10 Favorite 2017 Albums

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Over the course of 2017 there were plenty of albums that I listened to (over 20,000 minutes of music) according to Spotify. However, there were plenty of great releases that slipped through the cracks during an extremely busy and complicated year for me. That’s why instead of doing a best of 2017 list I thought it would be more appropriate to list my favorite albums of 2017. Here are my favorite albums of this year, 1 year after I created Critically Country.

Very Honorable Mentions: Puxico (Natalie Hemby), At Home in the Big Lonesome (Drew Kennedy), Hell of a Highway Ep (Jake Worthington) and Canyons of my Mind (Andrew Combs

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10. The Nashville Sound (Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit) My favorite Jason Isbell project that tackles topics like politics, love and race. Sharp, honest songwriting and a lively sound.

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9. Purgatory (Tyler Childers) Many people’s pick for album of the year, this album has sharp songwriting and represents traditional/independent country well. I love the instrumentation on this album.

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8. Rule 62 (Whitney Rose) I have yet to hear a bad song from this Canadian born artist through 3 albums and an ep. A throwback sound with a modern spin.

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7.¬†Chris Stapleton (From a Room Volumes 1 and 2): Chris Stapleton is one of the top vocalists and songwriters in all of music. My biggest criticism of these albums is that there aren’t enough new songs and it would have been better to just have one album with the best of Volumes 1 and 2.

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6.¬†Vaquero (Aaron Watson) Pleasant is the best word that comes to mind when discussing Vaquero. The albums lead single “Outta Style” is also Watson’s first career top 10 song on the Media Base country chart.

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5. Trophy (Sunny Sweeney) My number 1 album for much of 2017 Sweeney delivers her best album making the album that she wanted to. Sweeney’s cover of “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” is one of the best songs of the year.

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4. On The Rocks (Midland) I couldn’t care less about any authenticity concerns. Midland’s music is the real deal traditional country sound that is completely missing from the airwaves in 2017.

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3. A Long Way From Your Heart (Turnpike Troubadours) Was there any doubt that this would be an absolute masterpiece? A Long Way From Your Heart further cements the Troubadours as country musics best and most consistently great band.

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2. Silence in These Walls (Flatt Lonesome) This Bluegrass group gets better with each album. This heartbreak album came out during a particularly difficult time of the year for me making this album so relatable.

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1. Tenderheart (Sam Outlaw) My favorite album of 2017 and without a doubt one of my all time favorite albums. This smooth California country album never gets old despite being released way back in April.



There is a Such Thing as Bad Music

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With every generation comes the older generations complaining about the kids of today. The way they dress, the way they are addicted to technology, their music. “Today’s music isn’t like when I was a kid,” you will hear ad nauseam. The truth is there has always been music that lacked in quality compared to the best music. There was always music that preached a harmful message or that lacked substance. But, the question remains whether or not the music of today has actually dipped in quality and whether or not it has a legitimate affect on society. Is there actually a such thing as bad music or is music truly subjective to each individual? And when people are made aware of better, more healthier musical options do people prefer them?

I was inspired to consider this for a number of reasons. One of these reasons was my favorite all time music quote that was made by an artist that I greatly respect. That quote comes from Jason Isbell and reads, “I don’t believe all music is good. I believe some music is bad for people to listen to. I think it makes their tastes worse. I think it makes their lives worse. I think it makes them worse people. Some things you have to refuse.” Isbell believes that not only is not all music good but, the bad music actually plays a negative role in peoples lives.

Another inspiration for this post was Trigger over at Saving Country Music. I am sure if you are reading this you have been over to his site (if not you should check it out). The aforementioned post which was made in September discussed why mainstream country music listeners chose to listen to the shitty pop music played on country radio. Trigger’s theory which I agreed with was that the consumers are just not aware of the better music that exists outside of country radio. I will use myself as an example because, I think this illustrates the idea well. When I first began listening to country music in middle school I had no idea of anything that existed outside of country radio. What I did know was that I liked the country music that I knew better than any other genre of music. I also knew that for some reason my tastes were always in favor of traditional leaning artists like Josh Turner and at the time Easton Corbin.

