Song Analysis: EYB’s Saltwater Gospel

In the interests of not burying the lede: I don’t have a problem with Saltwater Gospel, but I’m not crazy about it. I don’t think it stacks up against some of EYB’s very high quality songs, but at the same time it comes across much better performed by them than it would have if the song had gone to one of the pop-country regulars.

Eli Young Band has been one of my favorite groups for a long time. I remember seeing them way back when they were an opener at Texas Independence Day in NYC all the way up to what I think is the most recent time I’ve seen them: playing at the Georgia Dome with ZBB and Kenny Chesney. They’ve always deserved (and craved) a wider audience and it was awesome to see them get just that with Even If It Breaks Your Heart and Crazy Girl. (They’re also schedule to play in November at Brooklyn Bowl – more about that in a future post.)

My first reaction to hearing Saltwater Gospel was that it felt like a Florida Georgia Line song. And sure enough EYB didn’t write the song and the songwriters – Ashley Gorley, Nicolle Galyon and Ross Copperman – initially seemed to have folks like Kenny and Jake Owen in mind for the song. I’ll save for another day the so interesting topic of commercial songwriting and an exposition on singing/ performing versus singer-songwriting, but suffice it for now to say that there’s a whole to be said for folks performing their own material or, in the absence of that, at least only recording other folks’ songs that are authentic expressions of the singer’s own thoughts and feelings.

The articles I’ve read about SG take great pains to point out that, in their view, this isn’t just another “beach song”. That’s right in the sense that the song isn’t about loading your truck up with Bud lights, picking up some girls in swimsuits and going down to the beach to party. The other point the articles seem to focus on is that the authors have professed that they don’t want the song to be listened to as a diminution of the importance of actual church-going. I didn’t interpret the song that way (though I don’t think the music video helps) and any bone to pick I have with the song isn’t on that account.

Saltwater Gospel does have a nice point. It is definitely awe-inspiring to stand at the edge of the ocean and feel the power and majesty of what God created. Listening to the song more casually the first few times (i.e. at the gymnasium and not focusing so intently on the lyrics) I interpreted the song as a quasi-baptism song, with the singers relationship with God consummated via the ocean standing in for the formal religious rite. On closer listen, I think this is reading too much into the lyrics, and maybe this would have been too far anyway, but the nice point of feeling the awesomeness of God’s ocean still stands. In a world where there’s an embarrassment or reluctance, if not outright cynicism, towards declaring reverence for something , it’s no small feat to identify something as meaningful and stand behind it.

For me, this is the song’s success: the recognition of this awesomeness. I don’t think the song’s lyrics are so adept at developing this initial recognition – the Amens and “I’m in heaven watching all these waves roll in” feel ham-handed, although I prefer and like the lyrics of “When I’m lost I know where to get found again” and especially “Yeah, I got all the proof I need.  And it sure makes me believe” the latter of which I think really encapsulates the point of the song. Overall my take-away is that the song doesn’t feel much like EYB but despite some pop-country trappings, has something original and meaningful at its core that appeals.

Pat Green & Casey Donahew Live in NYC

Great performances both by Casey Donahew Band and Pat Green last night at Irving Plaza.

Night started with Casey Donahew Band:

CDB

Then thanks to my friend Greg, a quick photo with the man himself, Pat F. Green who was nice enough to refresh his signature on my old-style Pat Green tee:

IMG_1501

As usual, Pat was rocking out hard:

Green

A while back I’d suggested a set list for Pat for the Texas Independence Day concert. There are some tweaks I’d make to that list for non-TID show, but the concert last night stacked up well against my list. It was particularly great to hear Here We Go and Texas On My Mind. Home, while not on my list, has been growing on me lately and Green’s live performance really did justice to the song’s lyrics. I missed hearing Lucky – a very strong choice in Green’s concert repertoire and Whiskey – just an overall fantastic and under-rated song.

Green band

Some great NYC concerts coming up real soon – stay tuned for more about Turnpike Troubadours and Eli Young Band!

