Your Take: Progressive Chords

Karlie Justus Marlowe | October 30th, 2010

Tuesday on the blog, Stephen review Tim McGraw’s new single “Felt Good on My Lips.” In the opening paragraph, Stephen compared McGraw’s recent bout of ill-advised single choices to a certain baseball team:

Over the last few years, Tim McGraw has become the New York Yankees of country music: well paid and certainly talented, but poorly managed and underperforming. His latest single, “Felt Good on My Lips,” from the upcoming Number One Hits, continues his streak of strong performances but lost games. It’s actually not just one song but at least two, grafted together awkwardly and abruptly. One is specific and engaging—a lead-off base hit. But the other song is utilitarian and bafflingly ill-considered—a wild pitch on an intentional walk.

Several commenters lamented the trajectory of McGraw’s music, including Noeller:

I just can’t stand this song, musically as opposed to lyrically. The music is just so far away from Country and so deep into AC territory, that I can’t even be bothered to get into the lyrics. It’s basically distracting in every way shape and form.

The last REALLY good song I remember Tim releasing was “I Need You” with Faith, and that was some years ago.

Those comments reflected reactions to Brody’s late-September News Roundup that first introduced readers to the tune.

From Kyle:

Angry All the Time, Live Like You Were Dying, If You’re Reading This, My Best Friend, My Little Girl, Just to See You Smile, Where The Green Grass Grows, Like We Never Loved At All, The Cowboy In Me, Please Remember Me, Red Ragtop, She’s My Kind of Rain, Everywhere…

What happened?

Those were all interesting-to-great songs, and most still get recurrent play. His recent singles have been like they’re from an entirely different artist.

From Trailer:

Wow, that Tim McGraw song is indescribably bad. He used to be so good at selecting songs, but man.. that’s even worse than Last Dollar (Fly Away).

Give us your take: Which country artists have gotten better as their careers progressed, and which have gotten worse? What were the factors that led to these changes in their careers – song selection, songwriting, changing industry trends, or something else?

  1. Mike Wimmer
    October 30, 2010 at 7:42 am

    I think Blake Shelton has really fallen off. He’s settled on recording chest thumping, mindless songs like All About Tonight or Hillbilly Bone. I really miss the Blake that recorded “Barn and Grill”.

    I think Keith Urban has also become quite boring, early on while his records were never really Country, he was recording a lot of songs that had some meat to them in terms of emotional meaning, but the last one was boring and judging by the lead single he just put out for his new record, i dont expect that to change.

    I also miss think Brad Paisley has become quite repetitive and boring now, it seems like the quality of his album cuts peaked with Whiskey Lullaby and he hasnt reached anywhere near those heights in some time.

  2. Libby
    October 30, 2010 at 7:50 am

    As I’ve said many times before, singles are not usually a good measure of the music an artist is making. So I guess bottom line I “blame” radio for what is on the air.

    I only buy albums from artists that interest me so I don’t feel qualified to give an opinion about any artist I haven’t taken the time to really listen to their entire album(s). But, from those I do, I usually find myself preferring the songs that aren’t released as singles or, if they are released, don’t perform well.

  3. Paul W Dennis
    October 30, 2010 at 8:56 am

    It’s a tough road to travel – if they stay in a comfortable groove, they are criticized for being too predictable, if they wander too far, they risk losing existing fans (Conway Twitty pretty much lost me after his 1981 move to Elektra with the exception of a few singles)as did Kenny Rogers after 1980.

    Probably the most successful cat at changing his stripes was Bobby Bare who managed somehow to become everything to everybody going through a number of distinct phases during his career ( rock ‘n roller – folk-country – straight ahead country – outlaw country – rowdy good time country) and do them all well. Bare was so good at selecting material that there really are no poor Bobby Bare albums. Even the three RCA label driven albums GAME OF TRIANGLES (with Liz Anderson and Norma Jean) and DUETS FOR TWO and YOUR HUSBAND MY WIFE (with Skeeter Davis) have a lot of good moments on them

  4. Lewis
    October 30, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Jason Aldean is another one who seems to have stopped on a certain song and re-uses it over and over again. Before “She’s Country”, Jason had some fairly good songs “Laughed Until We Cried” and “Why” especially, but after “She’s Country” and except for “The Truth” everything sounds like “She’s Country”.

