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country music's identity crisis
August 25, 2014 9:29 AM   Subscribe

what IS country music? Tensions have been brewing and there’s been no shortage of public feuding among the genre’s A-list. As country fights to figure out what it should look and sound like, its biggest stars are airing some very honest (and sometimes harsh) opinions. Here’s a timeline of country’s wild, crazy, and sometimes mud-slinging year.

The country music genre has gone through quite a transformation in the past couple years, adopting the electric guitar sounds of nearly-defunct rock radio, the rap-infused cadences and AutoTune normally reserved for hip hop, and, most controversially, the pop elements left behind as that genre gravitated toward electronic dance music. And attitudes have become ever more contentious between traditional and modern-country fans in 2013. (Entertainment Weekly)

Arguably the latest in the body count is Taylor Swift, whose recent pop earworm Shake It Off has been getting great reviews but prompted a clear distancing from the C.M.A., who tweeted "Good luck on your new venture @taylorswift13! We've LOVED watching you grow!"

The tweet was later deleted, prompting an analysis of the affair by The New Yorker.

Of course she's not the first artist to genre-hop; Rolling Stone compiled a top-10 list of artists who have switched teams. Yes, we all knew Katy Perry used to sing Christian Rock, and that Tegan and Sara have drastically changed their sound, but did you know Michael Bolton used to open for Ozzy Osbourne as part of Blackjack? Click if you dare. [Spoiler: his trajectory towards ballad-belting appears pre-destined by the Gods of Croon.]

And while 2014 is certainly not Country Music's "Year of the Woman," and given that country music isn't known for its boundary pushing, a special note must be made for Loretta Lynn's classic descriptions of motherhood and controversial ode to hormonal contraception, "One's On the Way / The Pill." ("The Pill" starts at 1:45)

previously
posted by St. Peepsburg (99 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Modern country can fuck right off.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:41 AM on August 25, 2014 [18 favorites]


There really needs to be a country-western equivalent of the Grunge reaction to late-80s hair metal.

They could call it Crunge, and Hank 3 should be consulted.

It would be glorious.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:44 AM on August 25, 2014 [22 favorites]


I was wondering whether Kasey Musgraves would be addressed in this article and, well,

Given enough time reading chart-topping country lyrics, one will feel that country listeners aren’t supposed to question the life they have, much less strive for a better one; they’re instead supposed to find and enjoy cheap distractions from it. So when Musgraves critiques Mary’s confining, cyclical small-town life in “Merry Go ‘Round,” or when she releases a single called “Follow Your Arrow” – which implies that listeners might actually have direction and/or ambition – well, no wonder she barely made the top 10.

"Sure, there is some music that totally goes against the point I'm making, but it BARELY made the top ten!"

If you only listen to the top ten of every genre, it's pretty much all garbage. That doesn't mean the entire genre is homogenous and terrible!
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:45 AM on August 25, 2014 [9 favorites]


Hah, The New Yorker misquoted Taylor Swift's music biz quote so well, and I'm glad they kept a note on that. Taylor said her new album is "the most sonically cohesive album I’ve ever made," but The New Yorker first quoted her saying "the most sonically confusing album."

Really, who talks about the sonic cohesion of their works, other than people who spend their time marketing (and maybe reviewing) music? Did Taylor's fans freak out, screaming "FINALLY! She's aligned her vision with her sound! No more chaotic compilations masquerading as albums!"

Anyway, the vitriol being thrown about what Country Music Really Is is rather astounding. The quote in the first link from relatively young Blake Shelton (he's 38) is beyond bold:
Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, ‘My God, that ain’t country!’ Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.
And then Country legend Ray Price (age 87) posted this statement on his Facebook page:
“It’s a shame that I have spend [sic] 63 years in this business trying to introduce music to a larger audience and to make it easier for the younger artists who are coming behind me. Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song, have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are God’s answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF “OLD FART” & JACKASS”) ” P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED.
Up until the all caps bit, I'd be pretty sure some publicict or agent was writing that for Ray, but the all caps seem rather unfiltered.

Anyway, once something becomes a Top 20 hit of any sort, chances are it's pretty far from the roots of whatever genre it represented, and is a fairly safe song for broad consumption.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:47 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Mentions of The Secret Sisters: 0
posted by OmieWise at 9:50 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Feeling a little cohesion confusion? The next paragraph in the NYer piece calls back to the original version of the misquote:

"At first, “Shake It Off” might not sound very confusing..."
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:55 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know country music, but I know what I don't like.
posted by Flexagon at 9:58 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Country music, like all genres, is fragmenting.

Go listen to David Allen Coe's "You Don't Have to Call Me Darlin'" making fun of most songs.

OK? Now move along....
posted by CrowGoat at 10:02 AM on August 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


Except for subject matter, country and pop are virtually indistinguishable now. Whatever sells, right?
posted by tommasz at 10:04 AM on August 25, 2014


They'll have to follow the example of jazz, where they figure out Kenny G is musically, and call that just outside what jazz is. Maybe for country it's Cowboy Troy.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:10 AM on August 25, 2014


a clear distancing

Really? "Clear"? It strikes me as entirely believable that they genuinely did not realize that people would read that "good luck on your new venture" as a "good-bye and good luck." I think the fact that they took it down so quickly when people did start reading it that way makes it pretty clear that they hadn't, in fact, thought that that is what they were saying. If they wanted to "clearly" indicate that they were marking Taylor Swift as non-country why pull the tweet down? "OMG! People understand the thing we just 'clearly' said! Oh no!"
posted by yoink at 10:10 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


There really needs to be a country-western equivalent of the Grunge reaction to late-80s hair metal.