 

An Introduction to the Great Casey Donahew Band

If it wasn’t already exciting enough for Pat Green to be coming to town other than for Texas Independence Day, imagine how delighted I was to discover that Casey Donahew Band would be opening. Pat Green is one of the finest Texas country artists out there today and it would be hard to say enough great things about him and his music, but I’m almost as excited to see Casey Donahew Band. PFG has been an easy sell to some of my less country-musically inclined friends and readers who may not be as familiar with CDB so I thought I’d share a bit about why I’m so excited to see them (for more specific thoughts on their most recent album see here).

Casey Donahew Band’s corpus of records is relatively small – and their first album was only released in 2006 – but they have enough strong material on those 6 studio albums to play at least 3 awesome concerts without repeating a thing. For me the overriding themes of CDB are energy, authenticity, originality and humor. Right from the first track of their first album, Stockyards on Lost Days, CDB made it clear that they are Texas country through and through and here to rock. Stockyards, like a lot of their material, is Texas country-rock, with the twang of CD’s voice and plenty of fiddle plus lots of drums and electric guitar, with a foundation of original lyrics and performed with contagious energy and authentic emotion.

One of the things I find so enjoyable about CDB is their originality and sense of humor. Songs like White Trash Story, Double-Wide Dream, White Trash Story II and White Trash Bay blend portraits of original characters and Americana with funny juxtapositions that say yeah this is real life but we can laugh at it and ourselves too. Or CDB can turn a heartbreak song into something rollicking and fun like Go to Hell or just be funny for fun’s sake like Loser. The lyrical content of their songs is, in a very fun way, all over the map. It’s unexpected to hear an up tempo song about a woman shooting her husband with a shotgun but that’s what we get with Twelve Gauge.

Another highlight is the development of CDB’s ballad singing and composition skills across the arc of their albums. As compared to Lost Days which features significantly less variety, CDB opened up in their self-title album particularly in terms of tempo and tone, including a number of slower-paced and mid-tempo songs with a more obviously melancholy tone in addition to songs featuring unrestrained lyrical and instrumental energy. This same development continued on Moving On – the overriding theme of which was heartbreak love songs (my favorites being Broken and Breaks My Heart, though my sense is more people prefer Angel) – and through their later albums.

The energy that Casey Donahew Band brings to the table is more complex that just writing upbeat party anthems, though they get slightly closer to that in their latest album. This energy and their lyrical originality shines through in songs like Stockyards and One Star Flag about Texas, cowboy songs like No Doubt and That’s Why We Ride, love songs like Whiskey Baby and Lovin’ Out of Control and hard times songs like Homecoming Queen and Moving On. In particular I love Casey Donahew’s heartbreak love songs like Sorry, Next Time, Running Through My Head, Where the Rain Can’t Find Me, Runaway Train and California. There are no doubt great songs still to be written about breaking up and crying on a barstool, but one of CDB’s particular skills is mixing up the anger, hurt, despair, revenge, etc. with a little humor and considerable insight and empathy into up tempo songs the listener can have fun with while still considering, and actually I think more fully experiencing, the underlying emotions.

Hope to see everyone at Irving Plaza in New York City on September 9 for this show – should be a great one!

Songs for the Trump Era: Shuttin’ Detroit Down

Off John Rich’s Son of a Preacher Man album and co-written by Rich and John Anderson (a great songwriter), Shuttin’ Detroit Down is a song I can’t help but think would make a marvelous addition to Pres. Trump’s campaign trail playlist. It’s a pop-country song of stark populist contrasts that self-consciously screams heartland, and though a pre-Trump bailout-era 2009 song, it feels pretty darn relevant today.

The song focuses on the contrast between the hard-working and self-reliant real world folks against the D.C. bailout boss man jet-setting crowd. The people getting their hands dirty building real things and working hard to improve their lot versus the entitled city-dwellers who sell “make-believe” and game the political system to their advantage on the backs of working folks. SDD elides over the fact that it was the auto-industry too, and not just big banks, that received bailouts and perhaps, as one of the reviews of the song I read suggests, ventures a bit too far into class warfare in seeming not to draw a distinction between success as a result of hard work versus profiting at others’ expense. But the general contrast, in any event, is a powerful one, with the unfairness of farmers auctioning ground and hard-working auto-workers left with nothing while others pull the strings of big government for personal profit.

