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.
To be certain, there is a particular segment of each band’s audience that will be loyal no matter what. Like a redneck that will only buy a Ford, even if that year’s model is inferior to Chevy or Dodge. Good album, bad album, live album, greatest hits, whatever. Completists. These folks feel as if they must purchase every piece of music ever put on wax buy their favorite band, quality aside.
Some artists change with their audience and develop an evolving, mature sound. Some stay the same and lose authenticity points (except AC/DC…they can keep making the same record over and over again for as long as they want). Others chase the young, rowdy ticket-buying crowd and lose touch with reality. There’s something creepy and odd about the 40-something lead singer doing Jaeger bombs and writing party anthems. It reeks of fraud.
Meanwhile, some bands just effortlessly and subtly evolve naturally.
All of these points serve to drive home how impressive the run by Randy Rogers Band has been over the past decade plus. Those guys have been, without a doubt, the most consistent harbinger of solid Texas Music. Through cries of sellout, various producers, record label drama, shifting tastes in their homebase of Texas they have remained incredibly consistent. While there have been a few tweaks here and there with their sound over the years, it’s never been anything drastic and their songs/records are immediately identifiable. Natural. They’ve built an extraordinary brand. Here on the cusp of another record release they’re as big as they ever were and they haven’t changed who they are. The audience has stuck with them and grown. Why? Because of the songs. There are no cheap anthems. Good songs and songwriting are at the core of their success.
For the sake of the song isn’t just a saying, it’s a business model. RRB keeps proving it to be true and the Troubadours are doing the same.
-Next week will be year 16 at LJT for me. I feel like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon.
-Speaking of the RRB and Turnpike, I’m starting a summer of crossing off bucket-list items by seeing them at Red Rocks on Memorial Day weekend. Who else is going? Going to be awesome!
-My golf game is still rough post-children. Going from playing 25-30 times a year to none back to 5 now up to 10 is tough. But, it’s getting there.
-This has been the craziest start to a year weather-wise that I can recall. It’s mid-April. Yesterday it was 88. Today it’s going to get down to freezing.
-Not sure what to make of the Rangers just yet. But they’re scrappy. I like that.
-Still hoping Jerrah wildcats the draft and the Cowboys somehow end up with Johnny Football. That would be the best show on TV.
-Speaking of TV, as I tweeted last night…due to kids and work, my TV time is precariously less than it used to be. My timeframe and attention span for it is increasingly small. Therefore, I find myself gravitating away from the heady HBO type dramas I used to love and into mindless fare from SpikeTV. Hence, last night everyone was talking about how awesome the Game of Thrones episode was, and I was left to ponder how entertaining it was to see Jon Taffer yell at incompetent bar employees in Katy, TX on Bar Rescue.
–This month’s recommended album: Sean McConnell-The B Side Session. Regarding strength of songs, there’s not many better than Mr. McConnell. His powerful singing voice is often matched by his powerful writing voice. On this collection of songs they are equal parts awesome. He is one of the most talented people making music in these modern, crazy times. Check this out immediately.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”-Mark Twain