why Don’t We Duet in the Road by JP Harris
  • Native by Clayton Landua
  • Forever and Then Some by Lillie Mae
  • Marfa by Marfa
  • Emperor of Sand by Mastodon
  • Brand New Day by The Mavericks
  • Sad Clowns & Hillbillies by John Mellencamp
  • This Highway by Zephaniah Ohora
  • Til the Goin’ Gets Gone by Lindi Ortega
  • Heartless by Pallbearer
  • No Shape by Perfume Genius
  • Ti Amo by Phoenix
  • Wrangled by Angeleena Presley
  • Swimming Alone by Liz Rose
  • South Texas Suite by Whitney Rose
  • I Got Your Medicine by Shinyribs
  • Neva Left by Snoop Dogg
  • Note of Blues by Son Volt
  • Odessa by Jeremy Steding
  • Trophy by Sunny Sweeney
  • Blue Notes by Jeff Whitehead

Albums & EPs That Look Promising and Will Most Likely Be Released in the Second Half of 2017 (Or Soon After):

  • Until My Voice Goes Out by Josh Abbott Band
  • TBA by The Americans
  • Everything Now by Arcade Fire
  • Land of Doubt by Sam Baker
  • TBA by Jason Boland & The Stragglers
  • TBA by Wade Bowen
  • TBA by Leon Bridges
  • TBA by Paul Cauthen
  • We Rode the Wild Horses by Ross Cooper
  • Purgatory  by Tyler Childers
  • Dear Tommy by Chromatics
  • TBA by Ben Danaher
  • Crack Up by Fleet Foxes
  • Good People by Josh Grider
  • Painted Ruins by Grizzly Bear
  • Something to Tell You by HAIM
  • Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can by Ray Wylie Hubbard
  • At Home in the Big Lonesome by Drew Kennedy
  • TBA by Chris King
  • TBA by LCD Soundsystem
  • TBA by Mike & The Moonpies
  • Sleep Well Beast by The National
  • TBA by Quaker City Night Hawks
  • Villains by Queens of the Stone Age
  • OKONOTOK by Radiohead
  • Lust For Life by Lana Del Rey
  • TBA by Charlie Shafter
  • TBA by Red Shahan
  • TBA by Bruce Springsteen
  • Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples
  • From A Room: Volume 2 by Chris Stapleton
  • TBA by Texas Gentlemen
  • TBA by Turnpike Troubadours
  • TBA by Shania Twain
  • TBA by Alex Williams
  • TBA by Vampire Weekend
  • A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs
  • Turbo Grafx 16 by Kanye West
  • TBA by Wolf Parade

The New Slang Podcast: Episode 034 Brad Rice of The Stragglers

On Episode 034 of The New Slang Podcast, we talk with Brad Rice, drummer for Oklahoma staple Jason Boland & The Stragglers. As nearly 20 years in, Boland, Rice, and company have simultaneously helped establish and further Oklahoma music, their Red Dirt roots, and regional storytelling through a country twang lens. Last week, while in Lubbock, we caught up with Rice in the green room of Charley B’s. During this conversation, we discuss The Stragglers’ upcoming yet-to-be-titled ninth studio album that’s currently in the works, how Boland and company have kept their music fresh and creative 20 years in, the Oklahoma singer-songwriter, Millennials vs. The World, how social media has impacted the music industry, fan interaction, and our world in general, Rice’s love for the Oklahoma City Thunder, why Russell Westbrook is going to be the 2016-17 MVP,  anti-intellectualism, and the current state(s) of the music scene in Texas, Oklahoma, and Nashville.

Like Jason Boland & The Stragglers on Facebook here. Follow Boland on Twitter here. Follow Rice on Twitter here. Find Squelch, their latest album, here. For more on Boland & The Stragglers, click here.

Like New Slang on Facebook here. Follow New Slang on Twitter at @_NewSlang and on Instagram at @_newslang.

The New Slang Podcast: Episode 033 Ryan Beaver

This week on the podcast, we’re joined by singer-songwriter Ryan Beaver. After a healthy dose of time living and touring in Texas, Beaver moved up to Nashville some four years back. This past year, Beaver released his third album, Rx, a 12-track record that ranged from dark, shadowy rooms to moments flushed with warmth and a velvet touch. Beaver’s Rx found the songwriter delivering his best, most well-rounded material to date. Bookends “Dark” and “If I Had a Horse” make the album come full circle with sombre reflections of life passing you by while songs like “Rum & Roses” and “When This World Ends” has Beaver serving up scorching statements of longing, love and/or lust. During this conversation, we discuss Beaver’s ever-evolving development as a songwriter and artist, what moves and motivates him, the changes in the music business, the making of Rx, and where he goes from here.

Like Ryan Beaver on Facebook here. Follow him on Twitter here. Find Rx, his latest album, here. For more on Ryan Beaver, click here.

Like New Slang on Facebook here. Follow New Slang on Twitter at @_NewSlang and on Instagram at @_newslang.

The Ranch: Double Dipping in Texas Music, Americana, Nashville Country, Etc Angers Fans. But Why?

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Over the last few weeks, Ft. Worth’s 95.9 The Ranch has come under heavy fire for a change in their battle-tested, fan-approved format. Primarily, the expansion of their playlists has drawn criticism and concern from listeners. Still, several fans and artists have come to the defense of these minor changes citing that expanding what’s considered Ranch-worthy material only expands listeners’ musical palettes.

It’s already been well documented by several other music publications so I’ll save you 10 minutes and get onto why these claims of “going mainstream, etc” are fraudulent at best.

The Ranch you claim to have lost was already expanding those playlists for several years running. They’ve essentially been playing all of the artists deemed unfit for “Texas Radio” for a while now. You didn’t notice until they acknowledged it themselves. There’s certainly some changes, but again, they’re not as massive as a lot of listeners have made them out to be.

A year ago, I listened to several radio stations across the state of Texas from 8am to 8 pm, documenting exactly what they played and when (Lubbock’s 105.3 The Red Dirt Rebel, Amarillo’s 107.1 Armadillo, Austin’s 99.3 KOKE-FM, New Braunfel’s 92.1 KNBT, and Dallas’ 95.3 The Range were the other stations documented). A year later, that Ranch list comes in handy once again.

Earlier this week, I went ahead and documented exactly what they played during the same time slot. If you saw the lists side by side, you wouldn’t know the difference–other than maybe the fact that they’re playing more recent singles a year later.

