Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Nothing New On The Western Front

Earlier this morning the CMA revealed the nominees for the 50th CMA Awards Show. Eric Church, Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton lead the pack of the nominees with five nominations each. The biggest losers for being stubbed are Sturgill Simpson with a #1 album, Jon Pardi and critic favorite Brandy Clark.

“I am very excited about this year’s list of nominees. We have artists who received their first CMA Awards nominations decades ago alongside first-timers; we have critically-acclaimed songwriters and artists who have reset the bar for Country Music. This is going to be an exciting year in addition to celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the CMA Awards.”

It may be exciting for the CEO of the CMA , Sarah Trahern but will not offer country music fans anything new. The 50th anniversary celebration will go down in the books as catering to the radio and label interests. But in general, there is not one nomination to be really excited about, not one!

Here's the list of the 2016 CMA Awards Nominees

* depicts who probably will win / amu my choice)

Entertainer of the Year

Garth Brooks

Luke Bryan

Chris Stapleton (amu)

Carrie Underwood (*)

Keith Urban

It's Carrie's first nomination in the Entertainer category and with the country music pie lacking a nice slice of female artists, I predict that Carrie will take this trophy home. I actually think the whole award show could revolve around her, she has been ignored for too long and she will again be hosting with Brad Paisley (for the ninth time).

Male Vocalist of the Year

Dierks Bentley

Eric Church (amu)

Tim McGraw

Chris Stapleton (*)

Keith Urban

Dierks & Keith released some of their worst albums of their respective careers, McGraw is a solid bet, but I think Stapleton can double down after last year's award. Personally I think Eric Church should be rewarded for "MR. MISUNDERSTOOD" and his own independant tour.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini

Miranda Lambert (*)

Maren Morris

Kacey Musgraves (amu)

Carrie Underwood

Maybe with the Entertainer of the Year, Carrie may be able to snag the Female Vocalist Award as well - it would be a nice surprise as her first win dates 11 years back. But she will have stiff competition in Miranda Lambert, who won the last six times and probably will win again. I'm not sure the CMA is really ready for Kacey Musgraves, even though honoring her independency would look really good to the outside world of Nashville. Ballerini and Morris (even though nominated five times) are nothing but cannon fodder. Kelsea Ballerini simply can not sing, and Morris has only one good song "My Church" - the rest on "HERO' is all filler material.

Album of the Year

Black, Dierks Bentley

Hero, Maren Morris

Mr. Misunderstood, Eric Church (amu)

Ripcord, Keith Urban

Storyteller, Carrie Underwood (*)

I really think it could be Underwood's year - without a lot of bad headlines - she has built a solid career and "STORYTELLER" was an ok album. On the other hand "BLACK," "HERO" and "RIPCORD" are terrible albums with awful songs, excluding Morris's hit.

Single of the Year

"Die A Happy Man", Thomas Rhett

"Humble and Kind", Tim McGraw

"My Church", Maren Morris (*/amu)

"Nobody To Blame", Chris Stapleton

"Record Year", Eric Church

I hope either "Church" wins, Morris's song is the exception that proves the rule, yes you can actually have a bad album, but there is one gem of a song on it; "My Church" is that song and it fits the category perfectly as it was a huge hit, a breakout single and a song we will talk about in a decade from now. I think the biggest challenge will be to win against the Lori McKenna penned "Humble and Kind" sung by Tim McGraw. "Die A Happy Man" is the weakest of the five and should in my opinion not been nominated as a single of the year.

Song of the Year - this goes to the songwriters

"Burning House", Cam - Cam, Jeff Bhasker, Tyler Johnson (amu)

"Die A Happy Man", Thomas Rhett - Thomas Rhett, Sean Douglas, Joe Spargur

"Humble and Kind", Tim McGraw -  Lori McKenna (*)

"My Church", Maren Morris - Maren Morris, busbee

"Record Year", Eric Church -  Eric Church, Jeff Hyde

I love Cam's song, this is a career song and it should win her a trophy. I think Lori McKenna and Maren Morris & busbee may either other cancel out. But yes with all the press McKenna recently received for her new album, she may swing to the top.

