I’ve thought an awful lot about how I want to approach the second part of my “bridging the gap” feature. In case you’re wondering, last time I tried to give examples of some more modern leaning independent Country (or Americana or whatever) tracks that wouldn’t sound that out of place on a mainstream country radio station or would alienate a mainstream country fan.
You might have rememberd that by the end of it, I had struggled to come up with five examples. As much as I had high hopes this would be an easy feature, it proved to be a tough case. I didn’t give up though, I found (what I thought to be) five great examples, and I promised part two would be on its way where I would find five mainstream country songs that independent fans may enjoy.
Well, it’s finally here, but part two is definitely in a different format from what I originally had in mind. I’ll start by stating that it is hard to bridge the gap between mainstream and independent, because, let’s face it, there are superiority complexes on both sides, and finding music that crosses these two worlds is hard to define. Moreover, it’s especially hard in the mainstream. Last time I was searching for really obscure acts that not a lot of people have heard of and trying to showcase them, but the independent world is huge. Hell, we’ve even got a ton of names and sub-genres for it. The mainstream is different however, mostly because it’s…well…mainstream. You don’t have to search to the ends of the Earth to know these artists. Sometimes they find you.
With that said, it was also hard finding just five songs to showcase, since after all, unlike the independent realm there’s a TON more options I could choose from for this list, and in the end what’s the point? To bridge a gap or just showcase five great songs that might not serve their purpose?
That brought me to another idea – artistic legacy. It’s not a wholly original idea. Many people before me have made lists of the mainstream artists “doing it right” or “keeping it country”, and while that’s a highly debatable field to choose from, I didn’t just want to leave part two in the air. Therefore, I decided to turn a Twitter conversation I had with my buddies into a piece.
It started out as just a conversation of “who will be remembered positively (in the mainstream)?”, and ended up being a ton of fun. Granted, that answer changes every Tuesday it seems, so it’s really hard to run down a list of who will be remembered. Moreover, while every piece here stems solely from either mine or Andy’s opinion, this is a topic that is especially highly debatable, so I really don’t want to get into an argument of who I forgot or why this artist does/doesn’t deserve to be on the list. But at the very least I can go into detail about every artist we all mentioned. If you want to see the conversation, click here. Please note that it can get a little confusing following the replies (as I learned typing this piece), but at the very least it’s all there.
The first two candidates thrown out were said by Andy, and those candidates were Miranda Lambert and Eric Church. Now, these two aren’t THAT surprising when you think about it. They both record music that doesn’t always fit within the mainstream, and for the most part they got to “super stardom” just by being themselves. Eric is obviously more on the rock side while Miranda is sort of Americana/sort of Country, but they’re both similar in the fact that they’ve managed to snag critical acclaim and commercial success. For what it’s worth, I thought both of their latest albums were their best ones as well.
Jamey Johnson – Also said by Andy. Jamey is a hard case to follow these days, and as such I don’t want to spend too much time here. I will say that his 2008 album That Lonesome Song is one of my favorites of all time, and while I’ve never sat through The Guitar Song more than once (at least in terms of a full listen), I think it and The Dollar are also both great country albums. Hopefully he comes back eventually.
Chris Stapleton and Brandy Clark Two artists mentioned by all of us, and again, much like Lambert & Church there’s some similarities between these two. They’re both singer-songwriters who rose due to the latter talent, and now they both reside on the fringes of mainstream appeal while both maintaining strong commercial success and critical appeal. Chris has got the voice, and Brandy has got a lyrical gift. I believe both will be highly remembered one day for making country music a better place.
Zac Brown Band – Suggested by Michael Rauch of the Cheap Seat Report, this is another decision I can get behind. Zac has really worked to rebuild his image after Jekyll + Hyde (which wasn’t bad necessarily, just an odd era for them), and in terms of overall impact, their style is one that I’ve really grown to love the past couple of years, and Uncaged is another favorite album of mine. Looking forward to May 5th guys.
Chris Janson – Chris was suggested by Nathan Kanuch of Shore2Shore Country, and while I’m personally a little on the fence about including him at this exact moment in time, I can’t necessarily say I vehemently disagree with this pick. “Holdin’ Her” is an excellent song, and his debut album Buy Me A Boat managed to surprise me in 2015. I’ll be on the lookout.
Little Big Town – 1 of 2 suggestions offered by Markus Meyer, my co-writer at This Is Country Music (he also writes for The Shotgun Seat). Little Big Town’s latest album is one I haven’t returned to since I heard it back in February, but I did think it was a step in the right direction for them, even if their single choices from this album haven’t exactly been my favorite tracks. Their past albums are alright in my book, even if I’ll admit Painkiller is a huge mess that still manages to have some fantastic songs on it.
Carrie Underwood – Also suggested by Markus as well as a guy named Jonathan Brick. It will be interesting to see where Carrie goes (music wise) now that she’s joined the team of Capitol Records. In terms of pop-country I don’t think she’s bad, and overall, eh, I don’t see why she can’t be on this list.
Kacey Musgraves – Definitely an obvious choice. She’s also one of those artists who has managed to rise above radio and sell very well with a sound that actually makes it sound like she belongs in the genre, and while I’ve never personally been absolutely crazy over her music, I can respect her as a musician. Looking forward to the next album.
Other names thrown out – Kellie Pickler, Jon Pardi, and Dierks Bentley…and possibly others. The Twitter replies were more confusing to follow than that maze from The Shining.
Now, are there are other names I’d add here? Definitely! It turns out the mainstream isn’t as shitty as we think (of course debatable but…), but as I said in the beginning, it’s hard to narrow it down. You could make arguments for say, Tim McGraw, or perhaps the traditional class of William Michael Morgan, Midland, Runaway June, and Mo Pitney. You could possibly say acts like Brothers Osborne are also a symbol for the underdogs. Heck, to show that I’m not just some old fart purist, I’ll even throw in Lauren Alaina for crafting some really well-written pop-country (proving that this subgenre CAN work on occasion). If you want another representative of an artist residing on the fringes of the mainstream, Aubrie Sellers would be another great choice as well. Again, it’s highly subjective, and that’s why I just wanted to shed a light on the conversation I had with some great friends. If you’ve got any suggestions, let them be known!
As a side-note though, I will say that there’s another point to be added here, one that Andy brought up at the tail end of our conversation – who’s ACTUALLY going to be remembered? We’re not just talking 5 years from now, or even 10 or 15. We’re talking like, 50, or even more than that. That, however is a question that can wait until later this week.