Yesterday, I published a piece about the uproar over Keith Hill’s comments about male country artists being the “lettuce” in the salad and female country artists being the “tomatoes” of country radio. You can find the article here: https://www.beyondthestagemagazine.com/in-defense-of-keith-hill-kind-of/
Male country artists get a bit of a bad rap these days, but I hear so many people tell me that they listen to “everything but country” and avoid country music like the plague for reasons unknown. I thought it might be best to make a playlist of country songs that I love as an introduction to what it really is instead of what its reputation might be.
If you’re a country music listener, then you will probably know most if not all of these songs. The point of this playlist is not to prove to you that there are country artists who are different than your expectations, but rather that the mainstream country artists have more depth than their reputation may show for. I am making another playlist called “Best of the Tomatoes” where I will make a playlists about mainstream female country artists from Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood to Kelsea Ballerini and Mickey Guyton.
Until then, I present to you the Best of the Lettuce.
Austin – Blake Shelton
This is one of those songs that gives me chills. Even though Shelton has sung more bro-country style songs like “Boys ‘Round Here” and “Hillbilly Bone”, the fact that he can sing songs like this and really deliver them makes him a star. This song is also really sad to listen to considering the recent news of his divorce which I am still attempting to get over.
I Hold On – Dierks Bentley
This song represents what country music is all about: values. He’s singing about how he holds on to the things he believes in, which really resonates with lots of country music fans. As long as he’s not holding on to racism, then I’m good. His voice just sounds beautiful on this and the arrangement has a real pulse to it.
Real Life – Jake Owen
This song is itself a criticism of bro-country despite the fact that Owen is frequently cited as a perpetrator of this trend. Interestingly, the song sounds very traditional compared to most of what Owen is known for, and the personal lyrics give it an extra edge of authenticity. It is ironic how much he forgoes bro-country trends when fighting back about how what he does is not bro-country.
Like A Wrecking Ball – Eric Church
Church really stands out on country radio for how specifically his work is engineered to produce the kind of distant, airy sound. The echo effects on his voice create a sort of intimacy where it sounds almost like he’s singing in a bathroom or a stairwell or somewhere with a huge echo. Additionally, the organ suggests a churchy kind of feel (pun kind of intended), and of course the personal lyrics and his vocal performance all come together to create this intense, emotional, confessional feel. Genius at work.
Buy Me A Boat – Chris Janson
This song was kind of an anomaly when it hit radio because it had virtually no promotion and Janson was entirely independent at the time. Still, as a song, it is very much in line with lots of other country songs on the radio. It’s cleverly written and comes from a very authentic place.
I’m To Blame – Kip Moore
Moore’s voice has this craggy almost Springsteen-esque quality to it that evokes a kind of world-weary outlook, and the beat is bouncy to make it fun despite its subject matter.
Blue Bandana – Jerrod Niemann
Niemann makes a point of recording songs by songwriters who have not yet had an artist record them yet, and this song is no exception. If you’re the kind of person who goes festival-hopping, this song is literally about you. It’s fun, cute, and interesting while still being specific.
Dirt – Florida-Georgia Line
These two are often considered some of the greatest culprits of the obsession with bro-country, mostly pointing to their breakthrough hit “Cruise” and its subsequent remix with Nelly as evidence of their guilt. This song was released as proof that they were more than “Cruise”. It is convincing enough of that fact, but because they were so prominent it’s hard not to hear elements of “Cruise” in the production. The song itself is strong and the melody evokes the nostalgia that the song is going for.
I’m Comin’ Over – Chris Young
You can hear the hip-hop percussion in this song, but it’s undeniably country. This song manages to be catchy and get straight to the chorus without feeling too formulaic or fake. It is both emotional while also being marketable.
Take Your Time – Sam Hunt
Sam Hunt, and “Take Your Time” specifically, has been the biggest country crossover story since Taylor Swift was still considered country. It’s an interesting comparison, considering Swift just invited Hunt to sing this song with her at her concert in Chicago recently. The speaking part gives it a sort of individuality among all of the other male artists out there, and the chorus is gold. It’s emotional, powerful, and catchy. I am hoping the Grammys (as well as country music’s very many award shows) take note of this song, because it is truly a statement of how male artists can truly be great and not run-of-the-mill. I hope Hunt can come up with something just as good as this, if not better.