Vocal Group of the Year

Lady Antebellum

Little Big Town (*)

Old Dominion

Rascal Flatts

Zac Brown Band

I did not leave my favorite here, there is none. It's all crap. Zac Brown Band used to make really good music but since then have gone to Nashville hell and back. That category is one part why we don't listen to country music radio anymore.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Brothers Osborne

Dan + Shay

Florida Georgia Line

Joey + Rory (*/amu)

Maddie & Tae

There is no competition here, with the passing of Joey Martin Feek on March 4 of this year, and having been snubbed twice before, the CMA will honor the former duo posthumously and they should. Great way to ignore FGL and hoping that they will be digging carrots by next year.

New Artist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini

Brothers Osborne (amu)

Maren Morris (*)

Old Dominion

Cole Swindell

Where is Pardi, Simpson, Clark and the Kelsey, that can actually sing, Kelsey Waldon - also missing here is William Michael Morgan a true country artist in the vein of a George Strait. I only care about Brothers Osborne who currently start to stir the pot up with "21 Summer" a song that is half way decent. (And please somebody sends Ballerini to Never, Never Land where she belongs.)

Musical Event of the Year

"Different For Girls", Dierks Bentley/Elle King

"Home Alone Tonight", Luke Bryan/Karen Fairchild

"The Fighter", Keith Urban/Carrie Underwood (*)

"Think of You", Chris Young/Cassadee Pope

"You Are My Sunshine", Chris Stapleton/Morgane Stapleton (amu)

Whatever! The crap list goes one - "You Are My Sunshine" is the only thing I can listen too, without my ears actually going on strike; and they are not even unionized.

Music Video of the Year

"Burning House", Cam

"Fire Away", Chris Stapleton

"Humble and Kind", Tim McGraw

"Record Year", Eric Church

"Somewhere On A Beach", Dierks Bentley (*)

Video is a video is a video and creativity is limited. I mean how many freaking ways are there to put something around a song. Let's be honest, how many country videos can you remember because it was exceptionally filmed or had a nice storyline to it or something special - like the appearance of Hank with Hank Jr. in 1989's "There's A Tear In My Beer" or Johnny Cash beautifully portraying and making the Trent Raznor song "Hurt" his own, right before he passed away.

Musician of the Year

Jerry Douglas (*)

Paul Franklin

Dan Huff

Brett Mason

Derek Wells

They all deserve an award!

Hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, the 2016 CMA Awards will air live from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Wednesday, Nov. 2 2016 in a three hour broadcast starting at 7pm (CST) on ABC.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Miranda Lambert Receives 1st ACM Merle Haggard Spirit Award

Miranda Lambert
is riding high, her current single "Vice" just entered the Top Twenty Country Airplay Charts (Billboard & Mediabase), already hit the #1 spot as a bestseller (Country Digital Song) and her official Vevo/YouTube video has racked up more than 4 Million views. To top all this, the Academy of Country Music (ACM) announced today that Miranda Lambert will be the first recipient of the newly created "Merle Haggard Spirit Award."

In the run-up since the announcement of the award and the naming of the winner a week later, a shitstorm went through Social Media, everybody plus their cousin asking who is really fit in deserving this prestigious award. The latest being Sturgill Simpson earlier this morning - before the ACM announced Lambert - going on an extensive rant. Besides attacking the ACM for leaving a bad taste in your mouth by creating this award he also went into a full broadside against "Garden & Gun" magazine.

Sturgill hit the nail on top, a quick brainstorm actually did not bring immediately an artist to my mind. Maybe Randy Travis for his seminal role in the country music revolution of 1986. None of the young (and some older) whippersnappers come even close to deserve that honor.

And yes he is right about the sell-out of both organisations, the Nashville-based CMA and the West Coast-based ACM, even though the latter deserves a couple of kudos for being more honest; especially in the earlier years.