    Even Darius Rucker went to #1 with a Hootie and the Blowfish type song “Come Back Song” which might mean we are expecting some more of that in the future.

    Paul: Conway changed with the times even before he signed with Elektra/Warner Brothers. He recorded a cover of The Bee Gees’ “Rest Your Love On Me” on MCA in 1981 and I think that his covers of “Slow Hand”, “Heartache Tonight” and “Three Times A Lady” were tailor made for Conway. Don’t forget he had some great country songs in the mix, “Lost In The Feeling”, “Between Blue Eyes And Jeans” and “Fallin’ For You For Years” as examples.

  5. Matt Bjorke
    October 30, 2010 at 10:22 am


    You’re wrong about Aldean. His new record only has ONE song (the current single) that has that ‘loud’ a sound.

    As for artists choosing singles. They do choose what to record or are at least in on the conversation but labels feed radio songs to play. They send songs radio seems to want or what they think radio wants nowadays. So while people can ‘hate’ what’s happened to a Blake Shelton but it has not only given his career more ‘juice’ but songs like “Hillbilly Bone” and “All About Tonight” actually have raised his profile to the point that he’s now an Opry member, something that was one of his biggest goals when he started his career. I actually like those songs for what they are (fun, catchy ditties) while still loving traditionalist fare like the stuff recorded by Billy Yates or the ‘outlaw’ stuff recorded by Jamey Johnson.

  6. Thomas
    October 30, 2010 at 10:26 am

    …toby keith is one those, who doesn’t seem to run out of ideas. his relative independence seems to be the key behind it all. i’ve found a lot of songs in every period of his career that i liked a lot and there’s no end in sight so far. a most entertaining and complete artist.

    lee ann womack also is nice work in progress. her curiosity and steady hand, when it comes to song selection, have produced some of my favourite country albums.

    if you look for the benchmark – you’ll probably end up at dwight yoakam’s doorstep once again. originals, covers, duets, honky tonk, polka, r&b, pop – i think there’s nothing he can’t make sound distinctly country. miranda lambert is similarily gifted. the common factor there is: they love the music, they can write their own material and are not slaves to the charts.

  7. Jonathan
    October 30, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Pam Tillis is a prime example of someone who has gotten better as her career progressed although her newer music isn’t heard on the radio. Her latest album, 2007’s Rhinestoned, contained some of the strongest songs of her career to date.

    Another artist who has gotten better is Trisha Yearwood. She uses her talent better than most and knows an exceptional song when she hears it. Her music stands the test of time because it’s good.

    For me, an artist who has gotten worse over time is Alan Jackson. His music isn’t interesting anymore because he doesn’t take enough chances and step outside his comfort zone. Once all his songs started to sound the same I stopped listening and caring.

    Another artist who has gotten progressively worse is Martina McBride. After her Greatest Hits album nine years ago, she’s coasted along with mediocre songs and it’s gotten to the point where she doesn’t even sing like she used to.

    I kept giving her chance after chance to correct her mistakes but I’m done. She doesn’t seem to care anymore and neither do I. I’ll still listen to whatever new music she releases, but I won’t be buying any more of her albums until she fixes all her mistakes. It’s a shame because she is a very talented vocalist; she’s just given up.

    A case can also be made that Reba’s gotten worse since “Turn On The Radio” is such a deep departure from her past hits like “You Lie” and “Is There Life Out There.” While I agree to an extent, her Valory Music Co albums don’t stack up to her MCA releases, I do find “Turn On The Radio” very catchy and I have a hard time getting out of my head.

    Don’t get me wrong, I needed a lot of time to warm up to the song, but I think she sings the fire out of it. It’s a huge departure for sure but it keeps her current and climbing the charts. I respect Reba for giving in without selling out. At her age, staying current in an industry that favors youth is near impossible.

