“The new guard’s so different from the old.” Ah, so true, so true. The context of this “new guard” here is that the country music of old is not what’s dominating the genre’s landscape. Sure, someone like Alan Jackson will always be a king in country music, but his heyday in the limelight have come and passed. Even a country newbie like Kacey Musgraves isn’t the ‘face’ of country music given her retro tendencies that goes against the grain. Her sophomore album Pageant Material ranked among the best albums of 2015, but hasn’t exactly lit the charts on fire. It’s the rebellious new guys (and an assimilating bro) that are directing the “next” movement in country.
Sam Hunt has been one the ushers of this “new” country movement. His Montevallo is one of the best examples of this country that eliminates preconceived notions about what country music can be. It’s okay to have pop culture swag that penetrates beyond being a “good ole country boy.”
Sure, Hunt tackles a familiar script as far as the themes on his 2014 debut, but the means is different. Pedal steel, banjos, and fiddles aren’t the only instruments used to orchestrate country music anymore – some synths and drum programming are game. Montevallo reaps the benefits of genre bending and has been a hot commodity on the pop charts in 2015. The popularity of Hunt’s approach as the “cool” country singer has given him legs to stand on, which is incredibly important as a new artist these days.
Hunt isn’t the only cool country singer these days. 2015 has seen some fantastic country artists “soup up” round two aka their sophomore albums. The youthful Thomas Rhett (son of Rhett Akins) blew the rebellious ‘new country’ formula out of the park with his sophomore album Tangled Up. Call Rhett “Sam Hunt 2.0” as many traditionalists just might shake their head ad the liberal affair. If it wasn’t formerly cool to say country singers have swag, there’s no way of denying the 25-year old knows what people his age like and listen to – everything!
Rhett’s buddy Brett Eldredge didn’t take things as far on Illinois, but he also didn’t deliver a middle of the road country album by any means either. A high-powered duet between Eldredge and Rhett – “This Crazy Life” – is one of the premiere moments of Eldredge’s progressive country album. While it didn’t break the Illinois bred singer through per se, it did continue to “blur the lines” of what country music is, lines already blurred in pop, R&B, and hip-hop.
Yes Hunt, Rhett, and Eldredge are driving the movement, but country’s indisputable biggest name, Luke Bryan started to change up the formula a couple of years back. Crash The Party wasn’t his best album and had its flaws, but Bryan went outside of the box to concoct it, which deserves credit. He refined the approach on Kill The Lights, packing a contemporary one-two punch with “Kick The Dust Up” and “Kill The Lights,” then balancing the extreme with pure country ballad “Strip It Down.”
Others are in the mix of ‘new country’ like Chase Rice’s edgy 2014 effort Ignite The Night and specifically Jason Aldean “Burnin’ It Down” from 2014 effort Old Boots New Dirt. And yes, Florida Georgia Line get a piece of the pie. That said, Hunt, Rhett, and Eldredge do it better, with Bryan stepping up his game on Kill The Lights. The point is that ‘new country’ has a wider appeal – crossover and country can now undeniably stated in the same sentence.