Here’s some raw numbers.

Number of Songs Played

2016: 144
2017: 140

Number of Individual Artists

2016: 103
2017: 106

Four less songs in an 12-hour block isn’t too alarming. By percentage points, it means they’re technically playing a wider range of artists.

Most Played Artist

2016: Ryan Bingham, Wade Bowen, William Clark Green, Cory Morrow, Reckless Kelly, Mike Ryan, Aubrie Sellers, Shane Smith & The Saints (8 Artists, 3 Plays Each. Technically, Bowen has 5 total plays with Bowen/Randy Rogers collaborations)
2017: Wade Bowen, Hayes Carll, Miranda Lambert, Stoney LaRue, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson (6 Artists, 3 Songs Each)

This is really the key to making the formula work. To get a wider range of artists–more artists–you obviously have to be less top-heavy. It seems minimal, but going from eight artists at three spins each to six artists at three spins is, at the bare minimum two more spins for other artists who weren’t being played that day.

Bowen is the sole artist with three songs played each day. Bingham, Green, Morrow, Reckless Kelly, Carll, LaRue, Musgraves, and Nelson all were played both days as well.

Most Song Played

2016: “Til It Does” Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers, “Rattlesnake,” Dolly Shine,  “Find Us Alone” Dalton Domino, “February Snow” Flatland Cavalry, “The War” Joey Green, “The Flag,” Brandon Jenkins, “Bad Reputation” Mike Ryan, “Light of Day” Aubrie Sellers, “Brace For Impact” Sturgill Simpson,  “All I See Is You” Shane Smith & The Saints, “But You Like Country Music” Sunny Sweeney & Brennen Leigh (11 Songs Twice)
2017: “Make You Mine” High Valley, “Wish You Were Here” Cody Jinks, “We Should Be Friends” Miranda Lambert, “Once” Maren Morris, “Forever Today,” Reckless Kelly (5 Songs Twice)

Depending on what side of the argument you side with, here’s probably your biggest point. You either cite how they’ve varied the playlist by playing half as many songs twice or you cite how artists like High Valley, Miranda Lambert, and Maren Morris–three artists who are more in line with “Mainstream Country”–are taking song spots once claimed by “Independent Texas Music” artists. Again though, I’d at least challenge the notion that all “Independent Texas Music” artists are both A) better and B) don’t have their fair share who sound comparable in sound and style. Is Mike Ryan’s “Bad Reputation” (or “New Hometown” for that matter) really that different from “Mainstream Country”? I’d say no–and that’s not necessarily even a bad thing.

Artists Played Both Days: Bart Crow, Dalton Domino, Steve Earle, Joe Ely, Flatland Cavalry, Radney Foster, Kevin Fowler, William Clark Green, Jack Ingram, Waylon Jennings, Cody Jinks, Cody Johnson, Robert Earl Keen, Stoney LaRue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Whitey Morgan, Maren Morris, Sean McConnell, James McMurtry, Cory Morrow, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Kyle Park, Charlie Robison, Reckless Kelly, Sam Rigs, Billy Joe Shaver, The Steeldrivers, Marty Stuart, Sunny Sweeney, Randy Rogers Band, Sturgill Simpson, Turnpike Troubadours, Uncle Lucius, Aaron Watson, Whiskey Myers, Zane Williams, Erick Willis, Dwight Yoakam (47)
Songs Played Both Days: “Saturday Night” Wade Bowen, “The Love That We Need” Hayes Carll,  “The Guitar” Guy Clark, “All Just To Get To You” Joe Ely, “February Snow” Flatland Cavalry, “Rose in Paradise” Waylon Jennings, “Call Me the Breeze” Lynryd Skynryd, “Lie Baby Lie” Sean McConnell, “Drink One More Round” Cory Morrow, “New Year’s Day” Charlie Robison, “Too Late For Goodbye” Randy Rogers Band, “Brace For Impact” Sturgill Simpson, “Keep the Wolves Away” Uncle Lucius, “Floodgate” Erick Willis (14)

If anything, I think you could even argue that The Ranch is keeping right on line to a fault. Two random days in March roughly a year apart have 14 songs played both days. You have 47 artists who were played both days–which, makes sense. 14 of the same songs is surprising though. That means 114 artists were played on one of the two days–a list that includes the likes of Cross Canadian Ragweed, The Great Divide, Jason Eady, Chris Knight, Jason Isbell, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Quaker City Night Hawks, Shane Smith & The Saints, Grady Spencer & The Work, Pat Green, John Moreland, John Fullbright, Luke Wade, and Lyle Lovett–all seem to be in line with what the majority of fans want. Choose another day and it could be any of those 114 who made the list of played both days.

Now, let’s break it down further by genre. Note: I’m not here to argue the semantics of why Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward is actually just Americana. I’d agree for the most part, but we’re going with what the average listener would probably classify them as.

Classic Country/Neo-Traditional

2016: Waylon Jennings, Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Hal Ketchum, Radney Foster, Marty Stuart (6)
2017: Johnny Lee, Gary Allan, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, John Anderson, Hank Williams Jr, Sammy Kershaw, Johnny Cash, Mac Davis, Jerry Reed, Merle Haggard, George Strait, Johnny Paycheck, Dwight Yoakam, Marty Stuart, Chris LeDoux, Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash, Clint Black (20)

Top 40 Country

2016: Aubrie Sellers, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Maren Morris (4)
2017: Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Jamey Johnson, Easton Corbin, Chris Stapleton, Zac Brown Band, Sundance Head, High Valley, Maren Morris, Aaron Lewis (10)

Rock & Roll

2016: Lynyrd Skynyrd (1)
2017: Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Georgia Satellites, Tom Petty, Eagles, Janis Joplin (8)

These seem to be the most hotly debated points of interest. The jumps from six to 20, four to 10, and one to eight in Classic Country/Neo-Traditional, Top 40 Country, and Rock & Roll are incredibly massive. Artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, George Strait, Mac Davis, could just as easily been classified as Texas Music Classic. The additions of Easton Corbin, Sundance Head, Zac Brown Band, High Valley, and Aaron Lewis are the most egregious of the bunch. But again, there’s some comparable artists within Texas Country.

