Compiled by Rick Hiduk
Having been a fan of country, bluegrass and folk music since I was a kid, I always had a tough time understanding the lines that divided them into marketable genres. Buck Owens, The Kingston Trio and Bob Dylan sounded good together, dropping one disc at a time onto the turnstile of my record player. I felt the same about Charlie Daniels, Jim Croce, and the Eagles in the 1970s.
Thanks to the internet and an evolving concept and overview of where popular music has been, where it is today, and where it seems to be going, I’ve been able to pull together these genres in a way that makes the most sense to me. I picked up the Americana concept from an old Comcast cable music channel that was discontinued some years ago, much to my dismay. When I lived and traveled in the southwest (CA, AZ) in the mid-1980s, I dubbed this mix cactus rock.
I plan to download most of the following songs, as this once-every-three-months project traditionally wraps up, and then set them into play in random mode. The result is a blend of music that feels much more “country” to me than if I were to rely solely on the current pop country chart at Billboard.com.
I listened to about 70 current hits in the aforementioned genres and offer the following “fantasy” chart to you. I promise you die-heard country fans that you won’t be offended by any of the artists on this list that seem like strangers to you, nor will you miss the stuff on the country chart that I tossed out for being too trite and pandering.
My hope in fact is that you’ll agree that what’s forced down our ears as country music is mostly just pop rock with a little twang – and that you would let your favorite country music station know that they could do better for us true country folk.
- Lady Antebellum – Compass
- The Devil Makes Three – Stranger
- Jamestown Revival – California (Cast Iron Soul)
- Cole Swindell – Chillin’ It
- Alan Jackson – Blue Ridge Mountain Song
- Rosanne Cash – World of Strange Design
- Passenger – All the Little Lights
- Miranda Lambert – Automatic
- Blake Shelton – Doin’ What She Likes
- Passenger – Let Her Go
- Danielle Bradberry – The Heart of Dixie
- Trampled by Turtles – Wait So Long (live)
- Rosanne Cash – The Sunken Lands
- Thompson Square – Just Feels Good
- Brantley Gilbert – Bottoms Up
- Sun Kil Moon – Ben’s My Friend
- Luke Bryan – Drink a Beer
- Rhonda Vincent – When the Grass Grows Over Me
- Jerrod Niemann – Drink to That All Night Long
- Band of Horses – Marry Song
- The Civil Wars – Between the Bars
- Noah Gundersen – Ledges
- Trampled by Turtles – Gasoline (live)
- Tim McGraw – Looking for That Girl
- Scotty McCreary – See You Tonight
- Thomas Rhett – Get Me Some of That
- Craig Morgan – Wake Up Lovin’ You
- Sun Kil Moon – I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love
- Brett Eldridge – Beat of the Music
- Eric Church – Give Me Back My Hometown
- David Crosby – Dangerous Night
- Keith Urban – Cop Car
- Florida Georgia Line w/Luke Bryan – This Is How We Roll
- Brad Paisley – The Mona Lisa
- Randy Houser – Goodnight Kiss
additional footnotes: 1- modern folk rock not so dissimilar from Phillip Phillips, the Lumineers, and fun. I love the bluegrass influence and their look as a band. 2 – a fresh recent entry on the bluegrass charts by a band that has apparently been around for awhile, actually feels more folky than bluegrass. 3 – strong, twangy folk rock. 4 – country rock with honest lyrics that most country boys and girls can relate to, and reminiscent of Florida Georgia Line. 5 – I know it’s been out for nearly a year, but it’s still one of the most popular traditional bluegrass songs by a known artist out there. 6 – uptempo folky bluegrass originals. 7 – This British folk pop band – otherwise an anomaly – got a boost from a Super Bowl ad that has them popular across the musical spectrum at the moment. 8 – folky country rock with a great storyline/concept by the artist that I must see in 2014. 9 – heartfelt country rock with simple but relative lyrics like “singin’ silly songs and throwin’ in words that don’t belong.” 11 – the most authentic “country” song on the country chart has engaging lyrics. 12 – a recently recorded live version of their 2010 hit showcasing their authentic stylings. 13 – the song is prefaced by a melancholy yet inspiring narrative that sets up a haunting musical tale. 14 – country rock with cute harmonies – ala John Mellencamp – with cool retro video. 15 – hip country cool with a decidedly rural flavor. 16 – as much as I dislike songs that start out “I got up this morning….” that is the clever central theme of this cool folk song. 17 – slow to medium folk rock song with smooth harmonies but fairly trite lyrics. 18 – a slower traditional bluegrass cover of a George Jones hit by an artist who is a legend in her own rite. 19 – hip country rock with a serious twang. 20 – folk rock showcasing strong lyrics and musicianship. 21 to 23 – three bands blurring the lines between folk, alternative, and country rock. 28 – slow but generous folk tune. 31 – Venerable folk rock artist turning in an enjoyable country folk tune that feels like (sipping whiskey and smoking a joint) at home on a warm spring night. 32 – from the king of cactus rock sad redneck story songs, which means still better than most of what’s left of the milk-toast coattail riders.
Who’d I Dis?
From what I’ve seen, there are three key elements that soften the country charts during any given decade: lack of prominent female artists, too much rock and pop influence, and trite and pandering lyrics. The latter means that, to me, the song is trying way too hard to be country and missing the mark.
Dissed in this report for one of the above reasons: Jason Aldean’s “When She Says Baby,” David Nail’s “Whatever’s She’s Got,” Frankie Ballard’s “Helluva Life,” Dierks Bentley’s “I Hold On,” Rascal Flatt’s “Rewind,” and Dan & Shay’s “19 You and Me.”
The last two boys are very appealing on video and offer beautiful harmonies and lyrically poignant songs. They are not country or even folk, but they could be either. I’d like to see them go the folk route, but they are currently stuck in limbo as a pop duo that needs to find its way. I’d be much more accepting of any of the songs on this Diss-List as crossover pop hits.