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Strictly Country’s list of worst albums and singles of 2015.

By: The staff at Strictly Country

   Outside the snow is gently falling to create a winter wonderland that those with child like hearts truly enjoy.  For many of us in the Northwoods, winter is not a three day to three week event.  It’s more like a three to six or more month event.  Therefore it gets really old really fast and we need to keep our spirits up by hosting special events.
   That is why Strictly Country chose to host the Annual Spirit Awards in the winter months.  If you haven’t already, it’s time to cozy up to a warm blazing fireplace with a cup of hot coca and listen to the 21st Annual Spirit Award’s show on Strictly Country’s Friday night radio show - Around The Campfire.
   Once you hear all the great music and learn who the fans voted for, there is one award that is not mentioned on the show.  Authentically, it’s not even fan voted. In fact, it really does not have a physical award.  Can you imagine us contacting the winning entertainer and say - “Hey we want to present you with the 2016 Spirit Award for CD Coaster Award?” Exactly!  Although it would be kind of nice to present certain people, who believe that they are entertainers, with this award.  Perhaps then they would stop polluting the earth with their so called noise. 
   All through the year we receive an abundance of albums ranging from all corners of the earth in regards to country music.  We pride ourselves in focusing on a 360 degree view of country music which includes all forms of country including country rap, country pop, traditional country and country Gospel.  We also include all forms of Bluegrass as well as folk, Americana and southern Rock.  Each album is taken into consideration if it is worth the money it would cost the listener to purchase it.  We know how hard you work to earn your money and we do not want to tell you that you should spend it on an album that does not consist of any valuable music.
   That being said, here is our list of worst albums and singles of 2015.  We highly suggest that you avoid purchasing these albums and or singles.  This list is based on all of the music released in 2015 and not just the Top 10.
   Here we go... in 2013 we were sent an album from a group from Australia.  We held on to this album due to the fact that the title track contains a melody that all of us here at Strictly Country have heard before.  For two years we have racked our brains and even asked our Facebook followers to rack their brains to determine where we had heard this melody before, however we came up empty handed.  The album O Winding River, by The Stetson Family, became the first album in twenty-two years that we could not rate.  This was due to the matter of the ‘borrowed’ melody as well as two other songs that were ‘borrowed’ as well.  Granted the Stetson’s are incredibly talented we just could not say for fact whether or not the three songs were rightfully stolen.  Therefore, we could not rate the album.  This album would not be mentioned on this list if it weren’t for the improper and unethical actions that The Stetson Family took after reading our review.
   First and foremost we use top of the line, studio quality headphones to conduct our reviews.  Second, the staff is quite knowledgeable in many aspects of many genres in the music industry.  Third, our reviews are based on opinion that is based on all of the music that we have heard over the years.  Forth, and this is important, unlike other magazines - our reviews are not influenced by money in any way.
   Another album that dangles on each side of our list comes from Time Life. The dilemma we have with concept albums is that they only feature a limited amount of music.  In 2015, Time Life released a box set called Country Music of Your Life.  The box set features five double disc albums that are suppose to capture different moment’s of our lives.  In other words, listening to this collection of songs is suppose to create a flash back to a time in our personal lives.  The trouble with concept albums is that they often do not contain all of the songs that should be enclosed.  The reason for this is due to the conflict between the company creating the box set and the record labels and even the entertainers.  Concept albums are always about the money and not about the music.  This is the case with this box set.
   The same argument can be made for the album Now That’s What I Call ACM Awards 50 Years.  Also released in 2015 and hitting our list, this is a two disc album that is suppose to feature a representation of each of the 50 years of the ACM Award’s show.  Disc one was suppose to feature the years 1990 through 2015, while the second disc was slated to feature 1965 through 1989.  The album failed to include some of the most iconic award winners including Barbara Mandrell, who was the first entertainer to win the coveted Entertainer of The Year Award two years in a row.  The other flaw in this album is that many years were not represented by songs.
   There are many times that we will receive an album and for some reason will have to push the review off until the following year.  In 2014, Donna Hughes released two albums within a few months of each other.  Both albums contained six of the same songs mixed with six other songs.  Donna is notorious for recording cover songs as well. She should have only released one album that contained all of her new songs and should have left out the covers.  If she would have done so we would not add her Fly album to this list.
