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Strictly Country’s list of unacceptable albums of 2018.


 By: The staff at Strictly Country Magazine


    There is nothing like a piping hot cup of coffee to warm your soul on a cold January morning in the northwoods.  The luscious aroma, as it percolates through the coffee maker, fills the room and tickles ones nose.  Your taste buds are begging for the robust flavor contained within the freshly ground beans.

   Some coffees are smooth with a gentle after taste while creating an euphoria of hardy flavor that rides within the dark roasted beans.  Some people will mask this authentic taste with the additions of milk, cream, sugar and flavored syrups.  However, a true coffee connoisseur will never hide the full body that is extracted from the bean; for they understand the value of the rich taste. 

   Someone who knows the quality of a good cup of coffee, will rarely seek a cup from a blend they do not know.  Just as there are coffees that will leave you in pure bliss, there are those that will leave your taste buds in despair.  Life is too short for bad coffee.

   We can easily compare music to that cup of piping hot coffee in the early morn.  Melodies mixed with the right lyrics can create an euphoria that will awaken your soul.  Music can stimulate the mind to reach hidden memories we have long forgotten.  Music can also take us on a roller coaster of emotions, if it is well created.  Where words fail, music speaks.

   Not all songs will reach one’s heart and soul. Some blends of melodies and lyrics just do not belong together. Just like an distasteful cup of coffee, there are songs that will leave you with a bad after taste.  One that will certainly ‘dump’ the song as you would discard a horrible cup of coffee.

      Since the inception of Strictly Country Magazine, over twenty-five years ago, we have welcomed all the music released under the country music umbrella.  So what is the country music umbrella?  Country music has grown to include a wide variety of styles that comprise of traditional country, Outlaw, Western, Texan, Country Rock, Country-rap (CRap), modern, contemporary, alternative, Bluegrass, Hillbilly, Rock-A-Billy, Americana, Southern Rock, Christmas, Country Gospel, Roots and Folk.

   One of the most important tasks that we take pride in, is our ability to give an honest and truthful opinion about an entertainer’s work. At Strictly Country, we have always celebrated and honored the artistry in music as we truly understand what goes into creating a song and an album. Our authentic opinions often gets us into trouble with entertainers, managers and publicists; because we refuse to conform to the industry standards. 

   One entertainer asked our editor “Why are you so harsh in your reviews?”  The editor responded “If I give you an honest opinion you can take that, learn from it and grow with it to become a better performer.  But if I tell you what you want to hear—you will not learn from your mistakes.  Therefore, it will not encourage you to fine tune your craft to become the best entertainer you can be.”

   We believe that our readers deserve an honest and truthful opinion about the music.  An opinion that is based on the song as a whole and not on the charts, publicity and or money aiding the entertainer or album.  Too many reviewers don’t spend the necessary time allotted to create such an honest opinion.  The result of this lack of time, generates a untruthful review with false results.

   In 2018, we received hundreds of albums for review.  We pride ourselves in reviewing all material sent. We may not get to an album right away, but we promise that we will spend the designated time to review it!  We received so many albums this past year that we did not get through them all. 

   As we celebrate the best of the best in country music with the 24th Annual Spirit Awards, we also acknowledge the worst of the worst in music.  In 2006, we began releasing our list of the worst songs and albums of the year in an article called CD Coaster Award.  Although we call this an ‘Award,’ it is not a physical award in that sense.  Can you imagine seeing the embarrassment on an entertainer’s face, if we were to physically present them this award?

   Before we start, we must remind you of a few things...first and foremost we use top of the line, studio quality headphones to conduct our reviews. This makes a huge difference in sound as we hear the music as it was meant to be heard. Second, the staff is quite knowledgeable in many aspects of majority of the musical genres.  Third, our reviews are based on opinion that is established on all of the music that we have heard over the past 25 or more years.  Forth, and this is important, unlike other magazines and websites—our reviews are not influenced by money, charts, the industry standards and or other reviewer’s opinions.  In other words, we know music and could care less about the industry.

     That being said, here is our list of Worst Albums of 2018.  We highly suggest that you avoid purchasing these projects as it would be a waste of your hard earned money.  This list is base on all of the music released in 2018 and not just the financially aided Top 10.  

