Monday, September 30, 2013

What is Country Music?

Alan Jackson has recently said that real country music is dead and points to the poor sales of he latest album as proof. A). Allen Jackson would probably be an expert on what real country isn't. B). is this just sour grapes for having low album sales. C). What is "real country"? Let it be known that I am from Nashville, Music City, USA. Home of country music and the Grand Old Opry (never actually been). I was born in Clarksville, TN, hometown of Roy Acuff (the king of country music). So, I think this makes me an expert on this matter. But, I don't really know how to define Country Music. If you put Wabash Canonball on the radio today, I don't think many people would listen. A lot of people will point to Johnny Cash or Wayland, Willie, and Hank as what country is, but they were a division of their own and really changed it from what the people before them did. Then video killed the radio stars and you had to be able to look good and sing, but you didn't have to write (this is where Jackson fits in), Garth Brooks came along and was really the first breakthrough star. The man was a performer and could sing, but his stuff was different than what was coming before it too and kind of ushered in the age of country/pop crossover. Now I think you can take songs/artist from any of those time periods and use them as examples of real country music, but it doesn't really tell you what country is. Is it the instruments; the whine of a steal guitar, someone blucking on a banjo, or sawing on a fiddle? Is it a singer singing with a twang in their voice? Is it music performed by an artist from a certain region? I would lead toward instruments but you can use them in any type of music, the twang can be faked and can be really annoying (looking at you Jennifer please stop, please). Can't be regional either. Maybe it is music performed by people that grew up listening to country music. This would have worked many years ago when people where limited to their local radio station, but now the band is full of a bunch of different types of music. I like to tell people that country music tells a story and reflects country values. I think this is a good definition, but it makes you define country values. When I was growing up that seemed to be about hard work, Christian values, and a rebelous streak. I can remember family gatherings at my mammaw's with people bringing their guitars and picking and singing old hymns and standards together. That seems to be what country music is to me. Pickin' and grinnin'. Of course current country values have moved towards redneck values. I don't know what caused this, probably the death of the family farm. So now you get a lot of Jimmy Buffet type songs that glorify drinking in country music. There is a precedent for this with the outlaws, though. Musicians seem to be a diverse folk, that like to play around and experiment with other types of music. I get it. As the commercial success of country music has increased, so to has the ability of these artist to incorporate these experiments into their songs. Take Brad Paisley's latest album as an example. It is full of experimentation and you get songs like Southern Comfort Zone that come across as very traditional country and you also get the song he did with L.L. Cool J about racism that has L.L. (can I call you L.L.) rapping. It is a great album but it is very experimental and not all of the songs fall into the country category. Zac Brown Band are another example. These guys are literally students of music. They don't have one specific sound and they even have an R&B track on their album, but I would say that most of their songs are undeniably country, well to me. So what is country? How do you define it? I think I will say this, you will know it when you hear it.

1 comment:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sorry, I define it as a genre of music I don't enjoy.
Certainly no more dead than any other genre though.