I remember something Mary Chapin Carpenter said back in the 90s when she was cranking out hit after hit with songs like "Down at the Twist & Shout," "I Feel Lucky," and "Shut Up and Kiss Me."

She called songs like that "the radio stuff" because what she was more inclined to record was the rich, deeply personal music that really made up the bulk of her albums. Those were the songs that would never be released but were her favorites.

Interestingly, I haven't heard artists talk like that until very recently when I came across a piece by Washington Post writer Emily Yahr about how apologetic, if not embarrassed, some of today's country stars were about their current singles or their most recent ones.

I'm fascinated by anecdotes detailing a conversation Dierks Bentley had with his audience in which he thanked radio for playing "Somewhere on a Beach," his current top-ten hit, so that he can get some "heavier stuff out there."

It's interesting to hear about how a country traditionalist like Joe Nichols REALLY feels about two big comeback hits--"Sunny and 75" and "Yeah"--that have been the most pop-sounding singles of his career.

Then you have Dustin Lynch lamenting the possibility that audiences will never get to hear is favorite songs or Chase Rice, whose new single "Whisper" pretty much sounds exactly like his last two "Ready Set Roll" and "Gonna Wanna Tonight" in production AND theme and still has yet to crack the country airplay top 50 despite being out for over a month.

Maybe these artists are looking at red-hot Chris Stapleton who's shown what CAN happen. Granted, if Stapleton had never taken the stage with Justin Timberlake during November's CMA Awards for that scintillating performance of "Tennessee Whiskey" and "Drink You Away," we might never have seen his single "Nobody to Blame" crack the country airplay top ten.

But, then again, it DID. And it didn't have to. Country audiences could have said, "Well, that's not 'Tennessee Whiskey' so forget it." But they didn't. And now Stapleton is poised to increase is already high profile with a performance on Sunday night's Academy of Country Music Awards.

But it's Stapleton who has forced the issue with his music, not the label. Sure, Mercury Records must have been thrilled to have him, but it's a record label. And for as amazing has he is, if the audience never bit, he'd be cast out.

This Post blog is seriously the most revealing collection of information I've ever seen about how artists really feel about what they're doing.

How or if it affects what we'll hear from these guys in the future remains to be seen.