The Hodgepodge: Revisiting Radio Programming Issues and the Tomato Problem

Keith Hill’s comments on females at country radio took the country music world by storm last year. Just to quickly refresh your memory Hill said “The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” This was in the context of calling males the lettuce and encouraging radio program directors to take females out of rotation in order to maximize ratings. As I’m sure you remember, reactions to Hill’s comments were fierce. Josh’s response in The Hodgepodge took a look at the larger, underlying issue of the lack of overall quality on radio.

I think you can make the argument that there hasn’t been much improvement on either front: female representation or quality. Looking at The Pulse from June 13, 2015 (published the same week as the previously linked Hodgepodge), there were two solo females on the charts in the top 10: Carrie Underwood (7) and Kelsea Ballerini (8). One female duo with Maddie & Tae at 24, and a female led group at 10 with Little Big Town. Also in the top 10 were two songs with female harmonies (“Wild Child” and “Diamond Rings & Old Barstools”). The overall pulse that week was -14. Compare that to yesterday’s Pulse with two solo females in the top 10: Carrie Underwood (1) and Maren Morris (10). Maddie & Tae again at 23, and then Cassadee Pope in a duet with Chris Young at 12. The pulse sits at -10.

That’s fairly even, if you ask me. In the latest issue of Country Aircheck, Lance Houston from iHeartMedia station WBWL in Boston sort of echoed Keith Hill’s comments and took it a step further. Now, before I move on, I just want to clarify that I’m not trying to restart a controversy or blow this up into something it’s not. His comments are interesting, and I think they’re worth commenting on. Houston approaches programming from balancing the logs of who is singing the song. “If you’ve got two females back to back, you don’t have a balanced log given the format’s small percentage of female music. The goal should be to make the most balanced log possible. The same thing goes with other [artist characteristics]; you don’t have a balanced log if you have three or four male duos in a row.”

From a business and programming standpoint, I completely understand that approach. You have A (female solo), B (male solo), C (female duo), D (male duo), and E (bands). In an ideal world, radio has an even distribution of A, B, C, D, and E, without ever repeating letters. But here’s the kicker from Houston’s comments: “given the format’s small percentage of female music.” The representation of A is low, and B is extremely high. Looking again at yesterday’s Pulse of the top 30, here’s the distribution: A (2 songs), B (21 songs), C (1 song), D (2 songs), E (3 songs), and we’ll classify Chris Young & Cassadee Pope as F, a Male/Female duo (1 song). So in reality, you take what you’re given and distribute the choices in the most even possible way.

Given the fact that there aren’t many female artists available for radio to choose from, we don’t get much female music on the radio. Maren Morris is a newcomer who could build on a successful run after a top 10 debut single. Carrie Underwood will release a new single soon to follow “Heartbeat” at number one, Kelsea Ballerini’s “Peter Pan” is on its way, and Miranda Lambert is working on new music. Jennifer Nettles, Cam, Brandy Clark, Martina McBride, and Brook Eden all have songs in the bottom half of the top 60.

It’s a slow process, but we could see more females impacting radio. It’s possible, given the recent success of Cam, Kelsea Ballerini, and now Maren Morris. I think the outcry after the tomato comments could have influenced this, but we have to understand it’ll take time. We’re coming off the bro-country era. Programmers can’t just flip the switch and go 50/50 distribution between males and females. But labels can up their rosters to include more females, or even make way for non-music row artists to be played.

Just last year, quality albums from Whitney Rose, Lindi Ortega, and Hailey Whitters provide some great music to choose from. Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe and Lee Ann Womack are familiar faces who get ignored. Aubrie Sellers’ debut album is excellent. I’d be okay if she got a chance from nepotism, like Thomas Rhett did, if it meant hearing Sellers on the radio. I’d also argue that the aforementioned females would also up the quality of music on the charts if they’re given the chance.

Unfortunately, the business side may not pave the way for the quality side of music. We may never see the day of high female representation on the charts, and it pains me to say it. As much as I’d like to see it, the label attitudes of the label executives would have to drastically change. I have a better chance of getting a country record deal than that happening. And as radio slowly slips away for other outlets, this whole conversation may be a moot point someday. But until that day comes, I hope the winds of change blow in the direction of a higher female representation on country radio. I think the demand is there, and the supply is certainly available.