Texas/Red Dirt Classic

2016: Guy Clark, Gary P. Nunn, Ray Wylie Hubbard, The Great Divide, Steve Earle, Jerry Jeff Walker, Slaid Cleaves, Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen, Mike McClure, Billy Joe Shaver, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Cooder Graw (13)
2017: Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Billy Joe Shaver, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Slaid Cleaves (9)

Americana

2016: Sturgill Simpson, Parker Millsap, Uncle Lucius, Ryan Bingham, Whitey Morgan, Chris Knight, Hayes Carll, American Aquarium, The Steeldrivers, Justin Townes Earle, Chris King, Dale Watson, David Ramirez, Owen Temple, Jason Isbell, Carter Sampson, James McMurtry, John Moreland, K. Phillips, Quaker City Night Hawks, Courtney Patton, Charlie Stout, No Dry County, Walt Wilkins (24)
2017: James McMurtry, Shooter Jennings, Sturgill Simpson, John Fullbright, Lucinda Williams, Hayes Carll, Brent Cobb, Whitey Morgan, John Moreland, Ryan Bingham, Paul Thorn, The Steeldrivers, Luke Wade, Alison Krauss, Paul Cauthen, Luke Bell, Uncle Tupelo, Punch Brothers, Bonnie Bishop, Uncle Lucius, BJ Barham (21)

These seem to be pretty on line with each other. 13 to 9 and 24 to 21 aren’t really eve worth mentioning. Nothing to complain about.

Texas Country/Red Dirt

2016: Wade Bowen, Mark McKinney, Sean McConnell, Flatland Cavalry, Damn Quails, Randy Rogers Band, Zane Williams, Reckless Kelly, Mike Ryan, Grady Spencer & The Work, Shane Smith & The Saints, Cody Canada & The Departed, Mike Stanley, Jamie Richards, William Clark Green, Stoney LaRue, Bart Crow, Brandon Jenkins, Kyle Park, Erick Willis, Cory Morrow, Whiskey Myers, Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers, Houston Marchman, Cody Johnson, Prophets & Outlaws, Sunny Sweeney & Brennen Leigh, Dirty River Boys, Dolly Shine, Turnpike Troubadours, Cameran Nelson, Josh Grider, Mike & The Moonpies, Jack Ingram, Sam Riggs, Adam Hood, Phil Hamilton, Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Dalton Domino, John D. Hale, Max Stalling, Michael Padgett, Austin Allsup, Cody Jinks, John Baumann, Charlie Robison, Ryan Beaver, Micky & The Motorcars, Joey Green, Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward, Kevin Fowler, No Justice, Thieving Birds, Six Market Blvd (54)
2017: Zane Williams, Stoney LaRue, Pat Green, Aaron Watson, Flatland Cavalry, Randy Rogers Band, Wade Bowen, Green River Ordinance, Kevin Fowler, Cody Jinks, Charlie Robison, Midnight River Choir, Reckless Kelly, Sean McConnell, Turnpike Troubadours, Kyle Park, Sunny Sweeney, Bleu Edmondson, Eli Young Band, Josh Abbott Band, Troy Cartwright, Whiskey Myers, Jack Ingram, Roger Creager, Cody Johnson, Sam Riggs, Casey Donahew, Bart Crow, Statesboro Revue, Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Erick Willis, Jason Eady, Dalton Domino, Cory Morrow, Parker McCollum, Austin Allsup, William Clark Green, Brandon Rhyder (38)

Going from 54 to 38 a 16 song swing. I admit, it’s pretty large. You can pretty much contribute that to the additions of Classic Country and Neo-Traditional artists like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Clint Black, Tom T. Hall, Johnny Paycheck,  Gary Allan, etc are really the artists take those spots. Rock & Roll classics like Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, and the Eagles take a handful. And yes, Easton Corbin, Zac Brown Band, and Aaron Lewis from the Top 40 Country take a few.

But you should also be reminded that some of those spots are taken not by necessarily replacing those Texas Country artists, but rather, taking some of their double (and triple) spins.

And again, you must keep in mind that these are just two random day selections. There’s an argument to be made that any of the artists “added” were there all along. Of course, the data here does suggest that you–the listener–is getting plenty of Texas Country, but just at a slower rate.

I’d argue that Texas Music as a whole will be benefited by this gradual shift. It means Texas artists aren’t being graded on a curve anymore. Playing the best songs available overall means you can’t just be from Texas and decent to get played. So many radio stations pride themselves on being strictly Texas Country and Red Dirt. But then they play mediocre and lower rung artists and songs. It waters down the product and honestly makes Texas Music look top-heavy and amateur by comparison. The notion that being from Texas makes you a more qualified artist is a ridiculous, silly, and sad narrative that so many have fallen into and bought. Stop.

And even though I’m not the largest fan of some of the artists added–Sundance Head, Easton Corbin, Zac Brown Band, Aaron Lewis (Seriously. This is the only one I really wince at)–those songs aren’t bad. At minimum, they’re on par with some of the “best” that Texas seems to offer.

It seems to me that 1) The changes are small. They were already playing a good chunk of what people are railing against for years. 2) Even with the small tweaks, it’s for the better. Better songs being played is always the right answer.

For more on the shift of what Texas Country/Red Dirt Music is, read our January and February Exchanges.

Below, are the two logs in play order. (And for asking, it’s fairly simple to log these without sitting for 12 straight hours listening to the radio.)