The highlights of the song are the verses about the narrator’s dad, first instilling in the narrator a sense of fairness, work ethic and individual responsibility. Then as a contrast to these ideas, the people “losing billions” and coming to folks like his dad to get rescued and “Well, pardon me if I don’t shed a tear / they’re selling make believe and we don’t buy that here”. And finally the unfairness in his father, towards the end of his career, with callouses on his hands not having nearly enough to show for his years of labor. These lines make the themes of the song personal and focus the listener’s attention on the song’s protest: that there really is something wrong going on here and it’s affecting real people’s lives.

The instrumentals of the song hit SDD’s themes home perfectly, and combine with the only average lyrics to make this a good song. To begin with, the background piano, drums and a bit of electric guitar set the mood and jump in at the right places to make the song not one of despair, but rather as a “fightin’ mad” protest song. The acoustic guitar, particularly prominent at the start of the song, and the crying fiddle and steel guitar – instruments that sound like the heartland feels – add to the song’s purpose: the protest that things are backwards and “what the hell is going on around here!”

Overall the song is a success. Despite lyrics that are hit or miss and could have done a bit better at zoning in on the problem, the song still manages strikes a real chord, especially through the great melody and instrumentals, in focusing attention on the plight of hard-working folks with good values with a strong measure of deserved indignation.

Let’s Burn a Country Music CD

Folks who’ve heard a bit of country here and there and are looking to get a little more involved have often asked me for country recommendations. I never got the chance to swap vinyls but I do remember sharing cassette tapes and then, the crown-jewel of childhood music sharing, mixed compact discs. There’s still something wonderful about a burned CD mix, especially with the song titles written in sharpie on the front of the CD. In the spirit of putting together a mixed CD for you dear reader and friend, I thought I’d share what I would now put onto a mixed CD as a country music primer.

At least for the CDs I’d make as a kid, you could typically get 22 or so songs to fit on there, so that’s the list I’ve put together. By way of qualification, I don’t mean to suggest that I think the below songs are the best or even my favorite 22. This isn’t the country mix I’d choose if stranded on a desert island with only my boom box and one CD. And neither is this a listing of the songs I think represent the country music canon. Rather this is intended to serve as an introductory flight of country songs – a tasting of different eras and styles, so a new listener can wet their beak. It’s for this reason I’ve intentionally omitted certain artists or songs, especially if they are more well-known or contemporary. For example, it’s hard to put together a list like this and not include a song like The Devil Went Down to Georgia or anything by Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks or Dolly Parton. Similarly, if we were (virtually) doing one of those data CDs you could get more songs on, I would surely have put something by Carrie Underwood, Patsy Cline, Reba, Hank Jr., and Tim McGraw on here. But anyway I’ve tried in my selections to put together a mix that reflects at least some songs and artists folks might not be familiar with already together with some classics, so a listener can decide what they like best and what country roads they’d like to further explore.*

1. Mama Tried – Merle Haggard
2. L.A. Freeway – Guy Clark
3. Pancho and Lefty – Townes Van Zandt
4. Lost Highway – Hank Williams Sr.
5. Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain – Willie Nelson
6. Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man – Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn
7. Forever and Ever, Amen – Randy Travis
8. Guitars, Cadillacs – Dwight Yoakam
9. Independence Day – Martina McBride
10. Me and Bobby McGee – Kris Kristofferson
11. Mountain Music – Alabama
12. Stand By Your Man – Tammy Wynette
13. Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’ – Charley Pride
14. Copperhead Road – Steve Earle
15. Wide Open Spaces – Dixie Chicks
16. He Stopped Loving Her Today – George Jones
17. Chattahoochee – Alan Jackson
18. I Can Still Make Cheyenne – George Strait
19. The Road Goes on Forever – Robert Earl Keen
20. This Time Around – Randy Rogers Band
21. Texas on My Mind – Pat Green
22. Colder Weather – Zac Brown Band

*This virtual CD is also presented with apologies, since I’ve not given credit to the songwriters or original recording artists in some cases, and instead I’ve listed the singers whose rendition I’d like to be on our CD.

