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The Worst Albums & Songs of 2013
Music. Is that what you call it.
By: The Staff at Strictly Country
(This article was printed in the January / February 2014 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)
If you were to ask everyone at Strictly Country what their favorite part of working here is, we would all agree it’s the opportunity to hear all of the new music released in Country Music, Americana, Bluegrass, Country Gospel and Southern Rock. If you were to ask any one at Strictly Country what their least favorite part of working here, most of us would agree when we say compiling this list and writing this article. Why, you ask? It’s all the retaliation that we receive after we release this list.
Before you get on your computers and file your complaints, there are three things you must know about the music industry. First and foremost, the music industry - in all genres - basically operates on money.
For a brief moment in the music industry all that mattered is if you had talent. Today’s music industry is about one demographic - the 13 to 26 age group. Most record labels do not focus solely on vocal and or writing talents. In fact, most record labels look at a potential entertainer as a marketing tool. They take into consideration the entertainer’s age, sex, sex appeal and personal style prior to really taking a look at their musical talents. Country music entertainer Bobby Cyrus was turned down by several record labels due to his age. In other words he was too old to market. However, Bobby has an incredible array of vocal and writing talents.
Taking into consideration that the music industry is strictly about money, every song on the radio is paid for. There was a time when disc jockeys had more independence on what songs that they could play. Today’s disc jockeys have no independence and are forced to play only certain songs. These certain songs are chosen by how much money is backing them. It’s illegal, but it happens.
So if the record labels and entertainers are paying for their songs to hit the air waves, what about the magazines? Majority of the magazines in country music do get paid by the entertainer and or record labels for any word printed about them. Not all magazines are like that, however, many of your top country music magazines are.
Is Strictly Country paid by the entertainers or record labels? No. Strictly Country is an independent magazine that has never been paid by the entertainer and or record label to print a word about them. We do however, accept payment for advertising by an entertainer or record label. However, that advertising will never influence our judgment on any album or entertainer.
The most important thing you need to know prior to reading this article is that we review all material sent by the entertainers and their record labels. We use studio quality headphones and listen to every note, beat, vocal word on the entire album prior to judging it. Listening to music using studio quality headphones gives you the most honest version of the recorded piece. Over the years we have found major recording errors and found the truth behind an entertainer’s real vocals. Listening to an entertainer via radio may sound great, however, when you take a second listen using studio quality headphones - you may find that same entertainer sounding more like an untalented teenager.
The final thing that you need to know is that we base this list on all of the music that we hear. We will warn you that you will in fact see many artists on this list that are nominated for this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards. Why? Because we have come across many more artists far more talented that the the artists listed in this article.
Now that you know where we are coming from, lets begin. Here is Strictly Country’s list of Top Bad Albums and Songs of 2013.
Every year we come across several albums that sit amongst the teeter totter of hitting this list. At one point they really don’t belong on this list, but then when we take a second listen we agree to add them to this list.
This year there are five albums that sit on the proverbial teeter totter. The first comes from Joe Diffie, Sammy Kershaw and Aaron Tippin with their album All In The Same Boat. When you take a listen to this album via individual song, it’s rather good. However, the three multi talented entertainers teamed up to create an album together and this project should have been recorded as such. Out of the twelve songs on the album there is only one performed as a trio, the title track.
The second comes from Alan Jackson. For years, Alan has been wanting to release a Bluegrass album. However his attempt in his The Bluegrass Album is nothing more than traditional Alan Jackson country style songs performed with various Bluegrass instrumentals. If Alan would have performed them in his natural country way - this would have been a rather decent album.
You know it’s another year, when the Bellamy Brothers release another album with different variations of their classic songs. Granted the Bellamys have earned their spot in country music history with an array of great songs. It’s just that now it’s time for them to retire. For the last several years, the Bellamys have re-released their more notable hits on so many albums in so many different ways that when it comes down to it, it’s just plain sickening! This year’s version, Across The Sea - Bellamy Brothers & Friends, is aimed more towards their fans across the pond as they gain the help from country music entertainers from Europe to help perform their over recorded hits.
The fourth album comes from Luke Bryan with Crash My Party. We rather like Luke and his music, but this album was quite boring with the songs contained on this album.