   We can not stress how many times we receive an album from a new artist who has the vocal talents but lacks the passion and drive to bring their songs to life.  This is the case with Ray Scott’s 2014 self entitled debut album. Ray does have some incredible deep baritone vocals and is a talented song writer.  But what he doesn’t have is the passion. 
   With Rick Monroe’s 2014 album, It’s A Love Thing, we couldn’t even give it away in a contest.  The reason for that is because like so many new artists today, they all sound exactly the same and lack the diversity in their style to spark one’s interest. Although Rick acts like he is a mega star, we fear that he will always be the local want-to-be bar artist. 
   We are always suckers for live albums, because live albums make us recall faded memories. Live albums also give those of us, who were not able to attend, a chance to hear what we missed.  However when we received Marshall Tucker Band’s, Live! Englishtown, NJ, Sept. 3, 1977,  we were just down right appalled that they would release such a poor quality of recording.  Granted it was recorded in 1977, nonetheless if you can not clean it up to produce a great live album, then don’t release it!
   So many of the albums that hit this list contain that fake, manufactured sound that the music industry believes that all of us music lovers like.  The truth is, true music lovers like pure raw talent and can not stand the fake sound!  That being said Cam hits this list with her debut EP Welcome To Cam Country.  The album’s title should read Welcome To Cam Pop for this is not country music. 
   When we received Kenny Chesney’s new album, The Big Revival, we were horrified!  Over the years Kenny has entertained us with some beautiful music in which he has performed in his very own Caribbean country style.  Although his song “If This Bus Could Talk” hit our list of Top Songs of 2015, we had to add this album to this list due to an indistinguishable baseline melody that was contained in many of the songs on this album.
   One of our biggest pet peeves is entertainers, especially new ones, recording cover songs on their albums.  One of country music’s most iconic producers - Owen Bradley - once said “If you can’t record it better than the original - then don’t record it!”  We wish that more artist would abide by Mr. Bradley’s wise words.
   Bluegrass group Flatt Lonesome released their album Too.  The album contained three covers out of twelve songs.  If they did not include the covers, the album would have been much better as a person could have focused more on their own songs.  But then again, this band’s style is all over the place, therefore they lack the ability to bring it all together to create an album of their own style that is worth the cost.
   However, the biggest waste of talent came when The Gibson Brothers released their album Brotherhood.  The album consisted of fifteen cover songs including the ever popular song “Bye Bye Love” that was made famous by The Everly Brothers.  The Gibson Brothers are quite skilled to create an album of their own music.
   When we received Every Mile by Nathan Stanley we were all excited for he is the grandson of the legendary Bluegrass artist Dr. Ralph Stanley.  However, our hearts were broken as we truly found out that Nathan lacks the believability of heart and soul that is needed to bring the thirteen songs, on this album, to life. 
   We never really got into Lady Antebellum’s music.  Our logic behind this is because we find their music weak, uninspiring and lack the raw emotions to promote any excitement within our bodies, minds and souls.  Their album, 747 Deluxe Edition, had an impression that they were disinterested in their music and we picked up on this as it reverberated through the speakers. 
   Another artist who lacks the raw talents to bring songs to life is Australia native Kristy Cox.  Her album Living For The Moment, contains a collection of songs that are instrumentally performed well and  contain some decent lyrics, however Kristy’s vocals destroy the songs making them sound boring an unattachable.  An artist must believe in his or her work in order to sell it.  It is our belief that Kristy was playing the lazy card when it came to performing with emotions.
   Over the years we have heard some appealing music from Jason Michael Carroll.  His signature song “Alyssa Lies” still haunts us today.  We were all excited to hear that after four years, Jason would release a new album.  However, we were quite disheartened when we heard his album What Color Is Your Sky.  The album features thirteen new songs and three bonus - fan voted - cuts.  Jason wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album, yet none of the songs stand out.  When we read the lyrics contained in the jewel case, they were quite inspiring.  However, the transcription to songs was lost and deemed a disappointment.  Carroll’s major problem on this album is that he has a such a high desire to make it in this industry that he is willing to follow the flow.  What he doesn’t realize is that fans have fallen for his style of music.  The end result is this album hitting this list as it sounds like every album in country music today.
