It's been a while now since I've posted on this blog -- about a year and three months be exact. I know you all have been waiting with unbridled anticipation, refreshing the page every five minutes just wondering when I would return to grace you with my thoughts, ramblings and reviews of country music. Well, I'm proud to say the waiting is over. After a hectic year or so, I've finally got a little downtime and in the coming months should be able to find a few seconds here or there every week to disperse my self-righteous insights into the far reaches of the internet. So without any further ado, I'd like to begin with a quick recap of the state of the country music industry and a review of a song I'm sure will be a #1 hit.
Quick disclaimer: I do not intend this blog to be an up-to-the-minute review of the latest country news or an industry-wide monitor of every new song or album released by some obscure artist. There are other country blogs with the resources to monitor these developments, and alas, at this current juncture I simply lack the personnel to compete. However, I hope you'll find some interesting tidbits of information on this site, enjoy some of the reviews, agree (or disagree) with some of my takes on industry developments, and, most importantly, hear some music you might not have never heard before. Ultimately, my goal is to spread the gospel of country music and this site is my pulpit -- let the preaching begin!
The past year or so has been a bit of an identity crisis for country music as a whole. The country-pop crossover acts that have been heavily embraced by country radio during the past few years seem like they are starting to lose their footing. Taylor Swift and some of the more whitebread acts are taking a back seat to more deserving talent like country's power couple, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. Snagging the coveted male and female vocalist of the year awards, it was a watershed moment for Shelton and Lambert who struggled through some lean times to get to the top of the mountain. Years and years ago (okay, only about a year ago but it certainly seems longer), I gave the first (and extremely rare) Beer of the Week to Blake, and highlighted his range to succeed with a variety of different country sub-genres. Well, I guess the Country Music Association took heed of my words (although I never did receive the invite to the CMA's -- must have gotten lost in the mail) because less than a year later, Blake saw his hard work vindicated with the CMA nod. As for Miranda, I admit, I was a little further off on that one. I ripped "The House That Built Me" for being unoriginal and fabricated, and it went on to win Song of the Year and propel Lambert to A-list stardom. Um.... *crickets*. I'll be the first to tell you I got that one wrong, and after listening to the song a few more times, I was convinced -- Miranda and "The House That Built Me" were deserving winners.
This past year also saw the break-up of country music's most successful duo, Brooks & Dunn, the continued commercial success of some of the industry's bigger acts (Chesney, et al.), and a slew of up-and-comers who are both deservedly knocking on the door of stardom (Luke Bryan, Chris Young, the Band Perry) and those who need to re-evaluate the generic garbage they are re-producing (Justin Moore and Jake Owen to name a few). In fact, we're seeing more generic, good-ole-backwoods songs than we've ever had before. Now, I know its summer time, a season when country radio tends to get a little lax with its standards, often opting for the light-hearted than the heart-breaker. It's a sub-genre Brad Paisley mastered with hits like "Water" (which, I might add, some other country blogs trashed and one in particular, ahem, rightfully predicted would be a hit), but its constantly abused by the likes of Keith Urban, who seems to put out at least one not-so-subtle song every summer with the word "summer" in the title, banjoes his way about halfway up the charts and is gone before the leaves start turning gold. Some of these up-and-coming artists are attempting to parlay this formula into commercial success and country radio is continuously duped by one song after another that sound identical. Thankfully, its a self-correcting problem -- generally, these artists fall by the wayside as the more unique talents continue their ascent and find their niche. I think thats what we're seeing here. Chris Young's got the power ballad nailed down, Luke Bryan's got the head-banger, the Band Perry's got the tear-jerking harmony. Jake Owen? He's had success in the past, but his latest country anthem, "Barefoot Blue Jean Night" is almost unlistenable. Justin Moore? The new song isn't bad, but his breakthrough, "Smalltown USA?" Give me a break.
Anyway, enough with the negativity, let me shine some light on a song and an artist that deserve a little fanfare. Introducing...........Hunter Hayes. The nineteen-year-old prodigy from Louisiana truly has a musical pedigree far beyond his years. His debut single, "Storm Warning," is about as close to a guaranteed hit as you can find, a catchy, up-beat song reminiscent of early Rascal Flatts (Hunter sounds remarkably similar to Rascal's lead singer, Gary Levox). And this is no mistake. At the ripe old age of 18, he co-wrote Rascal Flatt's "Play," a hit off their latest album Nothing Like This. In addition to the impressive vocals Hunter displays throughout the track, perhaps even more startling is that he plays every instrument on the recording. The song itself has a really catch hook, creative lyrics and just the right amount of production -- by this I mean, the song doesn't feel overdone like so many others are these days. There's no unnecessary bongo drumming or a 20-part overdubbing, just a good combo of simple instruments and a slight harmonization during the chorus (I suspect it's Hunter overdubbed over himself). Also, the pick-up into the chorus is excellently done -- just the right amount of pace and power to really hit home. As far as debut singles go, you can't do much better. It's tough to really catch-on with a ballad so this choice makes a lot of sense from a career standpoint (especially for such a young talent). And it seems to be paying off. As of this morning, Hunter was slated to go on tour with Taylor Swift for a few weeks running through mid-August. Hopefully, this is more of an age-related pairing than a miscalculated recognition of similar talents (the overproduction I mentioned above runs rampant through most of Taylor's songs). Anyway, check out "Storm Warning," currently climbing the country charts -- we'll check back in a few weeks when it gets to #1.