Country Musicians Should Totally Pick Up Where Van Halen Left Off

Brody Vercher | May 30th, 2008

  1. Stormy
    May 30, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Sex and Gasoline is one of Rodney’s best songs EVER

  2. Rick
    May 30, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Jamey Johnson’s “In Color” has stalled at the # 43 position on this week’s R&R country singles chart, just behind Emily West and Crystal Shawanda. All the critical praise in the world and $ 7 will get you a frilly mocha latte at Starbucks, but not much else these days. I’m just glad that all of the positive press and the limited radio airplay should be enough to bring Jamey’s new album to the attention of traditional country fans that still appreciate quality music.

    Whitney Duncan proved on the last Nashville Star that she is as pitchy as Taylor Swift, which may actually be a good thing on Top 40 radio these days! If she’s now singing on pitch, then the album liner credits should give a nod to “Pro Tools” software…..

    Lee Ann Womack is still one of the finest traditional country female voices in the business. Sadly Top 40 country radio these days seems to consider that attribute about as desirable as a communicable disease….

  3. Baron Lane
    May 30, 2008 at 11:15 am

    I remember seeing the Jump tour at the Ryman and thinking “Dang, these boys are onto something. Look at the crazy way that dude plays the banjo!”

  4. Stormy
    May 30, 2008 at 11:16 am

    The biggest problem with Chet’s theory is that the fans really have no say in what gets played or goes to #1 on mainstream radio these days.

  5. Razor X
    May 30, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Stormy, I also think that the typical new fan who still listens to mainstream country radio has far fewer objections to people like Jessica Simpson moving over to country music, than country fans typically have in the past. Her single is exactly the kind of mindless fodder that radio is so enamored with these days.

  6. Hollerin' Ben
    May 30, 2008 at 11:35 am

    You know that feeling you get when you see some cool old footage of Loretta or Merle singing live and you think to yoursef, “Damn that was good. I’m glad I saw that.”

    That’s the opposite of the feeling that the the Taylor Swift/Kellie Pickler video gave me.

  7. Lucas
    May 30, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I’m the kind of person that (I kid you not) has never sworn or cussed outside of music, it’s just my style. But you have to sing lines like that, that’s the pride to the song. Taking boot out of it changes the song to me. Army men and women don’t wear heels.

    Jessica Simpson, oh please.

  8. Razor X
    May 30, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Hollerin’ Ben said: “You know that feeling you get when you see some cool old footage of Loretta or Merle singing live and you think to yoursef, “Damn that was good. I’m glad I saw that.”

    Ben, my personal benchmark for judging new songs — like the Jessica Simpson single, for example – is to ask myself, “Would Loretta have recorded that song? Would Tammy have recorded that song?” I think you know what the answer was in this particular case.

  9. C. Eric Banister
    May 30, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    It is more disturbing to me that Sugarland concerts feature “giant plastic hamster balls.” What’s next mountain oysters?

  10. Dan M.
    May 30, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    I think all the implied sex in that video for “Learning How to Bend” gives an unintentionally hilarious new meaning to the song’s title.

  11. Brady Vercher
    May 30, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I’m with you on that one, Ben. That was just like bad karaoke.

    Is anyone else worried about Sugarland’s upcoming album? I’m trying to figure out where their country inspiration is coming from.

    Exhibit A
    But Bush says they’re confident the fans will love this new one just as much, even though it has a bit of a different sound.

    “I would say that we’ve definitely crested into a brave new world,” Bush tells Starpulseonline.com. “I’m in awe of this record . . . I’m just shocked. I keep listening to it going, ‘I can’t believe it’s us.’”

    Bush goes onto mention some big influences on this new project that range from Juice Newton to Rod Stewart to R.E.M.

    “It’s pretty diverse,” he says. “It’s a beautiful record, and it’s fun.”

    Exhibit B
    The pop fest known as their first single, “All I Want To Do.”

    Exhibit C
    “You have to take chances, musically, and you have to take them in your business,” Bush said over the phone from Waikiki, Hawaii, fresh off a recent early-morning surfing lesson. “Everything we’ve done that was safe didn’t work out.”

    [...]

    Indeed, Sugarland’s headlining shows have taken cues from unlikely sources to ramp up the energy and spectacle. Recent shows have seen Bush and Nettles rolling atop the crowd in giant plastic hamster balls, a la indie rockers the Flaming Lips.