Songs About Specific Things – Heartbeat Love Songs

One of the sub-types of Love songs that I really like are what I think about as “heartbeat love songs”. The connection between the heart and love is pretty obvious, and too many songs to name use broken hearts, heavy hearts, full hearts, etc as metaphors for feelings of love both good and bad, including at least two songs I’m familiar with actually called “Heartbeat” (a Chris Young-recorded song and Carrie Underwood co-written and recorded song). But the type of song I’m thinking about is where the rhythms and basslines of the song create a heartbeat sound that jives with the lyrics (and instrumentals) of love in the song.

Conway Twitty and George Strait are two of the masters of these types of songs. I’d Love to Lay You Down is a good Twitty example. The heartbeat rhythm is so prominent, particularly in the choruses, and I like the way it comes to a halt between stanzas almost as if the heart is no longer beating when Twitty is not professing his love. And it also effectively comes to a crawl when Twitty, a bit ominously, sings “when a whole lot of Decembers are showing in your face/ your auburn hair has faded and silver takes its place” but then comes back full force as the next set of lyrics start in “you’ll be just as lovely and I’ll still be around/ and if I can I know that I’d still love to lay you down” – the heartbeat rhythm coupling with the lyrics to affirm that the narrator’s love will still be there.

Maybe my favorite example of this type of song from Strait is Love Without End, Amen. The song showcases a couple different types of love: father and narrator as son, narrator as father and son and God as father and narrator as son. In each verse getting into a fight at school, trying a father’s patience and leading an imperfect life cause the listener to question whether love would triumph in that circumstance and the bassline becomes less prominent when the question is posed. Then when the chorus comes in the heartbeat rhythm picks back up affirming the triumph of love as the lyrics do the same. Two other nice examples are Strait’s Ocean Front Property and Fool Hearted Memory, in the later of which the heartbeat bassline is offset by an almost crying fiddle (and in the former some steel guitar), because of course these are hard times, heart break love songs. When Did You Stop Loving Me is another great, Strait heartbreak, heartbeat love song.

Plenty of other artists and songs get in on the heartbeat action, and most do so in a less obvious way where the heartbeat bassline is not quite so front and center. Alabama and Randy Travis are a couple more of my favorites. For instance, Travis’ Deeper Than the Holler is a wonderful song where the country boy narrator sings about the strength of his love, comparing it metaphorically to all of the country boy things he knows (“higher than the pine trees growin’ tall upon the hill”, “purer than the snowflakes that fall in late December”, etc). Behind these sweet lyrics, kicking in with particular strength in the choruses which are the parts of the song where Travis is really expressing his love, is the heartbeat bassline.

Somewhere there’s got to be an evolutionary biology study that tells us how of course we find the heartbeat rhythm comforting and associate it with love (listening to our own all day, mother clutching a kid close to show affection or protect, one lover putting their head on their mate’s chest, etc). But whatever the reason, when country songs combine this back beat with lyrics and instrumentals that team up to sing out the sub-themes of the type of love the song’s dealing with – heartbreak, nostalgic love, family love, romantic love – we get some songs that I think are really moving.

Good Sunday Songs

Each day of the week is almost like a mini stage in life attached to certain activities and emotions and I like country songs that speak to this. Songs like George Jones’ “Finally Friday” and Garth’s (and Jones’) “Beer Run (B Double E Double Are You In?)” – neither written by Jones or Brooks – and Steve Azar’s “I Don’t Have to Be Me (‘til Monday)” – co-written by Azar – are great Friday songs.  They’re about checking out of work and blowing off steam from the week maybe with some beers.  The feel of a day like Friday or Monday or Wednesday is more straightforward, but Sunday has its own, less obvious, feel: basically collecting from the past week/end and the Take-This-Job-And-Shove-It-bosses and all of those George Jones six packs, reflecting with self, God and family and resting (and gearing) up for things to come.