"If the ACM wants to actually celebrate the legacy and music of Merle Haggard, they should drop all the formulaic cannon fodder bullshit they've been pumping down rural America's throat for the last 30 years along with all the high school pageantry, meat parade award show bullshit and start dedicating their programs to more actual Country Music."

I can't say anything against this, he's dead on. I quit being a member of the CMA when Garth Brooks started screwing the whole industry up and left in protest. (or am I missing something?) Sturgill Simpson's attack against "Garden & Gun" magazine is understandable, it basically shows an editor-in-chief with no backbone.

Here's the timeline - May '15 Chris Stapleton releases "Traveller" - photoshoot of Merle Haggard & Sturgill is in October. In November Chris wins big at the CMA awards and it looks like he will win big at the ACM Awards on 4/3/16 as well. Sturgill's album is not out till 4/15 and nobody in February/March knows what that album is going to hold up to. So the douchebag editor chooses to go with a secure hand (Stapleton), instead of raising the odds (Sturgill & Merle). Not only would they have had the artist with the #1 album at the time the magazine came out, but they also would have had Merle who died on his birthday 4/6 on the cover. The editor just didn't play right.

So how does the ACM define the new Merle Haggard Spirit Award?

If the ACM lives up to this credo and honors only artists with "uncompromising integrity" AND have a "singular vision in carving an indelible path" we're gonna run out of awardees pretty soon if they don't start giving this award posthumously.

So did Miranda deserve it, in my honest opinion yes. And here is my reasoning, she wrote most of her own hits, from the first song "Me And Charlie Talkin'" to the current single "Vice" entering the charts. And yes she created some iconic songs "Gunpowder & Lead", "Kerosene" or "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" doing that. Her having a side project with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley as Pistol Annie's gives her some more cogency. And by standing tall and basically being the only "country" female artist still being played on the radio, she does leave a lasting mark. And yes she and Merle did have an understanding, she actually presented him with the last award he received from the ACM.

But I'm quite open to discussion - leave a comment and also mention who may deserve next year's award.

Sturgill came back later in the afternoon and had to clarify some points, one making clear, that he posted his rant before the announcement of Miranda being the winner. He also wrote:

" I know that Merle liked and respected her so it's good to see there is at least some blue sky in all of this. I don't know Miranda nor have I ever met her but something tells me that in her heart, she knows I'm dead on."

Probably true too - he then continues with his rant against Nashville and the current forces that rule. Even though being considered for a CMA award this fall, he already announced that he will not attend the festivities, not out of a mean spirit, but he has a sold-out concert scheduled that night. He also denounces the factitiousness of the whole establishment about:

"claiming to uphold and hold dear the original values and integrity of Country music's legacy. Yet these are just hollow words...merely empty semantics. One needs only to look glancingly at the majority of the music that they, along with the CMA's, predominantly choose to recognize and promote at their award shows."

He concludes with a love epithet towards the city on the banks of the Cumberland and promises to move away. I'm sure Austin would embrace him with open arms.

The awards show is tomorrow (8/30) night at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and will be televised in a TV special on CBS September 9th at 8pm CDT. Below is Miranda with the Merle Haggard cover "The Bottle Let Me Down."

Sources:,,, Sturgill Simpson facebook,

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"PURE & SIMPLE" Dolly Parton Still Rocks! - Album Review

Who would have thought! Almost 30 years ago, instead of reviewing Dolly's first album for Columbia titled "RAINBOW", I played Frisbee with it. It didn't matter that I shelled out quite many Francs to buy the import, as it was not available yet from the local distributor in Switzerland. That album was simply that bad, Dolly had sold out to mediocrity, I missed songs of meaning and true story-telling. So my propane burner shaped the black vinyl round into a flying disc.

So fast forward to 2016 and I'm glad to say that her latest offering, her 43rd album "PURE & SIMPLE" will make my year-end list as one of the best country albums of the year.

