New albums from established artists. For a great majority of acts they arrive with varying degrees of half-hearted fanfare. When an artist is particularly hot they can release just about anything and it will sell. Once they begin to slide down the other side of Mt. Relevance, they must work doubly hard to get just half the attention they did previously. Their ticket sales may remain sky high, but sales of their new album often flatline. The masses want to hear what they know. They’re not interested in “here’s something from our new album”.
That is the constant scenario in music released outside the Americana/Texas scene. The Texas/Oklahoma region actually craves new music. We’re on the flip side of that…for the most part. It’s still hard to get people to buy in to any post-Canonball era Pat Green. (Or the Load/Re-Load era of Metallica for that matter which still only has me and Josh Grider as champions.)
So, why do some artists thrive and others stagnate?
It’s a tricky equation with a simple answer. Country music is founded on the strength of songs. If the song’s good enough it won’t matter if there’s a fourth runner-up beauty contest contestant belting it out or a hardcore troubadour. The songs are what people connect to. If the quality of the new stuff isn’t up to par with the expectations of the audience you’re in for trouble.
It’s the reason why Turnpike Troubadours have become so huge despite playing by their own rules and not bending to any silly regional allegiances of playbooks. They’re doing what they want to do and where they want to do it. Much like Ryan Bingham, they’ve grown beyond this scene’s borders by sheer force of will. And they’re the most popular act going right now simply because they don’t have one bad song on any of their albums. Their songs resonate across demographics. Old, young. Male or female. Everybody finds something to identify with…and that’s what keeps the crowds coming. Now, it’s a near certainty that their next album will be huge. But, the true test will be the one after that. If this next one maintains the quality of the first few, their dominance will continue. If it falls short of the high bar they’ve created for themselves, cracks will begin to show.