Last week when I went to the New Releases page on Spotify to find the new albums and potential review candidates, I saw this release from a band called King Calaway. The album was called Rivers and the cover didn’t tell me much about the genre. At the bottom of the album’s page, I saw that the group appears on curated country playlists. Okay, they’re country. I thought I’d give it a shot. After all, how bad can a country “band” be?
I didn’t get around to listening to the new album until after I had already written the review for that week (which was Nick Cave’s excellent Ghosteen). When I did, confusion is probably the best way to describe how I felt about what I was hearing. So I did a little digging and what I found was interesting to say the least. As it turns out, King Calaway is essentially a boy band in the classic NSYNC or Backstreet Boys sense with a country twist.
There’s surprisingly little information about the band, but what’s available essentially confirms that the band was put together by an industry executive and Nashville producer Robert Deaton. They say their goal was to focus on musicianship rather than vocal harmony like boy bands of the past. And on paper, the idea makes sense with Nashville being full of talented musicians. But you have to question what they’re really focusing on when you learn that Deaton’s son is in the group.
Things don’t get much better when you listen to the music itself. The whole album is full of songs that sound like some California producer’s idea of country music when he’s never been east of the Mississippi. It’s all pretty soulless, squeaky clean, and boring, and their cover of Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With” doesn’t help. It’s all pretty clearly the product of some musical industrial complex.
Now, discovering that Nashville has manufactured a boy band really isn’t all that surprising. I have no doubt that “The Industry” has had it’s fingers in the development of more than one country music sensation in the past. But usually those groups or individuals have some history of schlepping in the bar scene, songwriting, or even internet spheres like Soundcloud or YouTube. What’s really surprising is, as far as I can tell, King Calaway is the first time that they’ve tried to build a group from scratch. When you consider the rise and fall of boy bands in the ’90s and ’00s, and especially the rise of pop country, you have to wonder why it took them so long.
Personally, I don’t think this experiment is going to go very well unless King Calaway is given better songs to record. But considering the things that do get famous in the world of country music, I could be wrong. Only time will tell.