  There is always one entertainer that everyone else picks on.  In country music today, Luke Bryan is that entertainer.  We could not understand why this was until we heard his album Kill The Lights.  We were sent this album as a promotional petition to gain our vote for Luke during the recent CMA award’s show.  Be that as it may, we can not accept this as a Top Country album as the notes found in country music are absent. Out of the thirteen songs on this album, only three are considered to have incorporated a limited country beat. 
   When it comes to new entertainers just emerging on to the country music scene, it can be quite captivating.  But more often we are unenthused due to their lack of talent, distinctiveness and individuality.  Most new artists believe that they can make it by sounding  just like everyone else.  This drive comes from their family and friends who encourage them to seek out the music industry.  This is the case with Tyler Barham and his debut EP Don’t Cage This Heart.  Tyler is nothing more than a want-to-be singer who can sing mass produced songs.  If you want to make it in this industry, you have to be different!
   Another entertainer with that same problem is J. Micheal Harter.  We were first introduced to J. Micheal in 2002 when he released his debut album Unexpected Change.  We were all excited to hear that Harter would release another solo album.  Despite his debut album was quite good, his new album Ride On lacked the soul to give it a good rating.  Like so many artists today, J.Michael Harter reduced his talents to go with the flow of today’s country music. In other words, Harter tried to create an album filled with country pop and what he created was an album filled with muck.
   Again, one of our biggest pet peeves is entertainers or groups recording cover songs.  You may ask why?  Well this is such a waste of time, money and energy.  Recording covers only proves that you are a local cover artist or garage band.  A few years ago someone in the industry said that for a new artist to get noticed, they must record a cover.  In other words this person was too lazy to consider listening to anyone new.
   It’s one thing to perform a cover as a tribute to another artist during your live performance.  But it is down right disgraceful, immoral and outrageous to record a cover and include it on an album.  That being said, we often ban those albums from entertainers who do such heinous acts.
   Some of your more beautiful music comes from Bluegrass artists and bands.  The traditional country music that many fans seek today can be found in Bluegrass.  So when we receive an album from a Bluegrass artist we get all excited.  However, our excitement ceased as we listened to Springfield Exit’s new album That Was Then.  This album contained fourteen songs that included seven covers.  With such tight harmonies and talented picking, why would this band include seven cover songs?
   When an album is highly promoted, it is the case to be worried as to the value of the album.  For several months we received nearly daily press releases about Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road’s new album Country Grass.  Whom ever came up with the concept for this album should be charged with destruction of beautiful music.  In this album Lorraine and her band team up with some of Country Music’s most notorious entertainers to re-record their songs in a new Bluegrass version.  An example of this is John Conlee’s ever popular song “Common Man.”  John takes the lead vocals as he tries to sing the song as we have heard it so many times before, but the song is performed as a Bluegrass song.  Thus only creating a disastrous album.  The concept of this could have been a lot better if they would have chosen songs that could have easily crossed over into Bluegrass.  But, then again - it only sounds like a money making scheme.  The promotions stopped as real listeners found out the disastrous truth behind this album.
   You may remember Doris Merritt as Doris King, one quarter of the 1980’s group Girls Next Door.  Doris still maintains the same beautiful vocals she owned back then.  Today she is the second half of Mike & Doris Merritt, a husband and wife duo who are involved with cowboy ministry.  To help promote their ministry, they released their album Detours.  The album is filled with thirteen cover songs. Covers are covers and nothing more.
   We wish that people in the industry would start doing their job and say ‘no’ to those who record people just for the money.  This is the case with Allie Louise and her self-entitled debut album.  This mass produced, manufactured album should have never been recorded.  If it were our studio we would have said ‘no, come back when you have your own distinctive style!’
   There are so many times when we receive albums that the lyrics are quite ambiguous, disorganized and confusing as to the subject matter of the song.  This was quite evident in Tim Jones album Sure Got Late Real Early.  Tim is no stranger to the music industry as he is the singer and guitarist of the band Truth & Salvage.  A listener of music should not have to pull out a decipher book in order to understand the songs that they are listening too, especially if those songs are sung in their native language.  This album would be one incredible album, if only it were released without the vocals.
   When it comes to most of the music and albums on this list, one can break it all down to laziness and negligence. The laziness comes in not taking the time to create a masterpiece of pure beauty as many use computer generated music rather than learning to play an instrument.  The negligence comes from trying too hard to sound just like the Top Ten, when in reality the Top Ten are not enjoyed by the true listeners of country music.