Zac Brown Band’s “No Hurry” is one of the great Sunday songs. It’s great for a lot of reasons, but in terms of lyrical content really hits the Sunday vibe.  ZBB explicitly ignores of the boss calling on the telephone, household chores that need to be done and bills to be paid in favor of relaxing retreat:

There’s nothing wrong with an old cane fishing pole / and the smell of early spring
Sit down in a fold-up easy chair / on a quiet, shady river bank
Let the world go on without me / wouldn’t have it any other way,
cause I ain’t in no hurry today

The song takes the Sunday concept a little further, as a broader approach to life, and also focuses on getting right with the Lord – faith a core of the Sunday reflection and improvement themes.

Toby Keith hits the same themes in “My List”. This is fine song, not written by Keith but delivered well.  The narrator starts off crossing lots of weekend chores off the to-do list, but then comes around to those more important things in life to take care of.  The strength of this song (in addition to the direct but soft rhymes) is the really nice things on that life list:

  • like go for a walk, say a little prayer
  • take a deep breath of mountain air
  • put on my glove and play some catch
  • wade the shore and cast a line
  • look up a long lost friend of mine
  • sit on the porch and give my girl a kiss
  • raise a little hell, laugh ‘til it hurts
  • put an extra five in the plate at church
  • call up my folks, just to chat
  • stay up late, then oversleep
  • show her what she means to me
  • start livin’

Listing activities turns out to be a pretty effective means of conveying the Sunday theme. By sort of aggregating the feelings associated with each individual listed activity set in context, we get a sum total of Sunday.  Craig Morgan’s “That’s What I Love About Sunday” does it the same way, listing out church-going and family BBQ imagery in particular along with other typical Sunday activities.  My favorite verse is:

I stroll to the end of the drive / pick up the Sunday Times / grab my coffee cup
It looks like Sally and Ron / finally tied the knot / well it’s about time
It’s 35 cents off of ground round / Baby cut that coupon out!
That’s what I love about Sunday

The wedding announcements are a nice Sunday tradition, and it’s also the vivid routine of lazily and leisurely walking down to the end of the driveway to grab the paper. And it’s especially, in the context of the love- and family-oriented song, the family-driven and romantic love with which we imagine the narrator pouring over the coupons with his wife.  The music videos and album artwork associated with these songs are consistent with the themes: the narrator being outside communing with nature (even holding church outside), creating lasting memories with kids (of course weaving in baseball, what could be stronger father-and-song bonding?), retreating with and protecting family or laying on a couch looking up to God in the middle of a wide open field.

Other songs get at the same theme without such explicit listing. Alabama’s “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” is also a great Sunday song.  While the tempo of the song is clearly in the “I’m in a Hurry” vein of the title, the content repudiates the rushing mentality and messages a slow down.  Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down” – one scarcely imagines being sung by anyone other than Johnny Cash – is another great example.  The song starts with the fallout from (and a bit of continuation of) the previous Saturday night and quickly turns to introspective reflection with the narrator taking in the Sunday sights, sounds and smells – kids playing, church songs and bells ringing, frying chicken – and engaging with God in thinking about the course of his life.

The feeling of Sunday is multi-faceted and hard to dig into and meaningfully capture, but I think there’s really a huge payoff in the form of such nice music when songs put this task in focus and are able to execute successfully.

Songs I Don’t Think Are Particularly Good Songs – “Grab A Beer”

Although I generally prefer to focus on songs I think are good songs, I’ve recently been nagged by “Grab a Beer”, a Dierks Bentley song that has started popping into one of my Spotify-created playlists. It’s not new song, in fact it’s from an extended play album called Country & Cold Cans that Dierks released in 2012 shortly after Home and a couple years before Riser, and written by Jaren Johnston.  Anyway, this is not a good song.