March/2016 8AM-8PM
Saturday Night Wade Bowen
Brace for Impact Sturgill Simpson
Sunshine Mark McKinney
Novacaine Sean McConnell
February Snow Flatland Cavalry
Midnight Swagger The Damn Quails
Too Late for Goodbye Randy Rogers Band
She Is Zane Williams
Pining Parker Millsap
Light of Day Aubrie Sellers
Best Forever Yet Reckless Kelly
Bad Reputation Mike Ryan
Things to Do Grady Spencer & The Work
All I See Is You Shane Smith & The Saints
Skyline Radio Cody Canada & The Departed
Miss Her Mike Stanley
Any Way You Want Me To Jamie Richards
Sticks & Stones William Clark Green
Us Time Stoney LaRue
Rose in Paradise Waylon Jennings
Dear Music Bart Crow
The Flag Brandon Jenkins
What Goes Around Comes Around Kyle Park
The Guitar Guy Clark
What Did You Expect Erick Willis
Wichita Falls Houston Marchman
21 Days Cory Morrow
The War Joey Green
Road of Life Whiskey Myers
War of Art Courtney Patton
Til it Does Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers
Too Many Nights in a Roadhouse Gary P. Nunn
Keep the Wolves Away Uncle Lucius
Me and My Kind Cody Johnson
I See Stars Charlie Stout
Soul Shop Prophets & Outlaws
Honky Tonk Man Dwight Yoakam
Outdrink the Truth Walt Wilkins
But You Like Country Music Sunny Sweeney & Brennen Leigh
Boom Town Dirty River Boys
Crazy Eddie’s Last Hurrah Reckless Kelly
Losing Ground Aubrie Sellers
Red Headed Stranger Willie Nelson
Southside of Heaven Ryan Bingham
Rattlesnake Dolly Shine
Count My Blessings Ray Wylie Hubbard
Goin’ Down Rocking Whitey Morgan & The 78s
Every Girl Turnpike Troubadours
The Little W’re Living On Cameran Nelson
Sweet Loreen Hal Ketchum
Smallest Town on Earth Josh Grider
Putting it Down Mike & The Moonpies
Cry Lonely Cross Canadian Ragweed
The Jealous Kind Chris Knight
The Love That We Need Hayes Carll
Nobody’s Fool Wade Bowen
Call Me The Breeze Lynyrd Skynryd
Losing Side of Twenty-Five American Aquarium
Until It’s Gone Radney Foster
Dance the Night Away Shane Smith & The Saints
Til the Wheels Fall Off No Dry County
Never Could The Great Divide
Pablo & Maria Zane Williams
Fool Jack Ingram
Good Ol’ Boys Club Kacey Musgraves
Hold On and Let Go Sam Riggs
Next Big Thing William Clark Green
The Devil’s Right Hand Steve Earle
Lie Baby Lie Sean McConnell
Flowered Dress Slaid Cleaves
New Deep Ellum Blues Adam Hood
High Time Waylon Jennings
Big News Small Town Phil Hamilton
Ponies Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Won’t Let It Show Mike Ryan
Midnight to Memphis The Steeldrivers
Find Us Alone Dalton Domino
Heartbreaker John D. Hale
I’ve Got Something Max Stalling
Picture on My Wall Jack Ingram & Jerry Jeff Walker
Lungs Dirty River Boys
Brace for Impact Sturgill Simpson
Canopy Michael Padgett
Lone Pine Hill Justin Townes Earle
It’s True Austin Allsup
Roadhouse Gypsy Ryan Bingham
Wrapped Walt Wilkins
Loud and Heavy Cody Jinks
Guns & Knives Grady Spencer & The Work
Borderland Chris King
The Flag Brandon Jenkins
Good Luck N’ Good Truckin’ Tonight Dale Watson
Better Than I Ought to Be Randy Rogers Band
Light of Day Aubrie Sellers
Nobody’s Girl Reckless Kelly
Another Dollar Chris Knight
Worry Me Houston Marchman & The Contraband
Rattlesnake Dolly Shine
Vices John Baumann
Winning Streak Ashley Monroe
Harder to Lie David Ramirez
Songs About Trucks Wade Bowen
All Just to Get to You Joe Ely
Copenhagen Robert Earl Keen
Sympathy William Clark Green
Down Home Country Blues Ray Wylie Hubbard
New Year’s Day Charlie Robison
Find Us Alone Dalton Domino
King of the Road Hayes Carll
Cry Slaid Cleaves
Dark Ryan Beaver
Modelo Mike McClure
My Church Maren Morris
February Snow Flatland Cavalry
Live Oak Jason Isbell
Bloodshot Micky & The Motorcars
Wilder Side Carter Sampson
No Damn Good Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Allnighter Cody Canada & The Departed
You Never Can Tell Owen Temple
Bad Reputation Mike Ryan
Drink One More Round Cory Morrow
All I See Is You Shane Smith & The Saints
The War Joey Green
Heart’s Too Heavy John Moreland
Floodgate Erick Willis
I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome Marty Stuart
Storekeeper James McMurtry
Georgia on a Fast Train Billy Joe Shaver
Moose Lake Michael Padgett
Heart of Breaking Up Cooder Graw
Adventures of You & Me Ryan Bingham
To Dance With You K. Phillips
Guitar Town Steve Earle
Atlantic City Rodney Parker & The 50 Peso Reward
Beat the Machine Quaker City Night Hawks
World Thru a Windshield Cory Morrow
Til It Does Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers
Bring It On Kevin Fowler
Night’s Pay in My Boot Max Stalling
Bend But Don’t Break No Justice
Kentucky Thieving Birds
Silence in Me Six Market Blvd.
But You Like Country Music Sunny Sweeney & Brennen Leigh
 March/2017 8AM-8PM