   We often begin this list with albums or songs that teeter on whether or not they register here.  One particular album that belongs on this list, yet it does not belong on this list comes from an unfamiliar entertainer.

   In the tale end of 2018, we received an album from Stephanie Urbina Jones called Tularosa. With its fourteen cuts, this was our first introduction to Ms. Jones.  This album really does not belong on this list due to Stephanie’s incredible vocals. She impressed us with her remarkable skills of articulating the heart and soul of the song.  This dexterity is very rare in today’s music industry.  Nonetheless, what brought this album to this list was Stephanie’s choice of songs. 

   Ms. Jones went straight to the heart of country music and drew out thirteen of the most familiar songs perform by the most popular artists.  Some of the songs included on this project come from Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Lynn Anderson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and more.  Although Stephanie’s renditions are respectful to the original artists, they still are covers and this entire project only proves that she is a well accomplished cover artist.  The project itself was given a very low score, nonetheless, we did praise Ms. Jones’ vocal talents with a higher score.  Even though the scores balance out, we still feel that this project should be on this list due to her choice of songs.

   Many people become confused as to what a cover song is.  A cover song is a song that was professionally recorded and released (in the music industry) by another person or group, prior to the current recording and release.  Entertainers recording cover songs is as old as the music industry itself.

   In the last five years we have seen an overwhelming incline of newer artists developing their careers exclusively with cover songs.  The main reason behind this massive incline is due to laziness. 

   Thanks to fraudulent television shows like The Voice and American Idol, the general public believes that anyone can become an entertainer.  The effect of such a fabricated belief system has caused an overwhelming number of people to record albums.

   It is unknown how many albums are recorded per day, nonetheless, the amount of projects that we receive and hear about has increased exponentially!  Reviewers are so bombarded by albums that it is easier for most of them to give misleading positive reviews than to take the time to authentically critique the album.

   One of the oldest tricks to gain attention by the reviewer, is to include a cover of a well known song on the project.  This is why we are witnessing an increase of cover songs.  This inflation has diminish the authenticity and creativity within music, to the point of almost banishing it.  This is one reason why music has been steadily declining over the past decades.

   Another reason why music has been steadily declining is due to radio.  Radio programmers demand that all songs fit within a certain criteria that limits each song to a three minute song that must be commercially oriented.  Simply stated, the song cannot have any emotions attached to it.

   The fact is record labels hire the best songwriters; these songwriters are required to sit in an office for eight hours and are obligated to write three songs.  Other songwriters are forced into scheduling songwriting appointments with other writers to create a few songs.  One cannot demand creativity, one simply has to allow creativity to arrive on its own time.

   In May 2018, we were introduced to James Scott Bullard when he released his ninth studio album, Full Title Boogie.  James Scott is a southern rock artist that does his best to uphold the outlaw mentality with the songs chosen for this album.  What brings this album to this list is Bullard’s in ability to diversify the melodies on each of the ten cuts included in this project.  More so, Bullard claims that he wrote all ten songs, nonetheless, we found one song that questions his credibility.  The introduction in his song “Back To You” is closely related to a melody found in The Allman Brothers’ song “Midnight Rider.”

   Throughout the last decade, we have seen a rise in bootlegged melodies.  One songwriter told our editor “Every melody has already been written.”  Her response was “No, it hasn’t.  You are just suppressing the flow of creativity. You must allow creativity to come on its own time and not on a forced scheduled time.”

   A proficient songwriter will begin with a great story that has been transformed into lyrics.  It is the cadence of the lyrics that will form the melody.  The craft can also begin with a fluent melody where the songwriter will allow the lyrics to materialize from the music.  Today’s music industry does not allow this style of creative process to take place as the industry only sees the song as a product.

   In early 2018, we received Kim Richey’s latest work with Edgeland.  Kim is a proficient singer and songwriter; one that is no stranger to the music industry.  We were so elated to receive Kim’s new project, nonetheless, we were truly disappointed.  Kim is quite the accomplished singer with her rich vocals, however, the fault comes within the lyrics.  The lyrics found in eleven of the twelve cuts, are perplexing and lack a smooth transition for the listener to follow. 

   Music is meant to carry a message. When the message is abstract and complex, the communication is lost.  This is a common error among songwriters; especially with beginners.