The gist of the song is an articulation of a number of scenarios in which grabbing a beer would be appropriate with Bentley as narrator encouraging the listener to do so. There’s certainly nothing objectionable about a celebration of beer drinking, a generally enjoyable activity.  Billy Currington’s Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer, for example, hits the same theme in a hokey and thoroughly enjoyable manner.  But in Dierks’/ Johnston’s song the beer-grabbing scenarios are unpleasantly cliché and the narrator’s rock-and-roll encouragement of partying, replete with faux feedback from a supposedly enthusiastic crowd, are contrived.  And I find particularly unpleasant the geographical references “From New York City down to Little Rock, I said everybody grab a beer” and “the East Coast baby all the way to LA, I said everybody grab a beer” which strike me as just random rhyming filler.

One of the saving graces of a particular class of juvenile (often) bro-country party songs is that the narrator will sometimes give a few winks and nods to the listener, letting them know the song is to be taken at least partially in jest. As just one example, Toby Keith’s Red Solo Cup is another song I don’t think is a particularly good song.  But that the lyrics and delivery are selfconsciously silly establish the song’s purpose as a bona fide diversion, rather than pretending to be something more (i.e. a serious country music song, even if it’s one about light-hearted subject).  Grab a Beer takes itself too seriously even as a good time party song.  The one lyric I thought might be going in the right direction is the use of the word “plural” because it is a funny word to be a country song.  But in context the song doesn’t express any awareness that this might be kind of funny.

Baseball & Country Music: Part 2 – Country All-Stars

There are some baseball players with truly great taste in country music, and there are also some truly great players with a taste for country. And then of course there are those most special of cases where the two come together.  My listings below of players and their associated songs do not necessarily represent current music choices.  In some cases it was more fun to look at songs players have chosen within the last couple of years, including when there was a real gem a year or two ago but their more current choice was less exciting.  These listings necessarily reflect my imperfect information, in many cases drawn from local sports reporting, and if I’ve misstated any player’s preferences I’d be happy to talk the confusion out over a game of catch.

Player performance combined with choosing country songs that align with my music preferences are the main drivers of the rankings below. Also weighing in were my feelings on what would be an appropriately motivating walk-up song and my desire to present more fun examples of player music choices which resulted in my not duplicating players across the various lists.  For example, Dillon Gee’s choice of an RRB song would clearly have put him towards the top of Players Who Like Great Modern Country, but his incongruous other choice of Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang made him a more fun entry onto the weird combos list.  These rankings also evidence my favorable disposition towards more unique music choices (e.g. God’s Gonna Cut You Down is an awesome and intimidating song for a dominant relief pitcher, but it loses a little something each additional guy that picks the song).  On the flip side I’ve given short shrift to even great players who like relatively common artists or songs.

5 Elite Players Who Like Country:

5. Buster Posey – Hell on Wheels (Brantley Gilbert)
4. John Lester – I Use What I Got; Gonna Know We Were Here (Aldean)
3. Corey Seager – U Turn (Chase Rice); Night’s on Fire (David Nail)
2. Zack Greinke – Runnin’ Outta Moonlight (Randy Houser); Anywhere With You (Jake Owen)
1. Kyle Seager – Life is a Highway (Rascal Flatts cover); Night’s on Fire (David Nail); Wild Ones (Kip Moore)

Top 8 Players Who Like Great Modern Country:

8. John Danks – Should’ve Been a Cowboy (Toby Keith)
7. Mark Reynolds – Country Boy (Aaron Lewis); Barefoot Bluejean Night (Jake Owen); Cruise (FGL)
6. Josh Osich – Right Where I Need to Be (Gary Allen); American Outlaws (Whiskey Meyers)
5. Dan Uggla, Colin Rea – Homegrown (ZBB)
4. Aaron Hill – Knee Deep (ZBB plus Jimmy Buffett); It’s a Great Day To Be Alive (Travis Tritt)
3. Bryan Flynn – Freight Train (Aaron Watson)
2. Charlie Morton – Gin, Smoke, Lies (Turnpike Troubadours); Palmetto Rose (Jason Isbell
1. Brock Holt – Ragged as the Road (Reckless Kelley), My Hometown (Charlie Robison), Dance Her Home (Cody Johnson) [Editor’s Note: Mr. Holt’s music choices, only some of which are listed here, evidence fine, fine taste indeed. And he’s a heck of a ballplayer.]