   One album that defines laziness and negligence comes from Shannon and Heather Slaughter with their latest Never Just A Song.  This album contains fourteen songs with three covers.  It’s the negligence of recording covers.  However, the laziness comes from these two inadequately recording the other eleven songs with a single melody.  It’s as if these two only have the vocal talents to record one melody.
   One can never trust the promotions of an album or an entertainer.  Case in point Monty Byrom and his album 100 Miles South of Eden.  When we researched Monty we found that he had worked with a wide variety of entertainers spanning many musical genres.  However, we could not locate what he did for these entertainers.  He could have just been a stage hand or just a paid groupie, for all we know.  Granted he can belt out a good Blues song, he is like so many artists today as he lacks the bait to hook the listener to draw them into listening to his music.  Whatever he did for those artists, it still does not offset the fact that he lacks talent.
   Another person who is no stranger to the music industry is Robert Earl Keen.  As a songwriter, his music has been covered by many artists including George Strait, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith and The Dixie Chicks.  As a talented songwriter, we wonder why he released his album Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions.  The album consists of fifteen cuts which includes at least nine covers.  Enough said.
   It’s time for another want-to-be country pop artist.  In 2015, Abi Ann released her debut EP 17.  This EP features five country-pop songs that are unappealing in every way.  Two of the songs will attract your interest with their lyrics, however the music belittles the songs. As for the singer, Abi is conventional, average and lacks the talent to divert away from the typical country-pop artist. 
   We thought that boy bands went out of style at the turn of the century.  We were wrong especially after hearing 2 Steps Back and their self-entitled debut EP.  Like majority of the boy bands, this band is also manufactured.  They should have focused their style to engage more of a southern country rock style then their flimsy overemphasized pop sound.  When will the industry realize that real music lovers dislike the manufactured sound, especially coming from boy bands.
   A good song is one that the listener can relate too.  As it progresses, it will take a listener on a journey as it prompts long forgotten memories or even plays a mini story with in the listener’s mind’s eye.  When listening to a song, one should not have to try to figure out the song’s message.  The lyrics should be carefully chosen to carry the listener through the song with ease while it promotes various emotions.  The melody of the song should not be over whelmed with various instruments.  The instruments playing the melody should be carefully chosen to compliment the lyrics, thus creating a masterpiece worthy of the listener’s precious time.  This is what we look for when review each album.
   Keeping that in mind, one should not have to rack one’s brain to understand the story within the song.  In 2015, Leftover Salmon released their latest album called High Country.  The album features twelve songs in which their plots are all over the place.  Many of the songs on this album begin with a verse that set’s up the story, then veers off into a totally new direction.  Listening to this album is like reading three books at once.  In other words, this album is bi-polar.
   Three things to avoid when recording an album.  One, don’t sound like any other entertainer out there; especially Miranda Lambert.  Two, don’t use manufactured instrumentals taken off of any computer or synthesizer.  Three, don’t try to make all of the verses in your song rhyme.  This is the case with Abbey Hirvela and her album The Start.  As a song writer, she lacks the every day life experiences to create a song worth listening.  As a singer, she lacks everything. This album should be higher than number eleven on our list, but we hate to say it - there are far much worse than this!
   This brings us to our Top 10 Worst Albums and Singles of 2015...
   Coming in at Number 10 is Morgan Riley and her album Collage.  Morgan’s style is quite similar to that of Louise Mandrell, if only she were to embrace the country flare that Ms. Mandrell is known for.  However, Morgan tries to hard to embrace the country Pop sound that everyone dislikes.  But even more so, she embraces the country rap sound.  This only cheapens the music on this album to the point of ignorance.  Real country music fans despise country rap or as we call it CRAP! 
   Coming in at Number 9 is David Shelby with his album Oh Yeah.  We were first introduced to David back in 2013 when he released his album Rust Belt Cowboy.  The album featured many songs that were on the borderline of plagiarism.  Well, David kind of learned from that mistake.  His new album does have one questionable song.  Nonetheless he didn’t learn that trying to perform with limited vocals like his, can make a song sound horrible.  His new album contains a fabricated sound and carbon base line melodies performed with extremely limited vocals. 
