2014 In Country Music: Where Do We Go From Here?
So, if you’ve read my article on 2013, you’ll be up to speed on some of the biggest stories and talking points of 2013, one of the strangest years ever to grace the genre. As 2014 enters its second day, however, it begs the question as to what we can expect from the following 12 months in country music.
While it is often impossible to predict what the year will hold, it also invigorates the discussion regarding bro-country. Simply put, are we done? Many artists and label execs (even Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Records) have noted that the current scene cannot go on like it has, and that burnout is either imminent or already in the past. Yet, the Gregorian calendar may have indicated a new year, but musical trends don’t necessarily work in the same way. Several artists decried the “fad” last year, but now it seems that everyone is assuming bro-country is over. Well, looking ahead, I don’t believe that for a second.
Florida Georgia Line might have one more single in them, and then they’ll go to record a new album, but who’s to say they have anything more in them than what we have already seen? Luke Bryan’s huge-selling Crash My Party album still has a couple of singles left in it, and with a tracklist that more closely resembles ‘That’s My Kind of Night’ than ‘Drink A Beer’, I can imagine we’ll be hearing more of what we’ve become accustomed to of late. After all, the biggest artists are often the trendsetters, because their fanbases are strong and their influence extends much further than others’. Blake Shelton is due another single, and the thousands of copycat artists around are ready to hit 2014 country radio with a bang and a keg of – you guessed it – ice cold beer. Musical phases take a while to change because there are thousands of people involved in the total output, and I simply refuse to believe that bro-country is over. It crept up slower than some might have perceived, and judging by the latest money-makers, it’s certainly not out for the count.
However, there’s also the other strand. Eric Church is released a brand new single, ‘Give Me Back My Hometown’ a few days ago, and after Chief was a hugely successful album both critically and commercially, and his previous single ‘The Outsiders’ rocked out so hard it even included a metal solo, I’m sure there’s a harder sound about to hit country, as artists disaffected with bro-country turn to another guiding light for chart hits. Not only that, Zac Brown Band released a collaboration EP with Dave Grohl last month, and while it doesn’t appear that they’re going to promote it particularly, there are undoubtedly more in the works and a change in the wind may begin to occur. Not be ignored either are The Cadillac Three, whose southern rock sound is ready to blow this year with new material on Big Machine.
Then there’s the women of country. Kacey Musgraves is sure to have an even bigger year than her last, which saw her go from a nobody to a CMA Award winner and a beacon of hope for many fans, as well as one of the leading females in the genre. Others such as Brandy Clark and Ashley Monroe, whose traditional take but honest, modern and insightful lyrics are making new fans every day, it is hoped will see a new leap of success in 2014, but equally they may remain on the fringes. It is too early to tell.
As I look at my calendar, there are plenty of releases already planned to hit stores and make a mark on 2014. Most pressing is Jennifer Nettles’ That Girl, set for January 14, the powerhouse’s debut solo record and one that has already garnered attention for revelling in a sound we haven’t heard from her before. Eric Church’s The Outsiders, due February 11, is naturally surrounded by a buzz that has been aided by his mysterious teaser videos. Not only does it promise to be loud and proud, but musically interesting and adept and straddling genres as is his forte. Sara Evans is returning with Slow Me Down on March 4, the same date that Martina McBride heads up her own independent label to release Everlasting, a soul and jazz covers album.
It’s going to be a big first quarter for newcomers too, such as Frankie Ballard (Sunshine & Whiskey – February 11), Cole Swindell (Cole Swindell, February 18) Eric Paslay (Eric Paslay, February 4), and Jon Pardi (Write You A Song – January 14). I’m personally really excited about Dierks Bentley’s long-awaited upcoming album Riser; it was originally set for fall 2013, now early 2014, but still no release date has been set. I’m also excited for Miranda Lambert’s as-yet-untitled fifth album, which she is halfway through recording, not too dissimilar to Tim McGraw, who is at the same stage with his follow-up to ‘Two Lanes of Freedom’. Both of these records will be big ones this year. I’m also excited about Dolly Parton’s new Blue Smoke, which will go to Australia and New Zealand on January 31, and the rest of the world in May.
Other notable releases for 2014 include Kip Moore’s sophomore album featuring his new single ‘Young Love’, as well as Whiskey Myers’ debut Early Morning Shakes (due February 4). And that’s all coming up in the next few months! Towards the end of the year we’re also likely to see new music from both Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift – something that always sets the music world alight.
So all things told, I’m excited for 2014. I’m excited to see where things will go, what will become of the trends of 2013, and how they will morph and change depending on the content of the albums listed above. Here’s to 2014!