No frills, no modern electronica (c)rap fuss; actually the title sums it up: simplicity, no over-production, let the pure songs - all of them written by her - speak for themselves and let her vocals shine. Dolly was also at the helm and self-produced "PURE & SIMPLE" with the help of her touring musicians and frequent collaborators Richard Dennison and Tom Rutledge.

The septuagenarian is in fine form, the range is still here and she's still Dolly, sensual and passionate. Married for over 50 years to Carl Dean, a renewal of their vows took place earlier this year, it's only fitting that Dolly releases an album consisting mostly of love songs.

Two of the ten songs are remakes of old Top Ten Country Singles hits Dolly had together with Porter Wagoner "Tomorrow Is Forever" (#9/1970) from "PORTER WAYNE & DOLLY REBECCA" and the title track from her 12th duet album with her early mentor "Say Forever You'll Be Mine" (#5/1975). The latter one is a pure delight, just simply Dolly's voice, a guitar (Rutledge), and Jimmy Mattingly's fiddle. Other country or roots instrumentation include Mandolin (Mattingly), banjo (Rutledge), and master Paul Franklin on five songs playing wonderful steel guitar.

The opener and title track "Pure & Simple" with its arrangement of mandolin and steel guitar reminds me a bit of the Trio sessions Dolly did together with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt in 1987. (A remastered 3CD set, with unreleased and alternate versions of these and the 1999 sessions will be available September 9.) 

Funny to hear Dolly Parton in "Never Not Love You" with its subtle banjo picking, sing: 
I might not be in fashion, might not be all that smart; Might not be that good lookin’, not someone set apart." 
As she is quoted for a long time, it "takes a lot of money to look that cheap," yes it may, but behind this blonde rags-to-riches Tennessee gal, is a savvy businesswoman with a huge heart for charities. "Kiss It (And Make It All Better)" is a cool duet with Richard Dennison, as kisses helped heal scratches when we were little kids, they now fix a broken heart.

That's where the album takes a break from love songs and offers two love gone wrong or cheating tunes. "Can't Be That Wrong" references in lyrics only, to two old hits, the Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul & Mary) penned "Torn Between Two Lovers" - a #1-hit for Mary McGregor - and "I Don’t Want To Be Right If Lovin’ You Is Wrong” written by Homer Banks, Carl Hampton and Raymond Jackson, a hit for Luther Ingram but recorded by everybody from Bobby Blue Bland to Barbara Mandrell. The songwriting is superb and reflects the old dichotomy between sin or temptation and salvation which was always a central theme in traditional country music writing:

"To Hell with Heaven if it means I’ll lose you, Anything that feels this right can’t be that wrong. It just can’t be." 

While in "Outside Your Door" the cheating part is only mentioned in one line "Might not be the right thing to do, But I swear it doesn’t feel wrong" it deals with the same theme, but has an uptempo almost frolic feel to it and the "sinner" is drawn back again and again to his/her lover.

Age is only a number and when you're in love you can feel like a teenager again, observes Dolly in the fun, groovy romp "I'm Sixteen." And Dolly does take us back to the old "golden" but also cliched days with pop culture references to the almost all by now gone drive-ins and the disappearing Tastee Freez restaurants; as well as with a line out of the Beach Boys 1964 top ten hit "Fun, Fun, Fun" "till the daddy takes the T-Bird away." The young innocence of having a little hump on the backseat of a car or to go skinny-dipping in the millpond off the town, just adds up to the fun Dolly is spreading. "Head Over High Heels" is probably the most "modern" sounding track and a true barnstormer for love. A lot subtler, but to a certain degree kitschy comes with the closer "Forever Love" and its lush strings.

As a summary - I miss some of Dolly's stronger songwriting and storytelling - "Can't Be That Wrong" and "I'm Sixteen" being the exception. Best tracks include the title track, the remake of "Say Forever You'll Be Mine," while "Head Over High Heels" and "I'm Sixteen" should get some wishful airplay on the radio. Basically, it's over half an hour of good to great country music and will not only delight hardcore Dolly Parton fans.