  8. jr
    October 30, 2010 at 10:49 am

    man i just listend to Aldean’s new song,, “country boys world” it is the best song on the album in my opinion. all yall give it a listen.. write what u think

  9. highwayman3
    October 30, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I think a part of an artists decline is the high frequency of their output. Jonathan said Alan Jackson, who pretty much had a new single on the radio consistantly since 1990. Obviously its going to get repeitive. If you compare him to Lee Ann Womack, who is still revered for her song choices and high quality music because she takes enough time between albums to let the real gems rise to the top and by the time she releases something new, we’ve missed her. Had Alan Jackson done the same we wouldnt have heard ‘Country Boy,’ ‘I Still Like Bologna’ ect. and we’d just hear his great songs that he still sings and are present on all of his albums.

    My advice to someone like Brad Paisley, who another commenter mentioned being repetitive, is to take a year off, stop touring, stop releasing songs for awhile before you burn out. If Shania Twain was releasing a new 12 track album every 2 years she wouldnt be the superstar she still is.

    Chasing trends and trying to stay on radio is why Reba, Martina, Keith Urban’s songs declined.

  10. Richard
    October 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    I agree completely with Highwayman: take a break from radio every once in a while, and let your new songs fizzle out before releasing new ones. Keith Urban is a great example of an artist who produces great music, but is worn out from repetitive themes. Also, don’t release more than four singles from an album. I’m particularly looking at Underwood, Urban, and Swift, all of which just released 5 singles from their previous albums.

  11. Paul W Dennis
    October 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    LEWIS – I said Conway “… pretty much lost me…” – I really loved “Lost In The Feeling” and liked a few more of his post 1981 efforts

    I think that his covers of “Slow Hand”, “Heartache Tonight” and “Three Times A Lady” were beyond horrible . Actually, other than the Pointer Sisters original of “Slow Hand” (a song which I think should be sung by a female singer ), I didn’t like any of the three songs , whether sung by Conway or someone else


    I don’t think frequency of releases has anything to do with declining material. I think it is over-reliance on certain songwriters or groups of songwriters (that and bogus co-writes to get songwriting royalties) and so-called radio-friendly production. Country, Soul and Rock ‘n Roll artists of the 1960s and before showed no hesitation about dipping into the songbags of Tin Pan Alley writers or earlier pop, R&B and Country songsmiths for material. Now it has to be new and never before recorded songs, most of which are recorded for no discernable reason other than to generate favored songwriters with royalties

  12. luckyoldsun
    October 30, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    You may not have liked Conway’s later efforts–that’s your opinion–but he clearly knew what he was doing and did it very well. “Slow Hand” and “The Rose” are classic recordings in Conway’s repertoire that were smash hits at the time and got continued play for decades and are still part of the canon. He had other records like “The Man In the Moon Song,” “That’s My Job” and “Goodbye Time” that stayed higly prominent for years.” Conway’t the perfect example of an artist who knew how to stay relevant.

    I like Bobby Bare, but he’s nowhere near Conway’s league in that regard. He did Shel Silverstein to death and just sounded exhausted toward the end of his run.

  13. sam (sam)
    October 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Highwayman3 says, “I think a part of an artists decline is the high frequency of their output” and then offers as evidence Alan Jackson (who has a “high frequency” of output”) and Lee Ann Womack (who has a much lower one).

    But that’s odd evidence. Alan Jackson has consistently been selling records and having hits at radio for nearly 20 years. If a “high frequency of output” has hurt Jackson, it hasn’t hurt him much. I would love to be hurt in this way in my career! On the other hand, Womack’s chart performance has been inconsistent. The period between her first and last top ten radio hit is about seven years; she has only had one #1 song. A comparison of Womack and Jackson’s career hardly suggests that a singer who wants to have a strong radio presence for many years should model herself after Womack rather than Jackson.

    Perhaps the point is that Womack makes better music than Jackson because Jackson “rushes” to release songs to the public, not matter what the quality. Quality is a subjective thing, but I think Jackson has released some wonderful songs over the years. Womack has too. But Womack has also released some songs that are duds in my view: there are few Alan Jackson singles I dislike as much as “Buckaroo;” “Something Worth Leaving Behind,” “Forever Everyday” and “There is a God.”