   There are very few times when we will pull a Christmas album and add it to this list.  Most holiday albums feature covers of well known and overly recorded carols.  It is understandable that most songwriters will not take on the project of writing a new Christmas carol, due to the limited availability of the song.

   Twenty years ago, Martina McBride released her Christmas album called White Christmas that gained notable success.  We were elated to receive Martina’s newest holiday project, It’s The Holiday Season, believing that it would follow in the wake of her previous Christmas album.  Our excitement came to a screeching halt as we progressed through the new project.

   What brings this project to this list is something we thought that would never happen, especially when it comes to Martina McBride.  Martina gains the help from Patrick Williams in this project, and it is Williams who created the most incredible and artistically defined musical arrangements we have heard among Christmas music.  Nonetheless, it is Martina’s behavior that delivers this project to this list.  Her performance gives the impression that her heart is not in it and she is struggling to meet the vocal dexterity that we have come to know from her.  In several instances, she lacks enunciation with in her crooning which reduces the overall performance of the song.  For us, this project was a total disappointment.

  The best entertainers in the music industry are those who differ from the industry standards; case in point Willie Nelson.  Today, people just want to be known, so they will conform to the industry ideal.  These ‘robot’ style entertainers will always end up on this list, as they lack the creative ingenuity needed to become outstanding in their field.

   A perfect example of this robot style is found in the group Halfway To Hazard.  Just this past year we were introduced to this band when they released their latest project REDemption.  This project contained nothing more than your typical progressive country that lacks heart and soul.  More so, the band is deficient of a style that they can call their own. 

   Having an unique style is critical when it comes to music.  This is the key ingredient that will separate you from the rest. No matter what genre you examine, the most successful entertainers are those who distinguished themselves from the rest.  Be careful when fallowing the masses; sometimes the M is silent.

   The music industry has so many unwritten rules, guidelines and protocol that no one really knows what they all are.  Most of these are difficult to understand and comprehend; while making you question how the industry actually manages.

   One of those such rules involves relatives of notable entertainers.  Throughout country music you will find many singers who are brothers, sisters, sons or daughters of well known performers.  Some of these have gone on to reach superstardom, while others struggle to even get noticed.  Then there are those who gain fame, only because of their name and or relation.

   A perfect example of this is found in John Carter Cash, the son of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.  Johnny and June can be among the entertainers whom we classify as country music royalty.  Due to his infamous parents, John Carter has a place in country music that has not been rightfully earned.  He operates as country music royalty while in the Nashville crowd.  The entertainers who grew up in and around Johnny and June, will proudly support and defend John Carter’s career; all the while placing him high upon the country music throne.  Those entertainers who know about June and Johnny will beseech John Carter only to add his name to their ever-growing résumé.  Nonetheless, outside of Nashville and in reality he is nothing more than a sideshow circus act. 

   Just this past summer we received John’s latest project We Must Believe In Magic. John Carter lacks the discipline and sensitivity needed to create a song worthy of one’s attention.  Perhaps this is due to everyone’s high expectations of him.  We find that John Carter’s music does not have any direction. He also loves to collect previously released songs and create less than optimal covers of those songs.  This album is a testimony to both statements.

   One of the most common mistakes made in music today is the lack of a good storyline within the lyrics.  Inexperienced songwriters will mask their weaknesses by echoing words in a song.  This style of writing can work to a certain extent, nonetheless, most songs written in this way are devoid of sensibility, perception, and intelligence.

   This past May, we introduced our readers to Arkansas Dave when he released his self-entitled debut album.  Among the thirteen cuts on this project we found impressive melodies filled with fine musical accompaniments that accessorized Dave’s unique vocals.  It was the lack of a solid storyline, limited and repeated lyrics that convinced us to add his album to this list. 

   Music is a form of healing and we are all in need of healing, at some point in our lives.  Those who need the most healing are the brave men and women who have served in our Nation’s Military during war. 

   In our Annual Memorial Day Honors special issue, we introduced you to Purple Heart recipient, Nick Sterling, when he released his debut album Stand Your Ground.  This project is more of a healing endeavor than an attempt at a musical career.  The album featured seven beautiful musical arrangements that were ruined by Nick’s inadequate vocals and amateur lyrics. 