What actually allowed me to begin to discover better music and evolve as a music listener was when I began reading independent country music blogs. I always had an interest in reading music reviews so, when I started reading reviews of bands I had never heard of, I gave them a try. And you know what? My taste in music, not just country music changed dramatically. The bar was no longer Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan, it was The Turnpike Troubadours and Sturgill Simpson. These healthier options changed the way that I think and not just about music. I learned things from listening to this better music and I believe that it has made me a better more rounded individual.

The last thing that inspired me to do this post was not just country music but, pop music. Have you looked at the music charts recently and seen the despicable filth that is the most played music not just in America but the world? One of them is the disgraceful “Side to Side,” by Arianna Grande. For those of you not familiar, it is a song about being f***ed so hard that she can’t walk straight. Another song that is one of the most played in the country is the non offensive but stupid “Cake by the Ocean.” There is no message here whatsoever, it is just pure filler.

In regards to the quality of the country music charts I won’t even discuss whether the music is country or not. For the purpose of this post let me only look at the substance of the music that has found success lately. Three songs that are currently in the top 30 of the Mediabase chart are “Think a Little Less,” “Seein’ Red” and “If The Boot Fits.” Most likely, all of these songs will at some point grace the top of the charts despite all being terrible songs. “Think a little Less” is a song about a guy telling a girl not to think about why she shouldn’t hook up with him, just do it. The girls friends will judge her for hooking up with this loser but, thankfully Michael Ray has a solution which is to lie to them to save herself the embarrassment. Sounds like a swell guy. “Seein’ Red” is honestly about nothing. And “If The Boot Fits” is a terrible bro country song which actually has the line “You could be the one I could get lucky with.” Charming Granger.

So the question is, with all these terrible songs receiving regular airplay and being shoved down the throats of the ignorant masses, does it matter? Does it matter that the music played on the radio isn’t country or that the substance has all but disappeared? I recently read an article written by Tom Barnes of Music Mic called How the Music Industry is Brainwashing You to Like Bad Pop Songs,  which was written two years ago that asks this very question in regards to pop music. Barnes’ position in this article is that the music industry is essentially brainwashing people to like bad songs. The theory is, the more that our brains hear the same songs, the more we begin to like them even if we didn’t like them at first. This is because the reward centers of the brain are more active when we hear songs that we have heard before. The music industry knows this and therefore manipulates the consumers into liking songs and artists that they only like due to repeated exposure changing their opinion of the music.

The music of the time has a clear affect on the younger, more impressionable generation of listeners. Many people are quick to blame rap music for the ills of society but, it’s not just rap music. It is practically every genre of music that is played on the radio. Every genre has “artists” and labels whose only goal is to make the most money possible with complete indifference towards the art or what the consequences will be of releasing that music. Whether it is “Blurred Lines” which sends the message that rape is okay or whether it is a song that normalizes meth use like “Fix” does, these songs have dangerous consequences for society especially with those sensitive subject matters.

When people are given healthier options do they actually chose them? The answer appears to be an emphatic yes especially in recent years. Consider the success that independent artists have had in recent years despite virtually no help from country radio. Just some of the albums in the last couple of years to have massive success without radio are, The Underdog, Holding All The Roses, Gotta Be Me, Midwestern Farmer’s Daughter, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and I could go on and on with examples like these. These are terrific albums of substance that have found success because, people are sick and tired of the horrible music being played on country radio. To show how out of touch country radio is consider this. Girl Problems by Chris Lane actually sold less albums in it’s first week than I’m Not The Devil by Cody Jinks. Chris Lane, the American Idol reject  had a #1 song in the meth infused “Fix” meanwhile Cody Jinks is lucky to get airplay on the secondary chart. This should be seen as a loud message being sent to country radio that is finally beginning to gain traction.

The lifeless, auto-tuned, substance-less music is making people dumber. The music is making their lives worse and must be resisted. There is no art to much of the music being pedaled to radio. The industry has become overly corporate and basic norms and expectations, like in politics have gone right out the window. There is hope though. As I mentioned before, independent artists are putting out some of the best music across all genres and are being noticed more than ever before. Artists like Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson and Cody Jinks are breaking through and carving out a place for quality music. Late night shows are allowing them to perform and showcase their talents and the world is taking notice. The last refuge for the Florida Georgia Lines and Dustin Lynch’s of the world is the radio. Unfortunately for them, they are killing it.