Top 10 Players Who Like Great Classic Country:

10. Cody Allen – God’s Gonna Cut You Down (Cash); Outsiders (Church)
9. Wade Miley – Thank God I’m a Country Boy (John Denver), Backwoods (Justin Moore)
8. Kevin Gregg – A Country Boy Can Survive (Hank Jr.)
7. Alex Wilson – Snake Farm (Ray Wylie Hubbard)
6. Daniel Mengden – Long-Haired Country Boy (Charlie Daniels)
5. David Robertson, Kendall Graveman – Sweet Home Alabama (Skynyrd)
4. Lucas Harrell – When the Man Comes Around (Johnny Cash)
3. Devin Mesoraco – Fishin’ in the Dark (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band)
2. David Ross – Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler) (Alabama)
1. Mark Lowe, Adam LaRoche – Copperhead Road (Steve Earle)

Top 7 Elite Baseball Players Who Like Great Country:

7. Mark Buehrle – The Wind (ZBB)
6. Matt Holliday – Chicken Fried (ZBB)
5. John Lackey – Friends in Low Places (Garth Brooks)
4. Jake Peavy – Ramblin’ Fever (Haggard)
3. Adam Wainwright – Song of the South (Alabama)
2. Matt Carpenter – Long Hot Summer Day (Turnpike Troubadours cover)
1. Madison Bumgarner – Fire on the Mountain (Marshall Tucker Band); Simple Man (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

Top 5 Weirdest Country Combos:

5. Bryce Harper – Wagon Wheel (Darius Rucker cover); Flower (Moby); Boyfriend (Bieber); The Best is Yet to Come (Sinatra)
4. Andrew Cashner – Chillin’ It (Cole Swindell); How to Be the Man (Riff Raff)
3. Paul GoldSchmidt – It’z Just What We Do (FGL) and We Went (Randy Houser); One Step Closer (Linkin Park)
2. Matt Cain – She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy (Kenny Chesney); Hillbilly Deluxe (Brooks & Dunn); Men in Black (Will Smith); Team (Iggy Azalea)
1. Dillon Gee – Shotgun (Randy Rogers Band); Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang (Dr. Dre & Snoop)

There are plenty of very good players with very good song choices that I haven’t mentioned in the lists above. These players are probably the core of baseball country: significant baseball talent and above average country music choices.  See, e.g., Ross Ohlendorf/ Brent Morel/ Matt Wieters (Barefoot Bluejean Night), Joe Blanton/ Jeff Clement (Hillbilly Deluxe), Joe Paterson (How Bad Do You Want It), Chris Owings (Sunny and 75), Andrew Benintendi (I Love This Life); Billy Butler (Chillin’ It, Drunk on You); Gordon Beckham (Chicken Fried); Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Eight Second Ride); Paul Janish (Ain’t Going Down till the Sun Comes Up); Travis Wood (You Can’t Hide Redneck).  The good taste of baseball talents like these perk our ears up when we least expect it and let us rock out to 15 or so seconds of a nice country song when we’re already living life pretty good at a baseball game.

Baseball & Country Music: Part 1 – An Introduction

One of the fun traditions in going to an MLB game is hearing the music that each player chooses for his walk up to the plate, or in the case of relief pitchers when they are coming into the game, in particular in search of fun country songs.  Sometimes this stuff is referred to as entrance or intro music which is appropriate for relief pitchers, but I prefer the terms walk-up for batters and walk-on for relief pitchers. I guess for starting pitchers qua starters, warm-up music is the best term.

These song choices are small windows into players’ personalities.  For some of the players I’ve heard about, song choice is motivated by the preferences of children or other family members or the actual or perceived preferences of fans (David Wright sometimes lets his brothers choose his songs and a few years ago opened his walk-up music up to a fan vote.)  In some cases I’ve read about players being apathetic about the music played when they come to bat, but extremely rare is the player who has chosen to come on to silence (see e.g., Brian McCann).  In most cases though, I think players are choosing songs that represent their music tastes or that they think will motivate them in their performance and that’s pretty interesting to hear.