Hello World Zane Williams
The Guitar Guy Clark
Vice Miranda Lambert
Glory Days Bruce Springsteen
Look at Me Fly Stoney LaRue
Cherokee Fiddle Johnny Lee
Baby Doll Pat Green
The Deed and The Dollar Shooter Jennings
Outta Style Aaron Watson
Smoke Rings in the Dark Gary Allan
February Snow Flatland Cavalry
Down and Out Randy Rogers Band
Follow Your Arrow Kacey Musgraves
Stars on the Water Rodney Crowell
Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way? Waylon Jennings
Beat Me Down Wade Bowen
Flying Green River Ordinance
Long Line of Losers Kevin Fowler
Brace for Impact Sturgill Simpson
The Wall Willie Nelson
Wish You Were Here Cody Jinks
In Color Jamey Johnson
Hard Light of Day Radney Foster
The Year That Clayton Delaney Died Tom T. Hall
You Got to Me James McMurtry
Roll With It Easton Corbin
Dead Flowers Rolling Stones
Too Late for Goodbye Randy Rogers Band
Barlight Charlie Robison
Soul Food Midnight River Choir
Forever Today Reckless Kelly
Traveller Chris Stapleton
Live Forever Billy Joe Shaver
Black Sheep John Anderson
Lie Baby Lie Sean McConnell
Moving John Fullbright
Diamonds & Gasoline Turnpike Troubadours
Trouble Wade Bowen
Women I’ve Never Had Hank Williams Jr
Can’t Let Go Lucinda Williams
Homegrown Zac Brown Band
Somebody’s Trying to Steal My Heart Kyle Park
Natural Forces Lyle Lovett
13 Year’s Sundance Head
From a Table Away Sunny Sweeney
The Love That We Need Hayes Carll
Queen of My Double Wide Trailer Sammy Kershaw
Last Last Time Bleu Edmondson
We Should Be Friends Miranda Lambert
Feet Don’t Touch the Ground Stoney LaRue
Even If It Breaks Your Heart Eli Young Band
Down in the Gulley Brent Cobb
Road Trippin’ Josh Abbott Band
Folsom Prison Blues Johnny Cash
Corpus Christi Bay Robert Earl Keen
My Girl Troy Cartwright
Wave on Wave Pat Green
Texas Forever Kevin Fowler
Me and Paul Willie Nelson
When the Lights Go Out Sam Riggs
Make You Mine High Valley
Saturday Night Wade Bowen
I Ain’t Drunk Whitey Morgan
Into the Mystic Van Morrison
Diamond in My Pocket Cody Johnson
Jayton and Jill Zane Williams
Stone Whiskey Myers
Wherever You Are Jack Ingram
Fun All Wrong Roger Creager
Texas in My Rearview Mirror Mac Davis
All Just to Get To You Joe Ely
Once Maren Morris
I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love Paul Thorn
Country Roads Ryan Bingham
Call Me the Breeze Lynyrd Skynryd
Cleveland County Blues John Moreland
One Star Flag Casey Donahew
East Bound and Down Jerry Reed
Dandelion  Bart Crow
Broke Down Slaid Cleaves
I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight Sunny Sweeney
The Dollar Jamey Johnson
Dunken Poet’s Dream Hayes Carll
The Fighting Side of Me Merle Haggard
Fade My Shade of Black Statesboro Revue
Skin & Bones Eli Young Band
If it Hadn’t Been For Love The Steeldrivers
Somewhere Down in Texas Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Keep Your Hands to Yourself The Georgia Satellites
Good Ol’ Boy Steve Earle
Keep It To Yourself Kacey Musgraves
Fool Hearted Memory George Strait
Down in Flames Stoney LaRue
The Runaround Luke Wade
Wish You Were Here Cody Jinks
Missing You Alison Krauss
She’s Like Texas Josh Abbott Band
11 Months and 29 Days Johnny Paycheck
Once Maren Morris
Purple Rain Dwight Yoakam
July in Cheyenne Aaron Watson
Wildflowers Tom Petty
That Ain’t Country Aaron Lewis
Tempted Marty Stuart
Lonely East TX Nights Whiskey Myers
Flood Gate Erick Willis
Forever Today Reckless Kelly
Gravedigger Willie Nelson
The Rose Hotel Robert Earl Keen
Rose in Paradise Waylon Jennings
Why I Left Atlanta Jason Eady
My Old Man Zac Brown Band
Still Drivin’ Paul Cauthen
Earthbound Rodney Crowell
Sometimes Luke Bell
Jesus & Handbags Dalton Domino
Don’t Forget Where You Come From Kyle Park
Nobody to Blame Chris Stapleton
Drink One More Round Cory Morrow
High Above the Water Parker McCollum
Seven Year Ache Rosanne Cash
We Should Be Friends Miranda Lambert
No Sense in Lovin’ Uncle Tupelo
Bad Liver and a Broken Heart Hayes Carll
Peaceful Easy Feeling Eagles
Trains Bonnie Bishop
Bread and Water Ryan Bingham
Life is a Highway Chris LeDoux
Sink or Swim Austin Allsup
Biscuits Kacey Musgraves
Creek Don’t Rise William Clark Green
A Better Man Clint Black
Keep the Wolves Away Uncle Lucius
Make You Mine High Valley
Rye Whiskey Punch Brothers
Me and Bobby McGee Janis Joplin
New Year’s Day Charlie Robison
American Tobacco Company BJ Barham
Hurt Johnny Cash
Rumorville Brandon Rhyder

The New Slang Podcast: Episode 032 The Band of Heathens

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

This week, we caught up with Gordy Quist and Ed Jurdi of The Band of Heathens. The Austin staples released their fifth studio album, Duende, this past January. The 10 songs of Duende find the quintet in a place of deep comfort and confidence. There’s a beacon of light–circling harmony vocals, aged organ & keys, and the right amount of guitar fuzz–that warms the face like sun rays in the midst of an Indian summer. This past Friday, we thankfully squeezed in a short conversation with Quist and Jurdi between their soundcheck and performance at Lubbock’s Cactus Theater.

Like The Band of Heathens on Facebook here. Follow him on Twitter here. Find Duende, their latest album, here. For more BoH’s tour dates, click here.

Like New Slang on Facebook here. Follow New Slang on Twitter at @_NewSlang and on Instagram at @_newslang.

February Exchange: Grammy’s, Sturgill Superfans, & Dumpster Fires

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s Note: Jeff Dennis is a singer-songwriter in Lubbock, Texas. As one of my good friends, we typically talk about music on a daily basis. While it’s commonly either through text message or on Monday Nights at The Blue Light, we’ve decided to make the exchanges of ideas and commentary into a monthly piece. Here’s our recap and rehash of the Grammy’s, Sturgill Superfans, and why country music doesn’t need saving. Follow Dennis on Twitter here.

Mooney: So did Sturgill save country music last night? 

Dennis: I didn’t realize it needed saving? It’s just a media trope that country music was ever lost or dead. People of course have a problem with the music industry label of “country,” but they have been doing whatever it takes to sell records to as many people as possible for a long time. I would argue that the layer of cheap mainstream country has to exist for the Jason Isbells & Sturgills to thrive. The Grammys are not particularly representative of the genre of country, as they don’t follow the trends of what sells (credit to Craig Vaughn for that specific idea). Not only that, they’ve tried to “fix” the issue of how to handle all of the different genres of country by dispersing artists across the labels of Country, Americana, and Folk. Sturgill’s Metamodern was a more “country” record, nominated in Americana, whereas A Sailor’s Guide, a much more experimental rock record, got the Country nomination. Ultimately, the Grammys for all Country categories are kind of train wreck. It’s like asking NFL fans to vote for the all-star team and MVP of the FIFA World Cup.

Mooney: Exactly. The trope has been around longer than even the Texas vs. Nashville one (or the Lubbock is a shitty place to live one). 

1) That’s an interesting take–that the Top 40 Mainstream layer is necessary for the innovative songwriter class to thrive. You have to have a Jason Aldean to have a Jason Isbell. Now, are you saying this because, let’s call them the “Working Class Artist” class, has to have something to work against–they have to go up against The Establishment? Does that go into the make up of an artist? You have to scratch, claw, and–to an extent–suffer to create? Or is it more so a relativity thing? To know what good music is, you must have some bad music to compare it to?

