(This article was printed in the January / February 2015 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)
It’s that time of the year again. It’s the time when we cozy up to the fireplace and honor the best of what Country Music has to offer us in the annual Spirit Awards. Although the Spirit Awards are a fan voted awards show, there is one award that - well does not get voted by the fans. In fact, it doesn’t even have an award. However, we always joke that it should - perhaps then and only then, the industry would stop putting out bad albums filled with bad music.
Although we began the Spirit Awards in 1995, it wasn’t until nine years later that we began compiling our list of Worst Albums and Singles of the Year. A subscriber once inquired what we do with all of these bad albums? Do we throw them away? What do we do with all of them? Our answer was - we use them as CD coasters. Thus began the CD Coaster Award.
It’s not really an award per se. In fact it’s not an award at all. It’s more of a statement. Can you imagine one of us showing up and stating that we have an award for an entertainer and they ask ‘what award?’ What would they think when we say - The CD Coaster Award for worst album of the year...
Now before you get all upset and contact us to tell us that we do not know what we are talking about... think of this - the average country music fan only hears not even 1% of what is out there for country music. Where as all of us get to hear all of it! It is our professional experience that for every Top 10 artist that is played on the radio, there are at least fifty to one hundred artists much better than they are. Just remember that before you go complaining about this list.
So out of the thousands of albums and songs that we reviewed in the past year, here is our list of the Top Worst Albums and Singles of 2014...
Let us begin the count down with an album that teeters on the side of should and should not be on this list. In the fall of 2014, Susan Toney released her album Love Is The Cure: The Essential Collection. Although Susan has been around for quite some time, this was our first introduction to her. She has the vocals and is an accomplished lyricist, it’s just that majority of this album sounded like one long, never ending song. This is said with majority of the music that we heard this past year.
Another artist, or this case artists, that comes to mind is Lady Antebellum and their album Golden. We can not see an album called golden filled with songs that sound like one long, never ending song. This group could be much better if they just push past the American average.
This was a major complaint that we often filed under our reviews for most of the albums this past year. Another major complaint that we had was how many new entertainers were trying too hard to emulate and sound like many of the Top entertainers in Country Music.
This was the case with Branch & Dean when they released their self entitled debut album at the beginning of the year. The album featured a talented duo who sounded too much like Big & Rich, while they performed songs that contained previously released and popular subject matter. But most of all, this duo was all over the place and did not have a sound that they could call their own.
Every once in a while, but often enough, we come across a song that is quite beautiful. However, it is destroyed by the entertainer’s lack of vocal abilities. This is the case with Wild Ponies song “Things That Used To Shine.”
There is an on going argument among entertainers, song writers, DJs and reviewers. The argument is that everything has already been done in the music industry. Every guitar riff, sound, melody and even the form of writing a song has already been done. We disagree and we can prove it - if you look at many of the songs listed in our Top Songs of 2014, you will hear a wide variety of melodies, sounds and guitar riffs. The problem that the music industry faces today is that the industry as a whole is too lazy. Artistry that was once celebrated is now banned. Different and unique was once embraced is now banned. Pure raw talents were once cherished is now banned.
That being said, we heard a lot of pure manufactured albums and artists this past year. You might ask - what is a manufactured artist? Well a manufactured artist is an artist who does not have any vocal talents, raw emotions and lacks the imagination to bring a song to life so they utilize a computer and various programs to bring forth an album that sounds manufactured. Manufactured is not talent, it’s manufactured!
Joshua Scott Jones, one side of the duo Steel Magnolia, emerged this past year as a solo artist when he released his album The Healing. This album featured eleven songs of pure manufactured garbage.
Most new artists today are manufactured. Why? Because it’s cheaper to record off of one’s computer than it is to go into a recording studio and record - that’s why.
We were introduced to many new artists this year and most of them were manufactured. Case in point Lizzie Sider when she released her two singles “I Love You That Much” and “Butterfly.”