   Coming in at Number 8 is another album that should be higher on the list.  We all laughed and cringed when we heard Adam Hood’s album Welcome To The Big World.  It took every bit of energy not to shut this album off and toss it in the garbage.  It also took every bit of energy to write a constructive review.  The first four songs on the album were so bad, we thought that the album was a complete waste.  However, Adam renewed himself with three other songs. All the same, he still leans on the side of inadequate and limited vocal capabilities.  We also found that every song consists of at least a stanza or two of previously released songs. 
   Coming in at Number 7 is an album that we have been putting off reviewing for over a year.  Throughout his career, Randy Travis has had a handful of songs that were decent.  By the mid to late 90’s, Travis veered off and started recording cover songs, then at the turn of the century he began recording Gospel covers.  Everyone who is anyone in country music has recorded a gospel album.  However, to record every Gospel song found in every hymnal in every church is just down right sacrilegious.  In 2014, Randy Travis release his latest money making scheme with Influence Vol. 2: The Man I Am.  This new album features thirteen cover songs that comprises of some of the most notable songs in country music.  Songs that were released by Johnny Cash, Vern Gosdin, Hank Snow, Merle Haggard and Ernest Tubb to name a few.  A cover is only a lazy and incompetent way to earn a fast buck. 
   Coming in at Number 6 is Little Big Town and their album Painkiller.  Appropriate title for this horrific album.  This album is over produced with too many instruments that draw from all musical genres.  It sounds as if this band is trying to squeeze the money out of every listening body.  More so, it sounds as if this group can not perform without the over powering sound drawn from a massive collection of instruments.  In other words, this group is only riding the “in” waves in order to make money and not music.
   Coming in at Number 5 is Miranda Lambert and her album Platinum.  If you are a fan of this list, then you will know that Miranda tends to hit high on these lists of ours.  Why?  Well we have yet to find one molecule or fragment that we call talent in this so called entertainer and we have tried with each album she releases.
   When we received our next album, we were appalled to have received it as a cassette tape rather than CD.  Coming in at Number 4 is Sam Hunt and his album Montevallo.  Facebook lit up with posts in regards to this cassette and why MCA would choose to release it to petition for ACM votes.  Well, it is ingenious because it forced us to listen to the entire album with out having the luxury to skip ahead.  This album contains a collection monotonous songs with a duplicate baseline melody that makes you feel like you are listening to one long endless song.  Plus it contains a carbon beat that is best known in the Pop genre, making this album sound like it should be in Pop music and not in country.  Pick a side Sam, ‘cause you are not country!
   We know that record labels are all about making money and the proof comes in at Number 3 with Where It All Began by Dan & Shay. If this is what the record labels calls talent these days, then it’s time to dig out your old 45s and vinyl records.  This album sounds like someone recorded it in their garage with the use of a computer to manufacture the same, standard base line melody mixed with some low-grade lyrics.
   No way!  For years we have endured the appalling music in which The Roys record.  Coming in at Number 2 is their latest project The View.  The Roys will always be a substandard, want-to-be Bluegrass artist.  We have hoped that they would snap out of their duldrum style to prove us wrong.  However, we have lost hope.  They lack the effectiveness, passion and sensitivity in their vocal skills to bring any song to life.  Plus, they tend to plunder melodies from some well known songs.  Is this talent or is this piracy?
   This brings us to the winner of the CD Coaster Award... (drum roll please) Your Love Rescued Me by Southside Drive.  When we received this Gospel album we knew the first time we heard it that it would win this award. This duo’s musical purpose is to inspire people to turn to the Lord, nonetheless with music like this - it will make people turn away!  This album features twelve crudely appalling cover songs.  What makes this album so dreadful is Gwen Hana’s lack of articulation. At times it sounds like she is eating peanut butter while trying to sing. Thus creating a mishmash of ramble that one can not understand. Where as the background vocals of Randy Bowling are quite honest. However, the two sets of vocals do not match, thus creating a horrific album that is beyond any help.
   There you have it!  Strictly Country’s list of Worst Albums and Singles of 2015.  These albums are a haunting reminder of what the music industry should not do in 2016!  Let’s see if they abide...tune in next year as we count down to see who wins the coveted CD Coaster Award!

(This article was printed in the January / February 2016 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)

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