   If you take a moment to study music and how it has evolved over the last fifty years, you will find that the greatest entertainers are the ones who spent decades honing their craft.  Today’s entertainers are too impatient and often spend less time developing their skills than any other profession.  Some people are born with natural talent, nonetheless, it is what you do with that natural talent that determines your success.

   This past fall, we introduced our readers to a new artist named Pearl when she released her debut album Heartbreak And Canyon Revelry.  Pearl mesmerized us with her vocals mixed with eloquent melodies.  However, this was another in which the lyrics were complicated and disconcerting.

   When we review an album, we take into consideration the quality of the production.  Periodically we come across an album that consists of an eloquent theme blended with suitable melodies, that are destroyed by the mixing process. A perfect example of this is found in the album Songs From Lyon County by Dennis K. Duff.  The assembly of this album was poorly done as the instrumentals out weigh the vocals to create a hodgepodge of noise.

   In 2018 we were introduced to Cherish Lee, daughter of Johnny Lee, when she released her debut EP Tequila Cowgirl.  Most EPs, like this one, are no more than a generic resume of fictitious accomplishment as they do not allow the entertainer the freedom to showcase their true talents.  This EP acts as bait trying to reel in anyone in the music industry.

   In reality, today’s music industry is nothing more than an ego driven contest.  For years we have been sitting an album by Pete Scobell Band called Walkin’ A Wire, while trying to figure out what to say about it.  Some new artists emerge onto the scene filled with vast talents that include vocals, songwriting and musical skills; while others show up with large egos and nothing more.  It is Pete’s ego and his choice of cover songs that delivers this album to this list.

   This brings us to Red Cowboy.  Who would have thought that other albums would beat out Red Cowboy’s Christmas album A Red Cowboy Christmas?

   If you cannot write a song, than steal it!  Over the years we have stumbled upon several entertainers who have pirated melodies and lyrics while claiming they wrote them within their own original work.  This was the case with Mark Wayne Glasmire’s latest project Can’t Be Denied.  Well, we could not deny that many of the songs on this project were composted by Mark, but we can authentically say that lots of them sounded like previously known compositions. 

   Most of the albums on this list earn their positions due to laziness.  The performers on these albums are not willing to put in the effort to demonstrate their true talents.  Other performers believe that they possess the talent, when in reality they are less than average in their field.

   A perfect example of what not to do in the music industry was found in Lonny Ray’s album Livin’ Lovin’ Life I’m Right Here.  Lonny Ray made so many mistakes on this album including stealing lyrics from well known songs, same baseline melodies and poor production.  However, the lowest thing that he did was write and record a song about soldiers; especially when he is quite ignorant about the subject.  An overabundance of singers are synthetic, including this one.

  There are so many elements to consider when trying to make it in the music world.  Perhaps the most highly regarded element is pure, raw talent.  Some people can sing, but cannot write; others can write, but cannot sing; then there are those who can do both.

   You cannot imagine how many artists we come across who believe that they have the pure, raw talents to make it in this industry; when in reality they are quite incompetent.  Such beliefs are created from dreams and encouraged by their loved ones, who are quite ignorant about music.

   In late 2018, we received an album by The King James Boys called Time To Go Home.  This bluegrass group began performing Gospel music in their hometown church.  Church attending people can be one of the most supporting crowds in music, nonetheless, they can also be the most ignorant. 

   Earning the CD Coaster Award for worst album of 2018 goes to… The King James Boys for their album Time To Go Home.  This album contains of so many amateurish mistakes that it is almost comical. The King James Boys became so popular in chapels, that they began touring.   We doubt their popularity as they lack vocal dexterity, articulation and creativity within their music. The production of the album implies a cheap, primitive structure.  More so, many of the songs on this album are quite inappropriate for the theme that this band is classified for.  Ultimately, The King James Boys are nothing more than wolves wrapped in sheep clothing.  If only the church going people could see and hear the truth as we do…

    On a cold January morning in the northwoods, many things can warm your heart and soul.  Cold hands wrapped around a piping hot cup of coffee while you emerge into a well written song.  The robust flavor lingers in your mouth as the melody of the song touches your soul.  On a cold, snow filled morning the blend of coffee and music awakens your senses.

Life is too short for bad coffee. 

More so, life is too short for bad music…

  Tune in next year as we bring you our list of Worst songs, albums and projects of 2019…

© Strictly Country Magazine - January / February 2019.

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