    “I’m a big Flaming Lips fan, and I thought, ‘Why not? Someone’s gotta do it.’ And you figure nobody in country music’s ever seen anything like that.”

    [...]

    “There’s no reason that a lot of touring country musicians can’t pick up where Van Halen left off,” Bush said. “It’s just that they don’t want to.”

  12. Razor X
    May 30, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Sounds like Sugarland has either jumped the shark is about to do so in the very near future. Probably about a year from now we’ll be reading that they are breaking up because Jennifer Nettles wants to pursue a solo career.

  13. Razor X
    May 30, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    And doesn’t it just figure that LeAnn had to ruin “Blue”, the one good song in her catalog. [SIGH]

  14. Hollerin' Ben
    May 30, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    “There’s no reason that a lot of touring country musicians can’t pick up where Van Halen left off. It’s just that they don’t want to.”

    Might there be, now I’m going out on a limb on this one, a reason they don’t want to?

    For example, maybe they don’t want to because that level of mindless spectacle detracts from the music, is ridiculous, and is antithetical to the sort of experience good country music produces.

    Ya’know, for all of Nashville’s harping that country is about “everyday life” and that’s why all of their songs can be boring and mindless, they sure don’t take that approach to their live music. It’s always like, “hey man, let’s get a big video screen, and some props, and some other totally awesome stuff! Hey, can we shoot me out of the floor when I first come on stage? I went to some big pop rock concerts 20 years ago, before I was totally old, and I had a ton of fun! Yeah, and when we have that song about how there may be things that make us sad, but that life is still totally good anyways, because it’s the small things that matter, we can bring dancers onstage, I’ll get into a giant plastic ball and roll onto the crowd, and we’ll totally rock out! Sound good?”

    damn their eyes.

  15. Chris N.
    May 30, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    As a lifelong Kiss fan, I can’t honestly say I don’t enjoy a nice spectacle from time to time.

  16. Stormy
    May 30, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    There is also another really beautiful song that Rodney might put on his new cd (he was singing it in concert with Sex and Gasoline when I heard him) that is basically a bedtime story for his granddaughter (from the daughter who’s not Rosanne’s daughter) telling her about her grandmother.

  17. Lucas
    May 30, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    “If I was watching from the sidelines, I’d say Gene Simmons… you are one powerful and handsome man.” – Gene on the Celebrity Apprentice and probably my favorite quote of all time for it’s humor and self-confidence.

  18. Katie
    May 30, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    I remember an interview with Sugarland in advance of their second album, and they kinda said the same things — it’s a new direction, taking risks, etc. etc. Then it didn’t seem any different to me, except they had less harmony without Kristen Hall. I was also worried because I had this idea that Hall was the songwriting brains behind the operation, but that’s obviously not the case.

    Anyway, I’m not crazy about “All I Wanna Do,” either, but I thought it sounded like a Sugarland song. A weak, lyrically lazy Sugarland song, as Matt C. rightfully pointed out.

  19. Jim Malec
    May 30, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    “Her song sounds like a utilitarian voice recording a heavily-produced, factory-written generic song, with carefully crafted steel and acoustic guitars, with almost too much of both, as if to point and say, “Listen to me — I’m country! I could be the next Shania.” At least there’s no banjo.”

    Wow, that sounds like something I would write. Oh, wait…

    …And then there’s the obligatory “Hey! Look at me! I’m a Country song!” steel guitars that pervade the track

    I love Chet, but c’mon…at least give a man a little bit of credit.

  20. Funk
    May 30, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Razor said: Ben, my personal benchmark for judging new songs — like the Jessica Simpson single, for example – is to ask myself, “Would Loretta have recorded that song? Would Tammy have recorded that song?”

    That’s a might bit limiting, don’t you think? Music evolves. Let it. (Hell, every single thing evolves or dies.) Two female artists decide what is and what is not good music?

    And Brady, lately you seem to be too hung up on what it means when artists formally known as country singers try different forms of music. You run this country-centric blog very well and you write about country music. Should I wag my finger if you ever write about anything EXCEPT country music? Of course not. Let artists be artists and judge their work as it stands against your tastes and knowledge. If you like a song, you like it. If you dislike the music, that’s fine too but why would you wonder about Sugarland’s music before you even hear it?

    Artists push us in directions different than before. You can choose to go that direction or not but at least give the artists you enjoy a chance. Don’t make them stay in a box.