2) I shared that list of Best Country Album Grammy winner this morning. It was the last 21 winners. What’s a little funny is that the award has, for all intents and purposes, only been around since 1995. Roger Miller won two Grammy’s in ’65 & ’66, but it was discontinued until ’95 when Mary Chapin Carpenter won with Stones in the Road. Shania Twain won in ’96 with The Woman in Me. I said that the list was, for better or worse, a pretty solid representation. We can argue albums, but really, it’s a solid set overall. I guess there’s been a couple of WTF wins, but there hasn’t been a “Where are they now?” winners or true embarrassments–like they didn’t give Gretchen Wilson the award over Loretta Lynn or Alison Krauss in consecutive years. They’ve been consistent. Albeit, that also means not taking too many risks with nominations. Like you’ve said, overall the “country/roots/Americana/folk” categories are a wreck though. They treat them like the minor leagues or the Senior PGA Tour for the most part. 

Dennis: 1. I hate to say Top 40 has to exist, because that’s probably not true. In Hank Williams’ day, I don’t know that there was the level of fluff in mainstream music. But today, the reality is that no matter what the labels or radio does, it’s not as though everyone is going to abandon Bro Country and just start listening to Billy Joe Shaver and Slaid Cleaves. It’s funny because, Top 40 Country still makes quite a bit of money, both in touring and even for labels, since country fans still buy more music than most. But I think the excess that it has produced, where every damn song has somebody rolling down a window and talking to/about their “girl,” is that it has turned even more people toward a higher quality product (i.e., the growing indie/americana/roots genre).

2. I honestly didn’t know the history of the Country Music Grammy myself. It has not honored many mainstream artists. I mean, how many country music fans in 2002 or 2017 were/are listening to the Hank Williams’ Tribute? It was a cool record, but never close to mainstream. The outsiders are rewarded more in the Country music Grammys, and this year is especially disorienting, because Sturgill feels so different from the other nominees, who got a lot of airplay on country radio. I think Maren Morris would have been a lock for the award, but Sturgill became sort of an anti-hero at just the right time. That said, I think Top 40 Country radio guys woke up today not worried about putting him in the rotation any more than he already was. I don’t think the award made him “one of them.” Ironically, the CMA and ACM Awards, i.e., the country industry awards, are precisely for mainstream country. They don’t even try to give awards for Americana or Folk or anything else. Sturgill winning one of those would be the more surprising occurrence. But back to the Grammys, the Americana category, outside of the Isbell win last year, is a complete trainwreck. The nominees rarely reflect anything I would consider the forefront of Americana. I mean, take 2014, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, or Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale–all icons in some form–were received nominations over Southeastern by Jason Isbell. That miss is reason enough to scrap the award until they can figure out what they are doing. And let’s not forget 2012, where Linda Chorney “worked” the system by campaigning to Grammy voters, and got nominated when absolutely no one knew who she was. And guess what? That scheme is still the only reason anyone knows her name today.

Mooney: 1) I think one of the major reasons for that is people have seen the gradual decline in quality of Top 40 radio. At one point, Hank Williams was the biggest damn star in country music. Now, guys who sound like Hank Williams, they’re still around. But you have to actually go out and search for them. Reason for the decline is a two-part answer: A) Pop music has slowly integrated with Country (and every “genre” for that matter) and B) They’re not making replicas of the original anymore. They’re making copies of the last copy (which was a copy of the former copy and so on). The formula and cookie cutter mold has decayed over time. 

2) That’s why, in my opinion, Stapleton winning last year was “bigger” than Sturgill’s win this year. One major clue is iTunes. Right now (Was Monday), their top-selling Country records are Sturgill’s A Sailor’s Guide and Morris’ Hero. But let’s see which stays near the top longer (As of Friday, Maren’s Hero is 3, Sturgill’s Sailor’s Guide is 4). Virtually any day this past year, if you looked, Stapleton’s Traveller was a lock for the top spot. That’s why Top 40 ended up playing him–because a year later, he still had the top spot (Hell, right now, Traveller is still at 6). 

3) The reason the Americana/Folk/Roots Grammy’s are such a mess is because all those terms are so broad and ambiguous meanings. It’s a catch-all for anything that ranges from “old country sounding” to being Country-Lite to being a rock band from the south who has an accent to midwest alt-country kids to singer-songwriters who play solo to Northwest bands who have at least one record released by Sub Pop. No one knows what it means. American(a) music, at its’ core, is a regional music. It’s like baseball–other than the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, or Cubs (Ryan Adams, Isbell, Wilco, and whoever)–every other club relies on their regional fanbases. 

I’d challenge anyone to decipher the differences between Best American Roots, Americana, Folk–and even Country for that matter. I include Country in there for the sole reason that, an artist like Vince Gill can go from winning a Best Country Album in ’08, be nominated with The Time Jumpers for Best Country Album in ’12, and then win Best American Roots Song and be nominated for Best Americana Album in ’17. There’s no reason to think they’ve changed that much in that decade to give any credence to the switch. I mean, they’re name is The fucking Time Jumpers for a reason.

Are they just throwing old country folks in Americana for the name recognition or to appease them?

Dennis: I would argue that the old Country folks are getting those nominations simply because the Americana nominations are an afterthought. There’s very little politicking going on behind the scenes for that category. According to the Grammy voting rules, people are only supposed to vote in their area of expertise. From reading these, here is my guess at what happens.

1) First round nominations are made by members and by record companies. Fair enough. But, think about who still has a record label (who despite their decreased influence, still have a lot of power here). Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill have much stronger label ties, because they came in under the old system, whereas someone like Jason Isbell was less noticed in this realm because he self-released his record. (Although arguably still a MUCH better business decision for Southeastern to be on his own label). So that’s how we get first round nominees. 2) Now, it’s left to recording academy voters. My guess is that if you are a “country” voter in any form, they would allow you to vote in all of the categories we’ve named. A wide variety of people can be voters (Andy Wilkinson, from Lubbock, told me once that he was for a while). I am also assuming that recording academy membership trends on the older side, so when it comes to voting for the Avett Brothers vs. Bonnie Raitt, who wins?  (Spoiler Alert: Bonnie Raitt won the Americana Grammy in 2013). 

So that’s my theory. It’s like when I go into the voting booth and I vote for President, Senator, etc., and I get to the Railroad Commissioner category. I won’t say that job isn’t important, but I’ll be honest and say I don’t pay much attention to who has that job in any given year.  So who do I vote for?  Probably the name I’ve heard before (or maybe bad example, because sometimes it might be NOT to vote for the name I’ve heard of before). 

