Friday, October 30, 2009

Country Music and what passes for it.

At the risk of being called an old geezer, sexist and backwards I submit to you that country music does not deserve that name any more. It ceased to be country some years ago and is now masquerading around in that costume, but underneath the rhinestones and satin it is pop music and soft jazz. It is one or two notches up the valium scale of sleep-inducing music above Muzak.
Let me be perfectly clear about this. I do not fault anyone at anytime for making the most of their opportunities. If I could figure out how to make millions of dollars off of the millions women that buy what Nashville is cranking out by the truckload, I would do it and stuff whatever conscience remained in me in my back pocket. I do not blame Shania for taking the money and doing the videos. I do not blame Jack Ingram for dying his hair and playing Happy Happy Country Country songs for the masses that listen to the radio. Jack went from a seldom-played -on -most- airwaves to being all over the world in a few short years. Jack has changed over the years. And the links I had are now busted. I bet though if you go looking around on the intertubz you can see the progression in time of the changes in the man. There is no shame in it Jack, take the money and run. Jack isn't radically different in presentation of music from those days back when he played little bars and rode in a van, what changed was that Nashville figured out they could make a buck off him. I hope he keeps the same fire he had back in the day, but hell even U2 had a Blackberry Tent in Dallas and big sponsor presence. But, if he starts to sound like smooth jazz I am done with him. Nothing against jazz either, love me some Sade, but she isn't trying to convince me she could sing rockabilly.

This really isn't a rant about being a sell-out. I don't give a damn about that. It is about honesty. It really isn't even dishonesty on the part of the artist. They are just being themselves. It is Nashville. They are the ones that made Dwight Yoakum change hillbilly music to et cetera. It is they that told us that some songs are just too twangy and we should really not be too much like Bill Monroe or Hank Sr. Better to be like his son, better to polish up that production value and get a good set of backing singers. I think it was Ann Murray that pushed them over the edge. "You needed me" went to numero uno. All that outlaw stuff that had been happening was just a blip on the radar. People don't want long-haired dope-smoking cowboys singing honky-tonk music. They want soft ballads and soothing vocals with strings and horns.
That was the foothold. Ann Murray is and was a great singer, but she isn't country. Never has been, not going to be. Shania isn't country either. Again, not their fault, I just wish that Nashville would quit telling me they are.

George Jones got interviewed the other day about this phenomena of one music genre pretending it is another. He isn't fond of it either. When the reporter asked him about Johnny Cash singing "Hurt" and was that a violation in his opinion he didn't answer it directly but responded to her follow-up about rap. In his geezerly downplay of rap as a viable music he missed the opportunity to smackdown her insinuation that somehow the pop/jazz renditions of what is called country are somehow equal with Johnny's minimalist approach to Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. I challenge you to find me the similarities between the lone piano and guitar in those two songs with the lush production of Shania.

Look, I know there are a lot of females out there like the one named 'ohiocarebear' that posted a tribute video of Carrie Underwood with a bedding track of Kenny Chesney's "Big Star". If fat bottomed girls make the rocking world go round as Freddie Mercury so clearly reminded us, then they also are major contributors to the continuing success of sappy lyrics and slushy strings that pervade modern country songs. It isn't as though there aren't musicians still playing what would commonly be recognized as country, but because they are so atavistic they are lumped into the catch-all term of Americana. This is merely Nashville's attempt to distance themselves from their embarrassing past. They really don't like to acknowledge that they are indeed sons and daughter's of coal miners and cowboys. A nice mythos, but in reality let's not remind people about that so very much. It is as if our ancestors of George Jones and Lefty Frizzel are drunken uncles to be kept out on the fringes where polite people won't get offended. Notwithstanding George's well-documented encounters with the bottle and the law, his music is no less appreciated today than it was forty years ago. I will agree with the man on his disdain for modern country, but not his dismissal of other genres. I don't really mind if they keep on cranking out music for carebear2398 and txsweetie1123, just stop calling it what it ain't.
On that note, I will leave you with a song that will never ever ever be heard on KPLX or any other Nashville outpost, but is more country in the first bar than ninety-five percent of what will be played there today or any other day,

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