Upcoming/Recent Country Releases

  • Southern Family is finally released tomorrow. I’ve listened to it on NPR First Listen, and I enjoyed it. You’ll see Josh’s review soon.
  • William Michael Morgan releases his debut EP tomorrow as well.
  • Maren Morris announced that her debut album, Hero, will be released on June 3.
  • Randy Houser‘s next single will be “Song Number 7.” We will review the single, but not Fired Up. 
  • Kenny Chesney is trying to be cryptic on social media to get fans excited for an upcoming announcement. Most likely, on March 24, Chesney will give us details on some new music, be it a single, album, or both.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Leave the Pieces” by The Wreckers. The Wreckers, made up of Jessica Harp and Michelle Branch, had a short life in country music. One successful album in 2006 yielded two top ten hits: “My, Oh My” at #9 and this song as their only number one. I’m a big fan of this song and I wish we could have had more music from this duo.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Ray LaMontagne Ouroboros. LaMontagne’s newest album was produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. It’s a heavier, psychedelic-like album calling back to a classic rock approach to music production. Just like old vinyl, the album is broken into two parts, emulating the need to flip the record over. The production over shadows LaMontagne’s signature vocals, but it’s still a good offering from this rock singer-songwriter.

Tweet of the Week

This is a great picture of Sturgill and Merle.

Two Randy Houser iTunes Reviews

RH1 RH2

As I said, we’re not reviewing Fired Up as a whole because its way too long and overrun with the same, low quality crap. Though this first review would have you think otherwise. I’d argue that the album is full of filler.

As for the second review, that comparison to Toby Keith is hilarious! Sharing it with Josh, he agreed that it’s an accurate comparison given that both singers are talented, yet put out clichéd music. But this person’s reasoning? HA! If Houser didn’t put out 17 songs of radio pandering bull crap, then I’d agree. “Like a Cowboy”, or most of Houser’s first couple albums is the kind of country music that’s good. You don’t sell out like this to get “earned” recognition.

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Country Perspective’s 40 Most Essential Country & Americana Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

We’ve reached the end of 2015 and as you’ve seen over this last month there have numerous best of and worst of lists and everything in between. The “listpocalypse” as many dub it is finally ending and we can start focusing on new music really soon. But before we look forward to the new music of 2016, we want to look back one last time on the music of country and Americana in 2015. These are the albums we consider the absolute must listen albums of 2015 if you’re a fan of country and Americana. We should point out that this year’s essential albums list is different in that last year’s list was all albums that we ranked 8/10 or better. This year’s essential list only contains albums (and a few EPs) ranked 9/10 or better.

Originally we wanted to just have it narrowed down to 25 albums, but then it grew to 30 and then 35 before eventually 40. We wanted to make sure we go all of the great music on the list! Keep in mind if we didn’t put an album on this list it’s not because we’re haters or we’re attacking your favorite artist. Do not turn the comments section into “Well you didn’t put (insert name) on the list and you didn’t put this on the list, so I hate it.” Instead put together your own list in the comments if you want, as this is more constructive and creates more interesting conversation.

Now that I’ve gotten all of the ground rules out of the way, let’s get to the music. These are what we consider the 36 most essential country and Americana albums of 2015.

The Best of the Best

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

The Awesome Ones

Don Henley – Cass County 

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 

Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer, Vol. 1

Turnpike Troubadours – Turnpike Troubadours

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

Pretty Damn Great

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions

Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material

Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds

Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter

The Malpass Brothers – The Malpass Brothers

Rick Elliot – West of the Rockies EP

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning

“I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair”

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart 

George Strait – Cold Beer Conversation

Alan Jackson – Angels & Alcohol

James McMurtry – Complicated Game

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django & Jimmie

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind

A Little Bit of Everything

John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Banditos

Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone

Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville 

Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams

Jon Pardi – The B-Sides, 2011-2014 EP

Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays & Wedding Rings

Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers 

Tony Furtado – The Bell

Allison Moorer – Down To Believing 

Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet

The Black Lillies – Hard To Please 

Country Perspective’s 2015 Female Artist of the Year Nominees

Over the course of 2015 we saw many talented female country and Americana artists put out fantastic albums. Determining who will win Country Perspective’s 2015 Female Artist of the Year award will be no easy feat. The main guidelines for determining who should win are the following: the quality of music they’ve released in 2015, the impact they have made on the genre over the course of the year and the amount of growth they made as an individual artist.

Derek and myself will ultimately determine which artist will win, but we also want to hear from you the readers who is deserving of the award. Your comments will be highly considered for determining who wins and you could possibly sway who should be the winner. So be sure to sound off in the comments! Without further ado the nominees for Country Perspective’s 2015 Female Artist of Year (in alphabetical order):

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile

One of the most underrated albums of the year has to be Brandi Carlile’s The Firewatcher’s Daughter. Blurring the lines between country, rock and Americana Carlile delivers music that touches the mind and heart. She’s a truly great artist that deserves more attention. As I said in my review of her newest album:

The Firewatcher’s Daughter is an album you’ll need to hear multiple times to fully grasp, but trust me it’s well worth it. Carlile’s dynamic voice and the cornucopia of genres mixed together make for one hell of an album. While Music Row continues to push cookie cutter female artists who produce music that panders to the latest fad, there are talented female artists outside that bubble like Carlile making innovative music. Some people will call this album a rock album. Others will say it’s alternative or a country album. Does it really matter though? This is just great music that any music fan can appreciate.

Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves Pageant Material

I feel like Kacey Musgraves sort of got lost in the fray in 2015. Throughout 2013 and 2014 she received lots of critical praise and awards from multiple outlets for her major debut album Same Trailer, Different Park. One of the big reasons why I think this happened is because her sophomore album Pageant Material didn’t have the incendiary political commentary that attracted so many outside fans and media outlets with her first album. That’s a damn shame because I felt like Pageant Material was not only a better album, but a big step forward for Kacey. I don’t think she liked all of the political attention, even though it really helped elevate her close friends Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark. Kacey considers herself just a “dimestore cowgirl” who loves to make authentic country music and that’s the place she wants to be going forward. And she’s still having plenty of success without any support from country radio.

Lindi Ortega

Lindi Ortega Faded Gloryville

Like Kacey Musgraves, Lindi Ortega has generated her own critical buzz in recent years. Her previous album Tin Star was called by many one of the best country albums of 2013. So the anticipation and hype going into her new album this year was certainly high. While Faded Gloryville didn’t quite live up to its hype, it was still a very good album full of solid music. While many mainstream female country artists love to sing about pleasing their man, Ortega sings about what pleases herself and doesn’t pander to stereotypes. She goes against the grain and sets a great example for young female listeners everywhere. Not to mention, she wrote a great piece on women in country music after the TomatoGate incident.

Tami Neilson 

Tami Neilson Don't Be Afraid

For the second straight year Tami Neilson finds herself on many of our year-end awards list. And for great reason, as she once again delivered one of the best country albums of the year. Don’t Be Afraid copes with the loss of a loved one (Tami’s father) and how to deal with this heartache and the memories you had of them. Neilson’s big and dynamic voice is capable of belting out the loudest and softest of songs, conveying the perfect amount of emotion to connect with the listener. While I don’t think many music outlets in the U.S. give her the respectable amount of attention she deserves, her home country New Zealand certainly does. Not too many artists can deliver great albums in back-to-back years, but Neilson has done it and that makes her favorite to win this award.

Whitney Rose

Whitney Rose Heartbreaker of the Year

We saw a lot of great new artists burst onto the scene from country and Americana this year. One of the best was undoubtedly Whitney Rose. Hailing from Canada, Rose teamed up with smooth-voiced frontman of The Mavericks, Raul Malo, to make her sophomore record Heartbreaker of the Year. And when you combine two great minds like this, magic happens. Heartbreaker of the Year is one of the most uniquely sounding and creative country albums I’ve heard this year. Infusing retro pop with classic, traditional country, Rose delivers stirring love ballads and quirky stories. She more than holds her own singing next to Malo on “Be My Baby” too. What’s crazy is I don’t think this is even her best work and it’s still yet to come.

Who do you think should win? Be sure to comment below. 

The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown [December 7]

Josh Ritter Sermon Over The Rocks

This is The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown. Every week I’ll post the top 40 from the Americana Airplay chart, which is obtained from AmericanaRadio.org. From the site: “The Americana Airplay chart represents the reported play of terrestrial radio stations, nationally syndicated radio shows, satellite radio and internet stations who have agreed to submit weekly spin counts. For more information please visit www.americanamusic.org.”

The goal of this feature is to track and monitor the current most popular music in the Americana realm, as I believe it’s starting to take on a bigger importance in the world of music, especially concerning the current state of country music. In addition it will bring some new names to the site that haven’t been covered here before and could lead to more Americana coverage. It’s also a place to discuss anything going on in the Americana genre at this moment. Be sure to weigh in on the chart in the comments below.