  21. Brady Vercher
    May 30, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Similar to Razor X’s “Loretta Litmus Test,” Trisha Yearwood has an Emmylou Harris factor when deciding whether or not to record a song. (3rd Question)

    Funk, where have I come across as being too hung up on former country artists trying their hands at different forms of music? Just curious.

    And are you saying Sugarland is a former country act? As far as I’m aware, they’re being marketed as a country act and from a country music perspective, their comments aren’t very inspiring. REM, Flaming Lips, Rod Stewart, Van Halen, country music? I don’t particularly care one way or the other about theatrics at their shows and I’m not judging their music yet, nor is it possible considering only one (very pop) single has been released, but their comments do create a cause for concern.

  22. Razor X
    May 30, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Funk, there’s evolution and there’s devolution. We’re seeing way too much of the latter these days. It’s OK for country music to evolve, but the elements that make it special – its heart and soul – must be preserved. We’re perilously close to losing them.

  23. Razor X
    May 30, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Brady said, “…nor is it possible considering only one (very pop) single has been released, but their comments do create a cause for concern.”

    Especially considering we’ve seen how many other acts go down this landmine-ridden road before them over the years? When a country artist starts talking about how they appreciate all types of music, don’t like labels, etc. etc., and start mimicking pop and rock acts — watch out! It’s code language for “we want to be bigger than country music” and means they’re trying to cross over. Then they’ll keep pushing the envelope a little more with each album, edging closer and closer to pure pop, until they finally go too far and release an album that doesn’t sell. Then they’ll do a hasty retreat with the next album and make it more country and hope radio and the fans will forgive them. Faith Hill is a recent example of this.

  24. Funk
    May 30, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    watch out! It’s code language for “we want to be bigger than country music” and means they’re trying to cross over.

    Or it could mean they like many different types of music. Is that a problem?

  25. Razor X
    May 30, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    “Or it could mean they like many different types of music. Is that a problem?”

    It’s a problem when they stop doing real country music and do pop music instead, all the while denying that’s what they’re doing. Have you ever noticed how when most of today’s country artists are asked who their influences were, they usually name several pop singers and if we’re lucky they’ll mention George Jones as an after thought. They know little or nothing about the heritage of the genre with which they’ve been entrusted to bring into the future, and yes, it’s a huge problem.

  26. Lynn
    May 30, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    “Or it could mean they like many different types of music. Is that a problem?”

    Nope. But once they actually become a pop rock artist/band, can they stop advertising themselves as country? I don’t think change is bad, just stop calling it country, wearing a cowboy hat and proclaiming how much you love to be a part of this genre. That’s what drives me crazy. If someone wants to record a pop, rock, reggae, blues, rap album, go for it. Just don’t call it country.

    Here’s another new Sugarland song performed in concert for comparison:
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=BpFdRLl2CaM

    Regarding LeAnn…I went to see Kenny Chesney last night, mainly because I wanted to see LeAnn in concert. However, she was sick and some lame MySpace guy opened instead. Kenny tried to make up for it by singing some old songs but he couldn’t remember the words. We left early; it was pretty bad. I’m questioning the Entertainer of the Year title. Maybe spokesman of the year. The concert was one big Corona commercial!!

  27. Funk
    May 30, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    People – do a little work. If you don’t like an artist’s new music, don’t support the act. Why hate? And check out the music of any artist advertised as ‘country’ before you go see the act if the rigid lines mean so much to you.

    It’s music! There are all kinds of music. As any of us grow into our professions, I suspect we all keep learning and branching out. Why is it hard to accept in artists?

  28. Stormy
    May 30, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Baron: Here is some good instrument shredding for you:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OSE0xfD7oA

    Ben: Smooth your wrinkled brow with:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXf-SuBbJa0

  29. Razor X
    May 30, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    Lynn said, “But once they actually become a pop rock artist/band, can they stop advertising themselves as country? I don’t think change is bad, just stop calling it country, wearing a cowboy hat and proclaiming how much you love to be a part of this genre. That’s what drives me crazy. If someone wants to record a pop, rock, reggae, blues, rap album, go for it. Just don’t call it country.”

    Amen, sister!!

  30. Razor X
    May 30, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    Funk said, “It’s music! There are all kinds of music. As any of us grow into our professions, I suspect we all keep learning and branching out. Why is it hard to accept in artists?”

