What Happened To The Collaborative Album in Country Music?
As one of my Christmas presents this year, I was given a vinyl record player. Since that time, I have been quickly building a pretty extensive collection of vinyl LP’s which consist mainly of classic country albums from “back in the day”. As I have built my collection of these influential records, I started to question something about today’s music industry: what happened to the collaborative album in country music?
I am not talking about the collaborative song, but rather full albums in which the biggest stars in the genre combine to create. Possibly the most famous and my favorite collaboration came from the “Highwaymen” which was a combination of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. Not only is the title track one of my favorite songs of all time, but the entire album is spectacular. And this super-group did not stop here, they made another full length album together and even went on tour.
And this example is far from the only one. It seems that Willie Nelson was at the center of most of the collaborations as he has made albums with everyone from Merle Haggard, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Dolly Parton, Brenda Lee, Leon Russell, to even Julio Iglesias and more. He has continued his tradition of collaboration into today’s modern era as he has appeared on singles with Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Chris Young, and much more. However, the art of the full length collaboration is virtually non-existent in the current market.
Willie is not the only megastar to collaborate on full albums as there have been combinations of Merle Haggard & George Jones, Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson & Barbara Streisand; Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, among countless more. And a lot of these collaborative albums are some of each of the star artist’s biggest selling and most lucrative projects. Yet, again, these were all from decades ago and the current trend is a single feature here or there.
So why is this idea so avoided among current country music stars? I know most of them are friends and a lot of them write songs together. Why not make a full length album together? For example, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have been married for a long time and have made songs together which have been smash hits and have garnered multiple prestigious awards. Why would they not release a full length album together? I would think something like that would both sell huge units and also make fans extremely happy. Same goes for Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, especially how hot both their careers are right now.
Of course married couples are not the only ones who can collaborate. Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan share close friendships that have been publicized the same that McGraw and Kenny Chesney have. I have heard Lee Brice, Randy Houser, Tyler Farr and Jerrod Niemann lived together and often refer to themselves as the “Redneck Rat Pack”. How awesome would a full album with those four artists collaborating be?
So why do you think this idea has become extinct? I personally think it has to with the power and control that record labels have these days over their artists. The contracts and dollars control so much of the industry that the legal logistics would take most of the fun and creative spirit out of such a project.
Yet I would love to see a combination of younger diverse stars like Kip Moore, Eric Church and Dierks Bentley come together for a project. Or an older guard of artists such as Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Toby Keith or Alan Jackson, Ronny Dunn and George Strait. Or something a little more Americana along the lines of a Sturgill Simpson, Jamey Johnson and Zac Brown. I know these are all pipe dreams, but fun to think up combinations nonetheless. So who would you like to see, in country music’s current major market, collaborate on a full album together?