Sometimes it is hard not to judge an album by the cover, or in this case an album by the entertainer’s name. But we set aside our personal opinions, took a deep breath and listened with open ears when we heard Matt Farris’ debut album. Farris has decent vocals that sound like every other artist coming out of Nashville. However, he does not care for the music and lacks the emotions to bring the music to life. Our prediction for this man is that he’ll come out with a publicity stunt called “Save Farris.”
Like Farris, Jeff Bates is another artist who tries to emulate a more well known artist. At times, Bates can sound like the late legendary Conway Twitty. Just this past year, Bates released his album Me And Conway. Another one of our major complaints is that no artist, especially new artists, should never re-record more notable songs like Bates did when he re-recorded many of Conway Twitty songs on this one. If you sound like an entertainer - embrace it and become a tribute artist. Don’t try to make it off of someone else’s coat tails!
In order for most new entertainers to ‘get noticed’ they have to be versatile - WRONG! Whom ever said this should be banned from the industry. If you look back at all the successful entertainers in country music, they all had one thing in common - they all had their own unique style.
Another new artist that we were introduced to this year was The Cains Trio when they released their debut album Stay On Board. The Cains opened their album with a strong song that contained a very unique blend of 1990’s style of country music. But the album was destroyed as they tried to show case their versatility. The key word is ‘tried.’
The next new artist, Scott Dean, was another who didn’t quite make the cut. Throughout his album, All Over Again, he sounded quite nervous to the point that listening to his album made all of us suffer from anxiety as well. But, anxiety aside, the album should have been called My Career Is All Over as Dean lacks the pure talent to make a song, even a good song, sound good.
Like we said before, we often come across an album that sounds like one, never ending, awful song. This was the case with Buffalo Clover’s album Test Your Love.
We often talk about artistry in our reviews and articles. Throughout our careers we have heard some beautiful music that contained just the right blend of artistry. However, when we heard the album Song In My Head by String Cheese Incident, we were blown away and not in a good way. This group tries way too hard to incorporate artistry to the point that it just comes out sounding like one horrible album!
We were first introduced to Sherry Lynn back in 2007 when she released her single “Scarecrow Dance.” The song prompted us to look out for this entertainer. Since then, she has yet to prove that she can earn a place on country radio. In fact, her new album A Beautiful Life is quite boring. Sherry is one of the many in a long list of entertainers who wishes they could be a Top 10 entertainer, but lacks all of the talents to make it there!
Some can sing the fun songs with pure enjoyment, while others just can only sing the ballads. Like an actor, many entertainers are tight-casted to only a certain style of songs. This is the case with Eileen Rose and her album Be Many Gone. Eileen can sing the ballads as some of the more notable crooners in the music industry. However, the major complaint from this album is that none of the songs have a solid storyline to capture the listener’s attention.
This is something that we come across more often than you think. It is our prediction that because of the internet and Youtube that many people believe that they have what it takes to make it because of the ‘views’ and ‘likes.’ But, the reality is that many of these people who believe they have the talent, lack the talent to capture and hold the listener’s attention enough to say take a listen.
Remember when we said previously in this article that many new so called entertainers record in their homes via computer? Many of the average listeners will not pick up on these recordings to say for sure that the song was recorded via computer. But, over the years we have trained our ears enough to know the difference. Misty Rae Carson is one so called entertainer who did so with her debut EP Mystery. It is no ‘mystery’ that Misty is a manufactured artist who has a big dream but little talent.
Some people’s dreams are so large that they’ll do anything and everything to make their dreams come true. However, in the end they finally give in and give up. This is the case for the group Jackopierce. This band originally formed in 1988 and contained a mix of classic rock meets Folk. However, they did not have the audience attention grabbing songs as the bands of their time. So they broke up and then twenty-five years later decided to re-group. Their new album, Live 25, still lacks the audience attention grabbing songs. Plus, it’s mixed with a very bad version of Dave Loggins 1974 hit “Please Come To Boston.”
The other ‘industry standard’ that has come about is the standard of borrowing a melody from more notable songs. Sam Lewis teams up with several other artists to record many of the songs that he supposedly wrote in his self-entitled album. This album is nothing more than borrowed melodies and songs with the same melody.