    Elsewhere we are told that “If Shania Twain was releasing a new 12 track album every 2 years she wouldnt be the superstar she still is.” How do we know that? And how do we know Shania still is a superstar: its been years since she released new music: could she still get hits consistently on radio? How many albums would she sell? Quite likely, but do 9513 posters know this? Shania’s approach has worked for her; but George Strait is constantly releasing new 10-12 song albums and his career has spanned about 30 years. So I am not terribly convinced that Shania could not maintain a career had she chosen the George Strait route. At a minimum, i would need to know why what works for Strait can’t work for Twain before being convinced.

  14. Razor X
    October 30, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    I’ve been disappointed by the last few releases from Reba McEntire and Martina McBride, but the one act I think is really going in the wrong direction is Sugarland.

  15. BAMBI
    October 30, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    I was pleasantly surprised by the direction Dierks Bentley has gone recently. . . for a while it seemed he was going down the path to pop country boring, but the increased bluegrass flavor on his latest album was a nice change of pace.

  16. Ben Foster
    October 30, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Agreed. Reba seems to be getting less interesting lately. While I love Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue,” The Incredible Machine that followed turned out to be an epic disaster. I wish they would just go ahead and crank out album number five so that we can just pretend that whole unfortunate project never happened. And while I haven’t taken a strong dislike to any of Martina’s recent releases, they’re definitely not as impressive as her classic nineties hits.

    George Strait is one artist who has disappointed me quite a bit lately. He made some awesome music back in the day, he has released some depressingly weak singles in recent years.

    Patty Loveless is one of the few artists I can think of who has gotten better with time. Her early releases were all good and interesting and fun to hear, but man she just kept getting better and better!

  17. Bobby P.
    October 30, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Keith Urban seemed to go both ways for me. His first couple albums, he hadn’t really found himself — and it still irks me that “Somebody Like You” and “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me” are basically the same song. “Better Life” and “You’re My Better Half” were both very weak as well. The entire Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing album was awesome in my opinion. Now, all he’s doing is sappy, poppy love songs that are at least redeemed by his excellent voice and guitar-slinging.

    Seconded with Brad Paisley. His voice has just lost all its color and character; it’s now very, very flat and dull and he misses a LOT of notes (listen to how he sings “every chance you CAN” on “Letter to Me”). What’s more, his writing’s lost its color as well; even though I think “Anything Like Me” is a good song, it still bugs me that both it and “Then” begin with the line “I remember”. Also, his melodies and production are really, really cookie cutter now.

    On the flip side, I’ve found Kenny Chesney to be far more interesting over the last couple albums. There’s a pleasing mellowness to his music lately that I find far more interesting than the Kenny Bon Jovi of the mid-2000s.

    Tim McGraw is an interesting case. Between 2000 and 2005, pretty much the only song he put out that I actually liked upon first listen was “Red Ragtop”, although I’ve since gone back and found songs like “The Cowboy in Me”, “Angry All the Time”, “Unbroken”, “She’s My Kind of Rain”, “Watch the Wind Blow By”, etc. to be quite good. I agree that he’s dropped off some, but the only singles I didn’t like off the last two albums were “Let It Go” and “Nothin’ to Die For”. Yes, I really did like “Last Dollar”, and I thought “Still” was his best work in quite some time.

  18. Cutting the Treacle
    October 31, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Sawyer Brown is a great example of an act that got much better over time.

  19. Katherine
    October 31, 2010 at 10:39 am

    While I loved much of Toby Keith’s early stuff, I think he is a classic example of an artist that has not been choosing good songs lately. His “Unleashed” cd is so, so good… and now he’s releasing songs such as “Maintenance Man,” “Trailerhood,” and most horrifically, “Every Dog Has It’s Day.” I’ll admit the Toby had some good songs in there as well (I was a fan of “Wayman’s Song” and “God Love Her”), but I really don’t like much of what he’s choosing lately.

    And though I would like to say I LOVE “Bullets in the Gun,” every time I hear it all I can think of is how much he is ripping off the great Robert Earl Keen.

