What is and isn’t country? That debate’s been going on since country music began.
Last week, Billboard, the bellwether of music performance, decided Green River Ordinance’s new album, Fifteen, isn’t country enough to make the Country Albums Chart.
GRO is a Texas outfit that started as a rock band, but they have crossed over into the country game. Had sales of their new album been included on the chart, it would have ranked No. 7. Instead, Billboard put the album on the rock and folk charts. It ranked No. 1 on the latter.
Why does that matter? I mean they got a No. 1 on a Billboard chart. That’s still good, right?
Well, not really — not on the folk chart, if you’re a country band. The Country Albums Chart carries more weight, and a Top 10 rank helps advance career.
But that’s not even the heart of the issue.
GRO sounds way more country than a lot of what’s made the Top 10 on that chart in recent years. And, they sound a lot like other band’s that have made the overall cut.
Here, listen to their single “Red Fire Night”, and I think you’ll agree.
Sure. They don’t sound like they walked down from the mountains of Appalachia, but their music has undeniable country qualities. Country harmonies. Country fiddle. Country banjo. Country lyrics. Country themes. I hear a lot of country.
Sound aside, the music on that album has already cracked other country music charts. It’s also been played on country radio stations in at least 12 markets.
If you’re not sold on their country cred yet, I think this will do it: On Saturday, they played their second performance at the Grand Ole Opry — the bastion of country cred. To quote the band, it “doesn’t get any countrier than it’s gonna get at the Grand Ole Opry.”
So what’s the deal here? Why would Billboard exclude the album from that chart?
They’ve been mum on the issue so far, but some have commented that the band, which once leaned more towards rock, may be trying to take advantage of the country format to leverage their position.
Kinda like this guy.
His album, Montevallo, was in the Top 5 on the Country Albums Chart for most of 2015.
Look, this isn’t a war, and we’ll never agree on a solid definition of what country music is because music always evolves, that’s the nature of the game. However, I think we can all agree on one thing, the music on Fifteen is.