The album is available in several packages, which may make it hard for a true DP fan to decide which version to buy: there is the regular 10 song album, which is available on all the usual retailer websites (itunes, amazon). Besides the regular CD, Walmart also offers an exclusive package with two extra tracks "Mama" and "Lovin' You" on "PURE & SIMPLE" and a compilation disc containing 10 of her most popular hits. Home-cooking restaurant Cracker Barrel has its own special release, besides an extensive booklet the CD comes with two of her biggest hits "Jolene" and "9 To 5" recorded live in the UK at the Glastonbury Festival where she performed in front of over 100'000 people two years ago and consequently sold her previous album "BLUE SMOKE" to platinum honors. By the way, Cracker Barrel also has a 12 track compilation CD of Dolly's early material with Porter Wagoner.

★★★★/★★★★★ (4/5)


The iconic singer is currently on a promo tour promoting her new release, she actually visited the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on 8/23 and performed the title track of her new album.

[Update 022121: The video link got removed by the Tonight Show] 

She will pick up the last leg of her 60-city "Pure & Simple" tour in September - her first in 25 years - first in Canada, then on to the West Coast before coming into Texas and Oklahoma. The tour not only carries the name of the album but also offers the same experience, a stripped-down show, Dolly playing everything from piano to sax, from autoharp to dulcimer.

I hope I have a chance to see her in Thackerville, OK in December - that would be an awesome Christmas gift.

Sept. 09 Molson Canadian Amphitheatre - Toronto, ON, Canada

Sept. 10 Foley Fair Grounds - Seguin, ON, Canada

Sept. 12 MTS Centre - Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Sept. 13 Mosaic Place - Moose Jaw, SK, Canada

Sept. 16 Scotiabank Saddledome - Calgary, AB, Canada

Sept. 17 Rogers Place - Edmonton, AB, Canada

Sept. 19 Rogers Arena - Vancouver, BC, Canada

Sept. 21 ShoWare Center - Kent, Wash. SOLD OUT

Sept. 22 Northern Quest Casino - Airway Heights, Wash.

Sept. 24 Shoreline Amphitheatre - Mountain View, Calif.

Sept. 25 Santa Barbara Bowl - Santa Barbara, Calif.

Sept. 27 Valley View Casino - San Diego, Calif.

Sept. 28 Vina Robles Amphitheatre - Paso Robles, Calif.

Sept. 30 Laughlin Amphitheatre - Laughlin, Nev.

Oct. 01 Hollywood Bowl - Los Angeles, Calif.

Oct. 02 Hollywood Bowl - Los Angeles, Calif.

Nov. 15 Pigeon Forge Convention Center - Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Dec. 06 Frank Erwin Center - Austin, TX

Dec. 09 Global Event Center at WinStar World Casino and Resort - Thackerville, Okla.

Dec. 10 Global Event Center at WinStar World Casino and Resort - Thackerville, Okla.

Sources: Sony Music Entertainment, Kirt Webster PR, NBC Jimmy Fallon,, websites of the retailers, Cracker Barrel

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

SR: No "Fix" please - make Chris Lane disappear!

Chris Lane - Obviously celebrating his first #1 - Instagram
There are so many definitions in the dictionary that explain what fix is or may be, but it needs an addendum:

"Fix" - (song) - worst ditty to hit the top of the Country Airplay Charts by Billboard magazine and by IHeartMedia's mediabase in the summer of 2016.

During the tracking period to reach the top spot, the song got over 8100 spins, reaching and leaving an almost 56 million weekly audience impression. And you wonder why this country is in such a mess.

So it's time for celebration:

- a new artist, Chris Lane

- first charted single (others beforehand didn't scratch the top 40)

- new record label: Big Loud Records

- seasoned songwriters and producer

STOP - let's shine a light behind the curtain and we suddenly realize that we just stepped in a big fresh stinky turd.