Of Simple Man, Jacob deGrom’s said: “I never picked anything in the minor leagues. I would always just tell them, ‘Play whatever.’ But then I didn’t really like the song they were playing when I got called up. So I just decided to change to ‘Simple Man.’ I like slower music like that. It kind of calms me down, I guess. I don’t want to get too amped up going into the first inning.” Cody Allen, one of the Country All-Stars I’ll talk more about in Part 2 of this post, said of one of his choices – Outsiders by Church – “I’m a big country music fan and it’s just an awesome song. I used to listen to it every morning on the way to the gym. It sounds good over the speakers, especially a certain part right in the middle of the song. I had a good year last year, so I rode with it.”  Awesome.  Allen definitely sounds like the kind of country guy I wouldn’t mind throwing back a few Lonestars with.  And Joe Beimel, one of a number of closers aptly choosing Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down, recounts facing Lance Berkman three days in row and then the “last day I got him out, and on the play I had to run over and cover first. After the out, he looks at me and says, ‘What is your entrance music?’ I told him the song and the next year, he started using it when he came up to hit. I was like, ‘Really, dude?’ But I’m sticking with it. I’m more likely to change my socks than my entrance music.”

There are a couple sites that purport to track the songs each player chooses. None of them are great.  MLB.com is the most official listing, but based on my familiarity with Mets’ players’ music and sports reporting on the music selections of other players, this listing is not so accurate.  Relying on this data (I believe for the 2015 season) Baseball Prospectus says 411 players had only 1 song compared to 145 with more than 1, but I think in reality a great many more players than indicated have multiple songs.  Even if the underlying data is outdated or incomplete, there are still some super interesting statistics that can be run, e.g. on the interaction between genre or song choice and on-field performance.  MLBplatemusic.com seems to take a wikipedia-like approach letting readers update entries for players and has the virtue of being searchable by artist, but the presentation doesn’t distinguish between current and outdated walk-up choices and isn’t comprehensive.  Getting perfect data here is a tough enterprise, particularly accounting for the ability of players to add and subtract the number of their picks and change those picks themselves and the frequent influx of minor leaugers into the MLB in season.  Plus, added to this, is that at least a couple of players I’ve read about seem to have performance-related triggers around their (warm-up) music (imagine God’s Gonna Cut You Down feeling awkward after a 6-run first).

Focusing in on the New York Mets for a moment, country fans include Curtis Granderson – Tim McGraw’s Indian Outlaw, Eric Campbell – Eric Church’s Broke Record and Jacob deGrom – Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man (not quite country, but close enough to mention). And from first-hand observation Jonathan Niese (no longer, of course, a Met), David Wright and Zack Wheeler have also chosen to come on to country music.  So just by way of example re: the reliability of the data discussed above, MLB plate music only reflects deGrom and Wright’s country choices and MLB.com gets Campbell, deGrom and Granderson right (but for Granderson failing to mention that he only choose Tim no more frequently than every third song).

In any event, depending a bit on the season and more on how narrowly we defined other categories of music, country comes in about third or fourth place in terms of genre over the past few seasons. Hip hop/ rap take the number one slot, followed by latin music/ reggaeton and then a pretty close competition between rock & roll and country.  At the top of the country heap are Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Eric Church and Lynyrd Skynyrd (more rock or country depending on the song), with MLB.com putting each of these artists in the overall Top 20 with Aldean tied with Drake for the top spot with 15 players choosing Aldean songs. Johnny Cash, Tim McGraw, Zac Brown Band and Florida Georgia Line also do well.

Overall Eric Church’s The Outsiders, Jason Aldean’s The Only Way I Know and Lights Come On (and My Kinda Party and Just Gettin’ Started Tonight, but surprisingly not Dirt Road Anthem), Brantley Gilbert’s Kick it in the Sticks and Hell on Wheels, Cole Swindell’s Chillin’ It, Florida Georgia Line’s People Back Home (and assorted other selections from FGL), a few scattered Luke Bryan hits, and Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down, are most of the most common country selections.

But for me the most fun comes when we get to some of the more unique country selections, the players that choose songs I really like and the players who choose country who are also great at baseball…so stayed tuned for Part 2!