Like we said previously in this article, one of the most annoying things that new artists do is that they try to sound like one of the Top 10 entertainers. We don’t understand why people do this? Again, look back at the legends and you will see that most of them had a very unique sound - that was theirs and no one else's. That being said, the one thing that fans need to understand is that when Miranda Lambert first came out, the music industry shut her down saying she had no talent. A few years later, the music industry was scrambling to find female artists to promote. At the time, there were very few female artists and so the industry said - look we found Miranda Lambert! Well guess what? She still lacks talent! So for a new entertainer coming out who sounds like her - well you will hit our list. This is the case for Rachel Lipsky and her debut Limited Edition EP. Yeah it’s limited! Limited on talent!
When many of the legends began their careers, they all had one thing in common - they all had their own style of vocal performance down. Today’s artists lack this. One so called entertainer who’s vocal stylings are all over the place is Breelan Angel. Her album, Dirty Little Secrets, is a combination of one stolen song, and a whole lot of garbage music performed with a very fake twang that makes you want to just turn it off! We wish she would never grace our offices with her music again.
Sometimes we come across an album that contains a wonderful blend of music, lyrics and vocals. However, the album is destroyed during the mixing process. This is the case with Reagan Boggs album Quicksand.
The general theme for this past year was manufactured. Sarah Dunn Band’s album You Or The Whiskey, Brushville’s debut self-entitled album, Thompson Square’s album Just Feels Good, Runaway Dorothy’s album The Arc and Kayla Adams’ song “Sober & Sorry” are perfect examples of manufactured albums and songs. However, they all have one more thing in common - all the songs on each album contain the same baseline melody.
Chris Chickering booked himself as a motivational singer when he released his album Living In The Now. However, one must have songs of motivation in order to be a motivational singer! Chris lacks the motivation in this quite depressing album.
Another thing we come across quite often in music is the lack of purpose within the lyrics of a song. Granted some songs have a great melody that out masks the lyrics to bring forth a great song. This is not the case with The Stray Bird’s song “Dream In Blue.” It is also the case in Rita Hosking’s song “Parting Glass.”
So many albums, so many songs, one melody. That is all it is when we heard Kenny Butterills album Troubadour Tales.
Again, the biggest pet peeves around Strictly Country is anyone re-recording some well known song made famous by a very well known artist. Anyone who is anyone in the music industry has recorded the ever popular song “Midnight Special.” However, if you are a nobody in a sea of nobodies, don’t recorded it! Matthew Patrick not only re-recorded this song, but even destroyed it in his version on his album Welcome To Our Yard Sale.
In 2014, a group of multi talented Bluegrass musicians and entertainers got together to release a two-disc set called Moody Bluegrass: A Nashville Tribute To The Moody Blues. We understand how entertainers and musicians want to pay tribute to their musical heroes and musical influences, but do it in a live performance that will air on television. Don’t record the songs to release on an album! It’s not going to sell.
Since 2006, when we first started compiling this list, we have only picked out a few Christmas albums to hit our list of bad albums. Seriously how do you mess up a Christmas album? But Blake Shelton, Phil Vassar and Jeff Black figured it out. However, now we can add Darius Rucker to the list. In his Christmas album, Home For The Holidays, Darius destroys many classic Christmas carols with his lack of vocal talent.
Sometimes we just sit back and laugh at the claims that an entertainer makes when they release their albums. Some claim they have been performing professionally for decades, while others claim they are the most popular, most played artist on their local radio station. Most of these claims are false and lack merit. We laughed when we heard that Wink Keziah had been playing for three decades, when we heard his album Cowbilly. He may have performed that long, but the music on this album doesn’t sound like it. In fact, it sounds like someone who is trying too hard to sound like something they are not and it sounds horrible.
At times we encounter albums and songs that are performed like some robot performed them. This is the case with Sherry Lynn’s song “Girls Will Be Girls.”