- behind the record label, Big Loud Records is the Big Loud Mountain team that also handles douche-bags Florida Georgia Line, even though they put their shit out on Republic Records. Add to this, the president of Big Loud Records, Clay Honeycutt and that's where the incest begins

- Honeycutt was for over 15 years a "yes man" (not my words but his colleagues in comments on trade website AllAccess) in the IHeartMedia (formerly known as Clear Channel Communications) operations. So he leaves the sinking ship, IHeart is struggling to get rid of $6 Billion in debt, and becomes the president of a record label after being in command for over a decade over more than 850 radio stations.

- the single that didn't chart in the Top Forty was "Broken Windshield View" a rather lame bro-country song, even though co-written by David Lee Murphy ("Dust On The Bottle"). During the production of an initial EP, producer Joey Moi discovered that Lane actually has a falsetto mode when singing and voilĂ , they found a new niche for the 31 year old singer from North Carolina and started re-vamping him.

- all revamped as a blue-eyed wanna-be R&B singer, his producer Moi passed him "Fix" to record.

- "Fix" could actually fly in a decent R&B arrangement, written by Abe Stoklasa (see his performance to prove my point for a decent production), Sarah Buxton and Jesse Frasure, latter being also responsible for that horrendous "High Class" single done by Eric Paslay,

- Producer Joey Moi, who won a CMA Award as a producer for Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise," the Single of the Year in 2013  pretty much stays true to his ear-numbing, over-top one dimensional productions. He may have caught Lane's falsetto but the whole production is missing depth, it's just a plain cacophony. It's bad enough that he is associated with Nickelback, Daughtry and the above mentioned Douche-Bags, but this guy gotta go home back north to Canada before he produces an other turd.

A quick listen through his new album "GIRL PROBLEMS" that was released last Friday, does not reveal anything promising. I will review the whole album later, when I have recovered from "Fix."

And a note to radio stations - if you force feed us this song 94 ! times in a week, like IHeartMedia owned KBEB-FM in Sacramento (92.5 FM) did, please don't start to wonder why we're all wandering away to streaming media and our own programming.

(★)/★★★★★ (½/5)

Sources:, AllAccess, Billboard

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ryan Bingham - Live From Texas

Screenshot - Ryan Bingham performing live at Whitewater Amphitheater 

By accident I stumbled upon a tidbit that Ryan Bingham's concert at the Whitewater Amphitheater outside of New Braunfels will be streamed live (yesterday 8/6/16). It was too late to blog it in advance, but to my delight, the stream is still available and the whole concert can still be enjoyed n its full length.

Not familiar with the gaming platform Twitch, I first was wondering why amazonmusic would choose an outlet like this. But the almost two hour concert is wonderful, portraying the Americana artist in its best light and well worth tuning into Twitch.

The Oscar, Gloden Globe & Grammy winner, who came to prominence with his co-write of "The Weary Kind" with T-Bone Burnett for the 2009 movie "Crazy Heart" (it also won Jeff Bridges an Oscar as best actor) is currently touring behind his 5th studio album "FEAR AND SATURDAY NIGHT" which was released in January of last year. This does not include two non-major albums Bingham released early in his career in 2002 "WISHBONE SALOON" and 2006 "DEAD HORSES."

Besides his hits Ryan also included covers by Townes Van Zandt "Pancho & Lefty," Guy Clark "Dublin Blues" and Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried." It was really nice to see, Bingham including two songs of the recently departed Clark and Haggard in front of this enthusiastic crowd. Playing in front of a solid rhythm section, Nate Barnes (drs) and Shawn Davis (bs) with guitarists Daniel Sproul and Jedd Hughes, latter also on mandolin, setting the accents of the show. And yes it is good to see my old pal Richard Bowden still playing all these hot fiddle licks.

Unfortunately I don't know how long amazonmusic or twitch will keep this nice concert video up, so I guess watch it as long as it is hot. If you read this later, and the video shouldn't be playing anymore, please leave me a comment. And I guess thanks to amazonmusic to stream this concert - visit them and buy some Ryan Bingham music.

Watch live video from amazonmusic on