The Grammy selection & voting systems aren’t set up to deal with a music market where everything doesn’t run through the labels. If I had to choose, these should have been the Americana nominees:

The Bird & The Rifle – Lori McKenna (this was nominated)
True Sadness – The Avett Brothers (also nominated)
Midwest Farmer’s Daughter – Margo Price
Heart Like a Levee – Hiss Golden Messenger
Upland Stories – Robbie Fulks (nominated in Folk)

Suitable alternates:
Young in All The Wrong Ways – Sara Watkins
The Very Last Day – Parker Millsap

And if we’re being honest, I would rather Sturgill’s record be in this category. But I won’t begrudge him for winning the “bigger” category of Best Country Album.

Maybe they just need to add a “Has Been” or “Used to Be” Grammy?

Mooney: That’s a very sound and plausible theory. I think it goes back to all those folks being “small label.” Which again, it’s because Americana roots music is so regional. 

I want to get back onto the whole Sturgill, Stapleton, Isbell, and Cobb are going to save country music thing. Yeah, it’s the trope and agenda that music journalists and a faction of the industry wants to push. Hell, I’ve even pushed the agenda because I want those guys to succeed. I think buried underneath the politicking, the drivel, the bumper stickers, t-shirt slogans, etc is a single question that is glossed over because it’s a boring question that’s pretty much already answered. The question isn’t if Sturgill, Stapleton, Isbell, Cobb, etc going to save Country music. The real question is if people are going to continue rewarding and appreciating genuine and timeless music overall?

The answer is an overwhelming yes. E.g., look back at who has won the last 23  Grammy’s for Best Country Music Album. When we look back, we always acknowledge those who contributed real songwriting and art. No one is talking about the bubblegum pop of any genre of any era. We love having a revised history. A lot of people make it out like Townes Van Zandt was high-rolling with a five tour bus caravan, dominating the charts, and was a nationally recognized treasure during the ‘70s. That’s simply not the truth. There’s always been a group of artists who were deemed as “not country” enough. Glen Campbell, Marie Osmond, Conway Twitty, John Denver, Ronnie Millsap, Linda Ronstadt, Eddie Rabbitt, Shania Twain, Garth Brooks, etc were all called not Country enough at some point during their career.

Now, we all can agree that this generation’s batch of “not Country enough” stars are less Country than any of their predecessors, but I’ll again go back and ask if history is going to reward them. I’m just assuming they’re not even making room for Montevallo or Kill the Lights in the next 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die edition. And of course, there’s that whole thing where anyone is forcing you to listen to it–or is that the plot of the next Saw film (Do they still does these???)?

Dennis: This reminds me of that t-shirt I bought at a Texas Country show recently. It read: “NASHVILLE SUCKS (Except Isbell & Simpson & Snider & Shires & Lambchop & William Tyler & …okay, Nashville is pretty cool, but we sure wish big labels would give us more money to keep singing songs about Texas).”

But on a serious note, good music persists despite the pop flavor of the month. On the surface, every pop trend seems like kind of a joke after the trend has passed. Growing up in the ’90s, I bought into the idea that all music in the ’80s was just terrible hair metal. In fact, there was tons of great music in the ’80s, but it wasn’t making its’ way to my radio, and I didn’t have an older sibling, so I still don’t know Springsteen’s catalog that well (guilty). And absolutely, Garth & Shania were really not liked by country traditionalists. Yet their music is so tame compared to today’s Top 40 Country–plus, I think a lot of people who grew up with Garth, whether they were fans or not, sort of have a soft spot for him now (E.g., how Garth sold out five straight shows in Lubbock).

The revisionist histories of Townes & Gram Parsons really have overreached in today’s scene. Even Guy Clark, with one of the most impressive catalogs of any songwriter, was never “set for life” financially with any of his songs. They so rarely made it to radio. And in today’s music climate, songwriters make much less simply because people don’t buy music like they used to. There’s so much less artist development these days, because they just don’t have the money to see what works anymore. Instead, they find someone like Dierks Bentley, who arguably could have been a good artist and they make him a product to sell what’s left to sell in the music business–i.e., a party (on a dirt road, in an airplane, etc.). I’ll go on record saying I thought Dierks was going to be really good, but his music is just plain terrible. But he gets to be wealthy and have seven tour buses playing music no one will care about in 20 years instead of grinding it out playing “real” Country in 100 seat venues for the rest of his life, to be remembered as a valiant troubadour who never got the credit he was due. Plus, he’ll probably be in the next Saw movie.

Mooney: I’m going to go off the deep end for a second. Bare with me.

I think over the last 70+ year, we’ve seen two major movements in the music industry. If we look at the major genre labels–Rock & Roll, Hip-Hop, Electronica, Pop (formerly known as Easy Listening), R&B, Folk, Jazz, and Country–on one end, The Top 40 of each has slowly, but surely come closer together homogenizing into a singular sound while on the other end, everything has branched out further apart. There are millions of sub-genres that fall within the major genre heads these days. It’s why there’s 100 versions of Punk music.

In a lot of ways, other than Jazz, Country music was the last holdout to this Top 40 blending. They were like The North in Game of Thrones when the Targaryen’s first invaded Westeros. In Aegon’s Conquest, House Stark and The North were the last to surrender (I mean, technically Dorne never was defeated. They’re like Jazz. They just never engaged with the idea that they’d fight or kneel). 

Anyway, these two movements have been spinning in opposite directions all these years. Top 40 is just becoming one thing. It’s being tightly wound upon itself. But the diversity underneath is so rich, complex, and vast, there will always be a class of artists who are the true and real vanguard of their genres. 

Long story short, Sturgill, Stapleton, etc ARE Country Music, so there’s no need in saving it. Their music will still be heard 50 years from now. The Hunts, Bryans, FL-GA Lines of the world simply won’t.

Again, who’s winning Grammy’s? I count 8 Grammy’s for Cobb’s crew in just these last two years (2 for Cobb, 2 for Stapleton, 2 for Isbell, 1 for Sturgill, and 1 for McKenna) while there’s ZERO for those they’re supposed to be saving it from. 