The same goes for Darius Rucker’s True Believers album. Like Luke, Darius has the vocal talents to bring a song to life. The problem with this album is that it sounds so boring with it’s manufactured feel. If Darius and Luke were to really search for the right songs, they could create an album worth buying.
Throughout 2013, we found the previous statement to be true in a lot of entertainers. The music industry is like baking sugar cut out cookies. The problem is is that the industry only likes one cut out design and believes that every fan or listener likes that design too. Well, we don’t and majority of us would rather enjoy a variety of songs.
Another problem we found in the music released last year was the lack of emotions to bring a song to life. This is the case with Kacey Musgraves and her debut album Same Trailer Different Park. In this album, Kacey lacked the right ingredients to bring these songs to life. It’s pretty sad that the industry has stooped to this level to find their next ‘big’ artist.
Another thing we found to be a problem with the music released in 2013, was that there were several artists who were emulating other Top 10 artists. This is the case with Bonner Black and her album Struck By Lightning. With Bonner, she tries too hard to sound like Taylor Swift and Shania Twain. There is some hope for Bonner, if she would just relax and find her own voice.
Here at Strictly Country, we love different - as long as it sounds good. This year we were introduced to a Bluegrass duo by the name of Grace & Tony when they released their album November. Grace & Tony contain a very unique sound that captures the essence of the roaring 20’s, the feel of Rockabilly that is mixed with Bluegrass. The album contains a lot of high energy that is all over the place to make the album sound horrible. We would love to see this group channel their energy so they can create the album that we know would be a hit.
Throughout the year we came across several entertainers who made bad decisions in their albums. One of those albums comes from the legendary John Fogerty. Throughout his career, John has created some of the most beautiful songs. In 2013, John teamed up with a wide variety of notable singers to release his album Wrote A Song For Everyone. We find concept albums like these quite boring and just plain wrong. A better decision for John would have been a live album with him performing these songs with the minor help from the entertainers contained on this album. We can not justify wasting money on concept albums like this one.
Sometimes you have a singer who can not write and sometimes you have a songwriter who can not sing. Then you have a songwriter who just wants to record an album filled with songs that should have never been recorded. This is the case with Sara Hickman and her 2013 release Shine. This album feels like Sara went to a coffee shop and wrote about what she was seeing. The songs on this album really don’t portray her as a good songwriter.
One of our biggest pet peeves are entertainers who re-record more notable songs that have been made famous by well known entertainers. To us this is committing a fraud. Granted there are very few times in which the re-recording is much better than the original. In fact, the last time we heard a re-recording better than the original was when Reba McEntire re-recorded "That’s The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia." However in 2013, we came across many entertainers who did this including Detour with their album A Better Place. Detour is a very good Bluegrass band, however their album contained five previously recorded hits.
Other times we come across an album that would have been great if only it contained the right mix. Case in point Lisa Matassa and her album Somebody’s Baby. Lisa has the vocals one octave lower than Louise Mandrell’s but it’s the mix of the album that throws this one to the circular file. The mix contains an over abundance of instrumentals that casts a huge shadow over Lisa’s vocals to make this album sound horrid.
Another mixing and recording mistake is adding instrumentals that should not be there. The industry likes to do this as to gain the attention of the teenagers. We ask ‘since when do teenagers know anything?’ Meredith Andrews album Worth It All is definitely not worth anything with it’s mix of techno fake music. If the producer would have taken the techno fake sound out of the album this one would be high on our list of recommended albums. As is, it lands right here on this list instead.
Another album that contained a bad mix came from the Bluegrass band The Steel Wheels with their album No More Rain. This album contained an array of beautiful songs that were sung by the most untalented set of lead vocals. Vocals that would be better put to use in a classic rock band than Bluegrass.
There was a new industry standard that became very popular in 2013. Granted it was only popular by the industry. Where as the fans were not buying it. The new standard was songwriters and or singers stealing melodies from well known songs. Case in point Tim Ash and his album Up On Blocks. Tim recorded two songs that contained melodies of well known songs including one from the Eagles song "Desperado."