  20. Mia
    October 31, 2010 at 11:30 am

    The music is just so far away from Country and so deep into AC territory, that I can’t even be bothered to get into the lyrics.

    Tim’s song sounds like pretty every thing else I’ve heard that’s on country radio these days. In fact, it’s one of his more radio friendly songs of late. That doesn’t mean it’s good. But at what point does it get ridiculous to criticize it as non-country? Radio DJs don’t care.

    I agree with those criticizing Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Toby Keith, etc. as artists who have changed for the worst. I blame production + song selection. Generic production can kill a good song just as much as a poorly written one.

  21. luckyoldsun
    October 31, 2010 at 1:15 pm


    There have been so many comments on the Internet regarding Toby’s heavy “borrowing” from REK on “Bullets In The Gun” that I’ll be interested to hear what both Toby and Keen have to say about it. Toby mentioned infulences like Haggard and John Prine in publicity for the album, but conspicuously omitted mention of REK.

    I’ll be shocked if Toby will be so brazen as to deny that he used the Keen song.

  22. K
    November 1, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Miranda Lambert has steadily improved since the begining of her career, and she isn’t afraid to do something different.

    Although I’m not a Taylor Swift fan, I think her songwriting has improved, and she shows a broader stylistic approach. For those reasons alone, I’d say she’s improved in a few areas since the begining of her career as well.

    Some would disagree, but I think Carrie Underwood has improved as a vocalist and writer since “Some Hearts” in 2005. She continues to come out of her shell, write more music, and her voice gets better every year. Her artistic growth and need to push herself shows me that she has improved her career for her own benefit.

    Sara Evans seems to have an ear for recording good material, with only a few misteps along the way.

    Now for the negative. I thought Lady Antebellum had potential to be an excellent band and the talent to do something great, but their material has taken a nosedive on the second album, and I’ve already given up on expecting something great from them.

    I think Gary Allan has taken a sharp dive in quality- at least judging from his recent radio singles.

    Tim, Toby, Reba, George, Kenny, Martina, Keith Urban and Trace Adkins have all taken a turn for the worse for the last few years. It’s disappointing that so many of those artists are among the few who have excellent talent- but they seem to be the ones who have the worst artistic vision.

  23. Gato
    November 6, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    What is this ‘radio’ of which you all speak? Who listens to the radio anymore. Incessant car dealer ads – give me my Ipod or Android phone with Pandora any day.

    @Mike Wimmer – you’re right, the male country singers are all snoozers. They all look and sound alike, they even have the same names, one syllable first and two syllable last. Keith Urban, Joe Diffie, Mark Chesnut, Brad Paisley, zzzzzz. Although Brad kills on guitar, so he gets points for that.

Tagged In This Article


Current Discussion

  • Paige: Oh damn. :( I never commented here and I haven't been listening to any music at all since Thanksgiving (it …
  • Dave W.: Just read the news here. Will miss E145 very much - love this site. All the best to you Juli …
  • Leeann Ward: Oh, dang! This is real. Farewell to the most generous, informative, quality, intelligent, consistent, ethical country music blog! You …
  • bll: Thanks Juli for all the great articles and information; you'll be missed by me and I suss several others. Best …
  • Both Kinds of Music: I hope people appreciate the irony that one of the best "Americana" albums is titled Metamodern Sounds in COUNTRY Music.
  • Barry Mazor: I would not rule out that possibility..There's a different set of voters involved..
  • Dana M: Does anyone else think that Brandy Clark actually has a good chance of winning since this isn't a country awards …
  • Juli Thanki: UPDATE: Brandy Clark got a Best New Artist nom. BEST AMERICANA ALBUM: Rosanne Cash -- The River & The Thread John Hiatt -- Terms …
  • luckyoldsun: Glenn Campbell is great and I'd love to see him get an award, but the words of that song may …
  • Casey Penn: Juli, it was an honor to write for you here on You're good at what you do, and The …

Recently Reviewed Albums

  • walkerandthetexasdangers3
  • deadmanstown
  • tom t hall storytellers
  • paulthorntooblessed
  • duhksbeyondtheblue
  • kelleymickwee
  • sandrarhodes
  • candi staton