Many entertainers have decided that screaming through their music sounds better than singing. What they don’t realize is that screaming is quite annoying rather than entertaining. Case in point Carrie Underwood and her album Blown Away. We’re just blown away that you lasted this long with all that screaming!
Another new entertainer who turned us off with her music was Jamie Tate when she released her album Strummin’ The Heartstrings. Jamie is like so many others who are trying so hard to emulate Miranda Lambert. If you’re going to emulate someone, why not emulate someone who has some talent?
Through out the music industry you will find entertainers, even legends, who can not enunciate while singing. Take for fact Bob Dylan. However, Kasey Lansdale is no Bob Dylan. In fact, her lack of enunciation makes her album Restless sound really bad. We grew ‘restless’ trying to figure out what she was singing on this one!
When we received Junior Gordon’s debut album Big we were intrigued. That was until we listened to it! In the album, Junior claims that he wrote all twelve cuts. But in fact, the title cut was written by someone else and was originally recorded by our good friend Glenn Cummings. This made us question the levity of the album. We have come to agree that Gordon is just riding the waves - illegally based on what he claims - set before him by much more notable Texan country music entertainers.
We started this list with albums and songs that we rated as $$$ (Promising. This is a 50/50 in the dollars spent. Depends on the listener...) We have now come to the albums that we have given a $ (Poor. Don’t waste your dollars! This one has made the ever growing pile of CD coasters. Red Cowboy sounds better than this!)
First on the list is an album from James Carothers called Honky Tonk Land. James’ style is kind of like Alan Jackson, but we don’t want to put Alan down. James is more of a mono tone, because he can only sing one melody.
There are so many times that we come across an album by a new entertainer when we state that the songs would make it if they were recorded by someone else. This is the case with Ashley Barron’s album It Might Get Loud. Ashley’s vocals are quite limited. There are times that she tries to hit a high note and can not pull it off, so she settles for a lower note which makes the song sound horrible because of her lack of vocal range. We rated the songs on here a $$$ - but it was her vocals that brought this album to this spot on the list.
Delnora’s vocals are quite the same in limited ability. We were introduced to Delnora when she released her album My Song. The difference is, that we could not find one song on this album to even talk about.
Another album that we found limited vocal abilities was Last of The Outlaws by Railroad Earth. In every song, the instrumentals out weighed the lead vocals. But then we found out that the lead vocalist has a very limited vocal range to the point that every song is sung with the same vocal melody.
Granted not every legendary entertainer has had a wide vocal range. But when your vocals are limited to seven notes on the scale, then you have a problem.
We saw a similar problem with Erica Nicole in her album Daughter of The Revolution. Now take the limited vocals of Erica and include a bad remake of a Beach Boys song - you have a recipe for an album to hit high on our list of Worst Albums.
There are a few singles that came through our doors that had the same vocal limitations and lack of vocal abilities. These songs include “Rock Me” by Ana Egge, “Is It You And Is It Me” by Sally Barris, “Paper Cranes” by Danny Schmidt, “The Things We’re Afraid Of” by Carrie Elkin, “Diana Jones” by Jonathan Byrd, “Lemon Squeezy” by Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys and “More” by Brandon Hamilton.
Some people know how to write songs and some people should not write songs. Case in point Jeremy Phifer and his song “Take The L Out of Lover.” Granted most songs have a rhyme to them, it’s the nature of writing a good song. However, Jeremy takes it a little to far in this one. It almost sounds like an elementary student wrote this song. But then again we don’t want to offend the intelligent students by making that claim.
Another manufactured, no substance album was found with Shel’s debut self-entitled album. Here is a group of four talented women singing songs that have no meaning let alone all have the same baseline melody. Where do you think you will go with an album filled with songs with the same melody? Right here on our list and no where else!
In 2002, David Nail hit the country music scene when he tried to release his self-entitled debut album. The album was only released to radio and was not commercially released due to the lack of significant music. In 2014, David tried to show that he has talent when he released his album I’m On Fire. The album contains eleven cuts including two songs in which he gains the help from more notable entertainers and one cover song. First, why would a new artist invite veteran artists to appear on their album? Second, why would you do a cover of such a well known song? The answers to both questions are - he has no talent. Like his previous albums, this one will go no where. We believe it’s time to put a nail in the coffin of David Nail’s singing career.