We have said this previously in this article, but we have come across to many artists trying to emulate other Top artists. One of the worst Top Ten artist that you can try to emulate is Miranda Lambert! Miranda is one of the most untalented people in the music industry and is the perfect example of how money will get you any where. Jessica Campbell is one of two artists who tried to emulate the untalented Miranda Lambert in her album The Anchor & The Sail. The other artist is Hannah Bethel with her album The Freedom EP. On behalf of so many real country music fans - just don’t do it!
Another Taylor Swift emulator was Madison McKenzie with her album A Part Of Me. Just because it’s a part of you, which it isn’t because you’re an imitator, doesn’t mean you should share.
Some songwriters should not sing. When it comes to Katie Armiger and her album Fall Into Me, she proves that she is a talented songwriter who can not sing.
As a music lover, we want real music performed by real musicians. What we got with several artists this year was fake music performed by fake entertainers. Case in point Jana Kramer in her self entitled album with her fake twang and JJ Lawhorn with his album Original Good Ol’ Boy and his fake twang as well. Another with a fakey sounding set of vocals is Joanna Mosca with her album Let It All Begin.
Sometimes you have an entertainer who gives it all up to stoop to the industry manufactured sound. One of our favorites, Brad Paisley, stooped to this low level of recording in his album Wheelhouse.
Sometimes songs are just completely boring and bland. We came across to many to mention in all of the albums that came into our offices in 2013. However, here are a few "One More Night" by Dion Pride, "Whatever She’s Got" by David Nail, and "Let’s Go There" by Brothers Osborne.
If you add Rap music to your song or album you will end up on this list. Since it’s so called inception, Rap music has not had the following that people believe it does. In fact, it’s not music, it’s crap. We came across many albums that were half way decent until we heard a song with crap in it. The Coleman Brothers album, Keepin It Reel, was sure to earn a recommendation. However, when we heard the crap in it we felt it earned a position on this list instead.
Jason Castro broke many of our guidelines of what not to record with his album Only A Mountain. Jason re-recorded someone else’s music, used fake techno and has the same base line melodies throughout the album, therefore his album lands right here on this list.
If you listen to bad music long enough, it may sound good. This is not the case with Mike Aiken’s album Captains & Cowboys.
So many albums were albums that sounded like one long, ever lasting song. The baseline melodies of majority of the albums we heard this year were all the same. Granted most melodies have been created already, but does every song on an album have to sound the same? Out Here by Cody Beebe & The Crooks was one of those dreaded albums in which we wasted our time listening too.
As it was said before, we detest concept albums. Out of all the concept albums we have reviewed at Strictly Country, we can think of only two that were worth the time and the money. There are three concept albums that hit our list this year. Now That’s What I Call Country Volume 6, Lowe Country: The Songs of Nick Lowe, and Mud Digger Volume 4.
The other music industry standard of high pitched screaming is generally found in the new female artists. If we want screaming in our music we would listen to rock-n-roll. There is not one Rock-N-Roll artist who sounds worse than Joni Rae Jack with her self entitled album. We could listen to Marilyn Manson all day before we would even consider listening to Joni again.
Some of the greatest vocalists in the music industry perform with natural talents. One of the hardest thing to do as a vocalist is to maintain the pure raw vocal talent. Robby Armstrong is another who just can not let his vocals flow into that all natural feel. Because he is unable to do so his single "Rodeo" hits our list. However, his debut self entitled album is another that teeters on the line to hit this list.
Dara Maclean’s album You Got My Attention hits this list. She got our attention in a horrendous way with the fake synthesizer beat, teenage uneducated beat and way too high annoying vocals.
If a Christmas carol hits this list it must be bad. Amber Hayes released her "Uh Oh, Looks Like Snow" single that just was perhaps the worst Christmas song ever to be recorded.
We now come to our Top 15 Worst Albums & Songs of 2013. We begin with new comer David Shelby. David is another artist who stole melodies from popular songs in his album Rust Belt Cowboy. Perhaps one of the more notable melodies stolen was from Warrant with their melody "Cherry Pie" in his song "Moonshine."