    Because country fans are tired of artists that they’ve supported and helped propel to stardom abandon them for greener (as in $$$) pastures in the pop world. And then to add insult to injury, these artists usually deny that they’re trying to cross over, which is an affront to the intelligence of country music fans.

    I’m not saying that artists should never experiment or try something new. But be honest about what you’re doing, and “come home” every now and then and throw your old fans a bone by recording a real country song every now and then. Country music shouldn’t be used as a stepping stone for bigger and better things, any more than it should be the genre of last resort for those who didn’t make it in the pop world (this means you, Jessica).

  31. Chris N.
    May 31, 2008 at 9:02 am

    Jim, do you need me to kick Chet’s ass for you?

  32. J.R. Journey
    May 31, 2008 at 9:03 am

    I had been told my a friend about Sugarland’s hamster ball stunt a week ago or so. I thought that was a great idea. I was told the fans at the show really ate it up. That kinda fan interaction is what really separates singing stars from superstars of the stratosphere.

    Would Garth Brooks have sold 120 million plus units had he not signed autographs for 23 hours at Fan Fair or leaped out into the crowd at his shows? Probably not. While Garth made some killer music, it was his devotion and interaction with the fans that made him the biggest selling artist of all time. Well, a degree in marketing didn’t hurt either.

    So I say kudos to Sugarland for following in the footsteps of artists like Brooks & Dunn, Garth, Reba, and anybody else who wasn’t restricted by the format from having a big rock-styled production show.

  33. J.R. Journey
    May 31, 2008 at 9:06 am

    Lynn, I also heard not-so-flattering things about Kenny’s new tour. I’ll wait and see it myself before I make a final judgment, but now I am not expecting much …

  34. Stephen H.
    June 1, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    I didn’t like the first album from Sugarland as I couldn’t stand Jennifer Nettles’ voice. Yes, she can sing, but on that album I couldn’t understand anything she was saying.

    Songs like “Want To” and “Stay” converted me to their camp as she sounded really good on those songs. But “All I Want to Do” and the song linked above are making me think I’m not going to like the new album, as her singing is almost incomprehensible.

  35. hairandtoenails
    June 1, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    I’ve only heard “All I Want To Do” once. But yesterday I found that hook stuck in my head while eating dinner. Yeah, the song’s annoying, but the hook is doing its job.

    Re: Jessica Simpson: Its hard for me to be angry about Jessica Simpson releasing a country single. Her song isn’t that good, but its better than some of the stuff on radio now. Some people are calling Simpson a “carpetbagger;” but if a “carpetbagger” can make better music than some country singers then I’m not against all carpet baggers.

    I’d much rather hear Simpson’s “Come On Over” than Kellie Pickler’s new ode to self-esteem.

  36. Razor X
    June 1, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    >>I’d much rather hear Simpson’s “Come On Over” than Kellie Pickler’s new ode to self-esteem.<<

    Has it really come down to this? That we have to choose between the lesser of two evils — or is is the evil of two lessers? This is exactly why I turned off my radio a couple of months ago. I only listen to my own CDs, or the Classic Country and Americana channels on digital cable. I’ve had enough of the “Today’s Country” garbage.

  37. Chris N.
    June 1, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    “Has it really come down to this? That we have to choose between the lesser of two evils — or is is the evil of two lessers?”

    It has not. Luckily, there are still more than two artists in country music.

  38. Rick
    June 1, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    I haven’t totally given up on Top 40 country radio, as I listen to it when I first get into my car for just long enough to select a CD to play instead…

    Jessica’s single is the perfect country-pop fodder for the demographic flock of sheeple mainstream country has attracted to itself. If “Today’s/Modern Country” hasn’t yet completely fallen into the abyss of total mediocrity, its getting closer. Jessica’s catchy and commercial single has given it a little nudge towards the cliff. I don’t call it “Airhead Country” for nothing!

    PS – Last night on the Opry Joe Nichols, Emily West, Kieran Kane, and Gene Watson reminded me why I love country music so much! (Thank goodness!) And Daily & Vincent tore it up on the Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree. Thank goodness for WSM online (now if only they had a higher bitrate feed for better sound quality). Note: Elizabeth Cook will be on both Tuesday Night Opry’s this coming week, but I don’t know if WSM will broadcast both online. Hmmmm…..

  39. Peter Kohan
    June 2, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Chris N. – As someone who toted around a KISS lunchbox in grade school – I couldn’t agree more!

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