We now come to the Top 5 Bad Albums of 2014...
We begin with Big & Rich. Big & Rich are no strangers to hidden controversy. In 2006, they released their ever popular song “The 8th of November.” However, most fans don’t know that the original version of the song contained the melody of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of The Edmond Fitzgerald.” Fast forward to 2014 and their album Gravity. The only thing this album has on it is fancy graphics. The entire album sounds like one long song with melodies taken from classic rock songs. This is sad. We believe some where deep in the souls of Big Kenny and John Rich is some decent talent. They just need someone who will tap into it. Other than the cool graphics, this one is a bust.
So the suits in the offices of the record labels believe that the manufactured, no artistry, same melody is the the future of country music. Let us quote a great movie, The Grinch, “Wrongo!”
When Jake Owen released his album Days of Gold, we couldn’t wait to take a listen. Many of us were appalled at what we heard. There is nothing more annoying when a beautiful song, or songs in this case, are destroyed by that fake, synthesizer, computer generated, Pop crap beat! Hopefully, it wasn’t Jake who suggested that his songs are mixed with that fake Pop sound. If it was, he has career problems.
One of the biggest complaints in country music this past year was of all the songs with “oh, oh, ohs” in them. It was like we were back in the 1990’s enduring another DJ playing “Achy Breaky Heart” over and over again.
Coming in at number 3 is Fuse by Keith Urban.
When we received Keith’s new album, none of us could hardly wait to hear it. But, like so many entertainers in country music today - Keith Urban bowed down to the manufactured, Pop, oh, oh, oh to whoa, whoa, whoa sound. What would make a bad album even worse? Having Miranda Lambert appear on it. The only good thing about this album, is the cover art.
Coming in at number 2 is an album by a new artist who hails from our neck of the woods. We couldn’t believe that right under our noses was Joe Loftus. However, we understood why we never heard of him while we listened to his album Can’t Take The US From The USA. Joe may look like actor Chelcie Ross, but he only can impersonate Johnny Cash. We can not say this enough! If you are a new artist - don’t do covers of such well known songs! It only proves one thing and one thing only - that you are a cover artist and nothing more! Personally, we do not want to hear a no-name person singing “Ring of Fire” or “Folsom Prison Blues!” If we want to hear those songs, we’ll play Johnny Cash!
This brings us to our Top Bad, Worst, Most Horrible Album of 2014... drum roll please...
The winner of the CD Coaster Award For The Worst Most Horrible Album of 2014 goes to...
Bluegrass Kinda Christmas by The Roys!
We can not understand what is so pleasing about their music? We must reach in to our list of liners from great movies and quote the ever popular movie Happy Gilmore when Bob Barker says “You should be working at the snack bar!” For musicians, how can you be so bad? How can you take music, like Christmas music, music that anyone can sing and destroy it like you did in this one? We do not understand the fascination with this duo? How many times does this duo have to end up on our list to prove to the record label that enough is enough? Here is a brother sister duo where the brother has some vocal talents and the sister has none and they continue to record them. For us to name a Christmas album worst album of the year shouldn’t that be a clue that they are bad? Through the years, we have given the Roys every opportunity, as we give all other artists, to prove them selves. However, their albums just seem to go from bad to worse!
After listening to all the bad albums that were produced this year, it makes us want to re-think Red Cowboy’s album. Especially, when it comes to The Roys. Perhaps we should look into what Red Cowboy has been up too. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t.
So what is in store for 2015? We hope better music. Music that lacks the manufactured sound. Music that contains a wide variety of melodies. Music that touches the soul with variety, artistry, hope, love and pure raw emotions. Music that contains less screaming and more singing. Tune in next year when we proudly say - the winner of the CD Coaster Award goes too...
Hopefully, not you!
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