Coming in at number 14 is Dave Adkins & Republik Steele and their album That’s Just The Way I Roll. There are so many errors on this album, plus they re-record two songs, and they stole a melody from Bob Seger’s "Turn The Page." What more could make this album hit this list? How about horrendous lead vocals? Yes, they are there too.
Hitting the Number 13 spot is Mud Dynasty by Lenny Cooper. Again, crap is not talent nor music. A two-year-old can rhyme, does that make the child a star? No!
Coming in at Number 12 is another thief in country music. Gretchen Wilson’s Right On Time features twelve songs in which contains two stolen melodies. The first is in her song "The Gypsy In Me" which contains the stolen melody from the Eagles song "Take It To The Limit." The second is found in "Still Rollin’" with Jackson Browne’s baseline melody of "Running On Empty." Gretchen should be sued due for plagiarism because of these two songs!
Hitting Number 11 is a song by Jaida Dreyer with "Half Broke Horses." Besides Crap, the worst thing that a vocalist can have is the shakey vocal syndrome. Never in music history has an entertainer’s talents been celebrated who maintains the shakey vocal syndrome. It’s not talent and it sounds horrible!
Number 10 is another single. Performed by Breelan Angel, "It’s My Turn," contains a great message that is performed with some of the most fakey set of vocals. Fake vocals did not work for disc jockey and it will not work for vocalists!
The Number 9 spot belongs to Kip Moore and his album Up All Night. On this album Kip steals two well known melodies. His song "Everything But You" contains the same melody as Tommy James and The Shondells song "Crimson And Clover." His other song "Hey Pretty Girl" is very close to Bruce Springsteen’s "I’m On Fire." Because of these two songs, this album hits high on this list.
Coming in at Number 8 is Keep It Country by Jason Cassidy. For years, we have been eager to hear an album by this guy. However, when we received this one we were shocked. Out of the eleven songs on this album, five are previously re-recorded songs by some of country music’s more notable artists including Merle Haggard, Garth Brook and Kenny Chesney. This album only proves that Jason is nothing more than a cover artist!
The Number 7 spot is reserved for Chris Isaak and his album Beyond The Sun. This album was designed to honor all the artists who recorded under the legendary Sun Records. However, it’s a bust! Artists who re-record other well known artists music end up on this list! All it proves is that the artist is a cover artist!
Coming in at Number 6 is an artist who is no stranger to this list. For years we have been tortured by the untalented vocals of Clinton Gregory. Clinton did not make it in country music so in 2013 he switched to Bluegrass with his album Roots of My Raising. Well it’s not going to work, because he still has no talent!
We now come to the Top 5 Worst Albums and Songs of 2013! Beginning at Number 5 is Colt Ford and his album Declaration of Independence. Our fore fathers must be rolling in their graves with the crap that is included on this one!
Hitting the Number 4 spot is an album by The Goldblooms. Their self entitled album contains a very bad mix of vocals and instrumentals that makes the listener want to scream in agony!
The Number 3 spot on the Top Worst Albums and Songs of 2013 belongs to a duo that is no stranger to this list. The Roys album Gypsy Runaway Train is a collection of poorly recorded cover songs.
Coming in at Number 2 is an album that many of you will disagree with us. This position belongs to the Pistol Annies with Annie Up. The Pistol Annies are made up with Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley and the very untalented Miranda Lambert. When will the industry realize that Miranda Lambert does not have any talent? We say that Ashley and Angaleena as well as the rest of the world should read Miranda her ‘miranda rights’ and tell her that she should remain silent!
This brings us to the Number 1 Worst Album and Song of 2013... Drum roll please...
The Number 1 Worst Album And Song of 2013 goes too Steve Scott Country with his song "Halo." Steve Scott is an untalented, want-to-be, fake entertainer who is no stranger to this list. Steve took the Number 2 spot in 2012. When we look back at all of these albums and songs, we give constructive criticism. With Steve, the only thing we can say is stop! Get out of the music industry because you have no talent!
Before you contact us and complain about this list, just remember what you hear doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is out there for country music! Out of all the albums that we reviewed in 2013, 35% of them ended up on this list. Is the industry that far gone, or have we settled for less?
Tune in next January as we bring you Strictly Country’s list of Worst Albums and Songs of 2014!
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