  1. Josh Ritter – Sermon On The Rocks [Up 3]
  2. Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin – Lost Time [Down 1]
  3. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (Grade: 10/10) [Down 1]
  4. Joe Ely – Panhandle Rambler [Down 1]
  5. The Black Lillies – Hard To Please (Grade: 9/10)
  6. The Bottle Rockets – South Broadway Athletic Club (Grade: 8.5/10)
  7. Los Lobos – Gates Of Gold 
  8. Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats – Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats 
  9. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone (Grade: 9/10)
  10. Jim Lauderdale – Soul Searching [Up 3]
  11. Patty Griffin – Servant of Love [Down 1]
  12. Chris Isaak – First Comes The Night [Up 2]
  13. Don Henley – Cass County (Grade: 10/10) [Down 1]
  14. The Wood Brothers – Paradise [Down 3]
  15. Ryan Adams – 1989
  16. Tim O’Brien – Pompadour
  17. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell – So Familiar
  18. The Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete
  19. Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville (Grade: 9/10) [Up 1]
  20. Various Artists – Cold & Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins [Up 3]
  21. Billy Gibbons – Perfectamundo [Down 2]
  22. Chris Stapleton – Traveller (Grade: 10/10) [Down 1]
  23. Lucero – All A Man Should Do [Down 1]
  24. Jeffrey Foucault – Salt As Wolves
  25. Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble 
  26. Turnpike Troubadours – Turnpike Troubadours (Grade: 10/10) [Up 1]
  27. Cox Family – Gone Like The Cotton [Up 3]
  28. Webb Wilder – Mississippi Moderne [Down 2]
  29. Bart Crow – The Parade [Up 3]
  30. Jason Boland & The Stragglers – Squelch (Grade: 8.5/10) [Down 1]
  31. Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions (Grade: 9/10)
  32. Shinyribs – Okra Candy [Down 4]
  33. Shawn Colvin – Uncovered 
  34. Shawn Mullins – My Stupid Heart [Up 1]
  35. The Damn Quails – Out of The Birdcage (Grade: 8.5/10) [Down 1]
  36. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Grade: 9/10) [Up 2]
  37. Samantha Fish – Wild Heart [Up 2]
  38. Shovels & Rope – Busted Jukebox Volume 1 [New]
  39. Amy Helm – Didn’t It Rain [Down 3]
  40. Shemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love [Down 3]

The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown [November 30]

Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Lost Time

This is The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown. Every week I’ll post the top 40 from the Americana Airplay chart, which is obtained from AmericanaRadio.org. From the site: “The Americana Airplay chart represents the reported play of terrestrial radio stations, nationally syndicated radio shows, satellite radio and internet stations who have agreed to submit weekly spin counts. For more information please visit www.americanamusic.org.”

The goal of this feature is to track and monitor the current most popular music in the Americana realm, as I believe it’s starting to take on a bigger importance in the world of music, especially concerning the current state of country music. In addition it will bring some new names to the site that haven’t been covered here before and could lead to more Americana coverage. It’s also a place to discuss anything going on in the Americana genre at this moment. Be sure to weigh in on the chart in the comments below.

  1. Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin – Lost Time 
  2. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (Grade: 10/10)
  3. Joe Ely – Panhandle Rambler 
  4. Josh Ritter – Sermon On The Rocks
  5. The Black Lillies – Hard To Please (Grade: 9/10)
  6. The Bottle Rockets – South Broadway Athletic Club (Grade: 8.5/10)
  7. Los Lobos – Gates Of Gold [Up 1]
  8. Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats – Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats [Up 3]
  9. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone (Grade: 9/10) 
  10. Patty Griffin – Servant of Love [Down 3]
  11. The Wood Brothers – Paradise [Up 2]
  12. Don Henley – Cass County (Grade: 10/10) [Down 2]
  13. Jim Lauderdale – Soul Searching [Down 1]
  14. Chris Isaak – First Comes The Night [Up 2]
  15. Ryan Adams – 1989 [Up 4]
  16. Tim O’Brien – Pompadour [Down 2]
  17. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell – So Familiar [Down 2]
  18. The Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete
  19. Billy Gibbons – Perfectamundo [Up 6]
  20. Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville (Grade: 9/10) 
  21. Chris Stapleton – Traveller (Grade: 10/10)
  22. Lucero – All A Man Should Do [Down 5]
  23. Various Artists – Cold & Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins [Down 1]
  24. Jeffrey Foucault – Salt As Wolves [Up 2]
  25. Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble [Down 2]
  26. Webb Wilder – Mississippi Moderne [Down 2]
  27. Turnpike Troubadours – Turnpike Troubadours (Grade: 10/10)
  28. Shinyribs – Okra Candy
  29. Jason Boland & The Stragglers – Squelch (Grade: 8.5/10) [Up 1]
  30. Cox Family – Gone Like The Cotton [Down 1]
  31. Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions (Grade: 9/10) [Up 5]
  32. Bart Crow – The Parade [Up 2]
  33. Shawn Colvin – Uncovered [Down 2]
  34. The Damn Quails – Out of The Birdcage (Grade: 8.5/10) [Down 1]
  35. Shawn Mullins – My Stupid Heart
  36. Amy Helm – Didn’t It Rain [Up 2]
  37. Shemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love
  38. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Grade: 9/10) [Down 6]
  39. Samantha Fish – Wild Heart [New]
  40. Steve Forbert – Compromised