Dennis: So in the end, people will keep creating interesting new things in music, even though at some point, sub-sub-sub-genres may only have 10 people who really care about them. Truly, some of my most valued musical artifacts are things like bootlegs and live mp3s from shows that aren’t available anymore. At the same time, I don’t expect anyone to care about a random live recording of Hayes Carll from 10 years ago or my CD from Lubbock’s brief experiment in post-rock, Sparks Fly Upward. And there is definitely no money to be made in these endeavors. At some point, these small musical genres return to where music was in the first place–a live or recorded tradition shared with friends and family. That said, the Grammys don’t need to chase that music down the rabbit hole.  They just need to figure out a better way to keep track of the music that is really important as opposed to giving Don Henley & Sting the Folk Grammy for an album of Tiny Tim covers.

And conversely, Top 40 gonna Top 40.

Mooney: Top 40 is gonna Top 40.

What I think is a little funny is, that of the major genre labels, it’s really only Country and Rock & Roll that feel the need to have a multiple awards for the genre. Like with Rock, there’s Metal, Rock, and Alternative. With Country, you’re essentially adding the Americana roots as the little brother. Though they categorize it as Rap, it’s technically Hip-Hop (since Rap is a vocal style, not a genre style), you don’t see Best Gangsta Rap, Best Southern, and Best Backpack Album Awards. I don’t think splitting these genres into specific sub-genres will ever work.

If I was overhauling the system, it’d look like this:

Rock, Folk, Country, Hip-Hop, R&B, Jazz, Pop, and Electronica would all have two awards each–Best Album and Best Song. Then, you’d have the Overall Awards like New Artist, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. The nominees for those Overall awards would just be the winners of the eight major Genre Categories.

I know, I’m leaving out other categories like Comedy, World, Latin, Christian, etc out, but I’m not nearly familiar enough with them (and they’re really just niche categories anyway). I’d guess having just a just two categories within each–Best Album and Best Song–would suffice though. 

I know. It kind of becomes too encompassing–something I was bitching about earlier. I admit that. But, the difference here is 1) It’s so much simpler than the current system and 2) I think there’s less politics. Granted, this probably gives the major labels more power, but hell, they already have a bunch of power and influence.

That essentially means this year, we’d have had the Best Album noms as Adele (Pop), Beyoncé (R&B), Chance the Rapper (Hip-Hop), David Bowie (Rock), Sturgill Simpson (Country), Sarah Jarosz (Folk), Gregory Porter (Jazz), and Flume (Electronica).

So yeah, Adele would still have won. Beyoncé would still have “deserved” it. Sturgill fans would still be acting like Beyoncé fans. And, we’d still be wondering who Flume was. 

Dennis: As much as it kills me, you’re probably right that the Americana category has to go. It leaves the Avett Brothers and Ryan Adams, etc without much of a category, unless they have a major hit, but that’s probably okay. Still have to figure out what falls into the Folk category (eg, would Southeastern have fit the bill, since that was definitely not a Country record?), but as long as the focus is on original new music, it’s doable.

Have to include Blues, maybe not traditional and contemporary, but since it’s either the grandpa or great-uncle to most of the other categories, it’s a meaningful distinction.

So who wins for Alt Country?

Ehh, maybe we should save that conversation for another day.

Mooney: Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah. I should probably include Blues as well as its’ own distinct category. I guess I was thinking most blues music really falls into folk in a traditional way or into Rock & Roll in a modern way. My main reason for leaving it off was because you could see people gaming the system. Take a band like The Black Keys, who are by all means, a Rock band who had definite blues elements when they first started. Who’s to say they aren’t just thrown in that category just because it’d be easier to win than in Rock. I guess they still could do that now, though.

For guys like Avett Brothers, Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, etc, I think Folk fits the bill. I know most of the time when you hear the word Folk, you automatically go into thinking Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Greenwich Village, etc. It’s kind of a stale and sterile way to describe Isbell, but so is Americana if you think about it. Maybe a better label head would be Roots-Rock Folk. 

I mean, the elephant in the room is that Sturgill’s Sailor’s Guide isn’t really Country anyway. I guess he’s addressed it a handful of times. I really don’t have a problem with him winning the Best Country Album award either, though. Again though, people are deifying him more than they deified Gram Parsons (speaking of alt country!).  

Dennis: Country was the highest profile award he could win, so I’m glad he won that one. However, it just isn’t Country by most measures. His win is the latest in the Grammy voters ongoing collective protest against Top 40 Country. 

It got him a performance, which was the biggest benefit in my mind. All the people expecting or hoping he would throw his guitar again don’t really understand who Sturgill Simpson is as an artist.

Although, in reality, I don’t know how much Grammy performances matter. His performance was strong, but it was mostly for his fans and probably didn’t go along way to attract the casual Grammy listener. Overall, I am not a big fan of Grammy performances, because I feel like they are contrived attempts at some sort of greatness. I don’t think just because Alicia Keys and Maren Morris play together, (both great artists in their own right), that I should expect that to be a life-changing event. It is just a larger version of what happens at every level of music these days, which is to suggest that every single show is going to be mind-blowing or life-altering. I don’t really like big concerts anyway, because I feel like they are essentially performances for people who don’t know that much about music–who are wowed and awed at various smoke and mirrors. There’s only so many behind the head guitar solos a person can take.

Mooney: For the record, I was one of those hoping he’d throw his guitar again. Five seconds in, I figured it wasn’t happening to that acoustic Martin though. You’re probably right. His SNL performance probably had a bigger impact than his Grammy one.

Everyone’s throwing out hot takes on the Sturgill Grammy thing. At the end of the day, Country music has their shit together more so than the Rock category. That’s where the true identity crisis is happening.

Their Best Rock Album nominations were Tell Me I’m Pretty by Cage the Elephant (winner), California by Blink-182, Magma by Gojira, Death of a Bachelor by Panic! at the Disco, and Weezer by Weezer.

Even if Ripchord by Keith Urban had won Best Country Album, I’d say it’d be better than what’s going on in that dumpster fire.

The New Slang Podcast: Episode 031 John Baumann

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

On Episode 31, we catch up with Texas singer-songwriter John Baumann. He recently announced that his next album, an 11-song full-length, will be released this Spring. Last Saturday, we sat out on the back patio of The Blue Light to talk about what’s in store for Baumann this coming year, highlights and lowlights of the NBA season, how and why Championship games in sports this year have been all comebacks, The Super Bowl Halftime show, Willie Nelson, and Garth Brooks.

Like John Baumann on Facebook here. Follow him on Twitter here.

Like New Slang on Facebook here. Follow New Slang on Twitter at @_NewSlang and on Instagram at @_newslang.

Locating the Lubbock Sound

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