They could call it Crunge, and Hank 3 should be consulted.

It would be glorious.


There was, we called it alt.country because the INTERNET!, and Hank III came along for the ride and even played Misfits covers and we cheered. Johnny flipped off Music Row, Loretta hung out with Jack and HST's wave rose out of the Cumberland one bright shiny afternoon and rolled up Broadway, until it lost momentum somewhere on the West End. We printed t-shirts that said "In a just world, Steve Earle would rule Nashville" but we were still stuck with Shania. It was an amazing time, but whatever it was we were expecting to change, didn't. Pap is still pap, steel guitars or no. I don't think anyone expected bluegrass to end up hanging out at festivals with the jam band kids though, but they seem happy together so good on 'em.

Now get off my lawn while I find that old V-Roys album and drink my afternoon away.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:12 AM on August 25, 2014 [43 favorites]


You want to know what happened? How it all got this way regarding the whole idea of 'country' as a product? This approximately 5 minute scene (23:00 - to about 28:00) from the the fantastic short "The Accountant" from 2001 about 2 brothers trying to save their family farm sums it up pretty well.

If you have time, watch the whole thing. It's a fine piece of work - funny, tragic, a little odd, and has a bit a truthful insight to it from time to time.
posted by chambers at 10:12 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Though at this point he probably doesn't need my help, I invite the 'modern country can fuck right off' crowd to listen to Sturgill Simpson. Though modern country radio is having issues with playing his songs, he's getting tremendously popular.
posted by item at 10:12 AM on August 25, 2014 [17 favorites]


Oh, and if you like Simpson be sure to follow him on facebook/twitter as he's constantly promoting similar artists.
posted by item at 10:14 AM on August 25, 2014


CrowGoat: “Go listen to David Allen Coe's ‘You Don't Have to Call Me Darlin'’ making fun of most songs.”

The song is "You Never Even Call Me By My Name," and it's not a David Allan Coe song, it's a Steve Goodman song (although he says he wrote it with John Prine) that David Allan Coe's uncreative ass appropriated. And unlike David Allan Coe, Steve Goodman always mentioned his contribution and thanked him for it.

Good goddamn, but Steve Goodman was awesome. Thank you for reminding me of him.
posted by koeselitz at 10:22 AM on August 25, 2014 [19 favorites]


Sometimes I hear one of these dance pop songs from a country artist. I find them completely bewildering. It suggests that genre can have more to do with identity than with any kind of sonic or musical quality.
posted by chrchr at 10:23 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Mojo and Jello still have the definitive word on the subject
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 10:33 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


There really needs to be a country-western equivalent of the Grunge reaction to late-80s hair metal.

There was, it happened at the same time as grunge - Rockabilly and alt.country were pretty big in the '90s.

alt.country is so called because of the usenet heirarchy - newsgroups that could not be codified with other groups, or would not be, or refused to be, were lumped into "alt". It was thoroughly modern and progressive, a youth movement to bring Country and Western to a place of sincerity and dangerously intense emotion.

Like most revolutionary movements, it could not hold its momentum, and spun off into splinter factions or was co-opted and defanged by the establishment.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:34 AM on August 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


I wish the country radio would splinter so that we could have stations that play the new bro-country stuff with all of its partying and non-stop objectification of women (I recently described it to a non-listener as "hip-hop meets easy listening") and have other stations that play country oldies or country that at least contains a fiddle or banjo or something "country". And maybe even reference a woman (like even just the "mama" of the Steve Goodman song), who is not merely shaking her money maker, peeling off her cutoffs, and pouring some honey on the dudes.

Bah, I know I'm not stating anything that hasn't been said before. But I miss the pap of yesteryear, even with cheesy stories and goofy jokes. Even better - if only Casey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert could spearhead an awesome new splinter that we'd get to hear more often on the radio.
posted by ldthomps at 10:35 AM on August 25, 2014 [11 favorites]


It suggests that genre can have more to do with identity than with any kind of sonic or musical quality.

I think the radio standard is that an audible southern accent makes it country, regardless of anything else about the song.
posted by tyllwin at 10:36 AM on August 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


Except for subject matter, country and pop are virtually indistinguishable now.

Except for the fact that non-country pop is often made by people who aren't white.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:38 AM on August 25, 2014


Like most revolutionary movements, it could not hold its momentum, and spun off into splinter factions or was co-opted and defanged by the establishment.

*Pours one out for Ryan Adams*
posted by entropicamericana at 10:39 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm gonna hire a frat boy to decorate our home
So you'll feel more at ease here, and you won't have to roam
We'll install a beer pong table, and put a bar along that wall
And a neon sign to point the way to our bathroom down the hall
posted by Iridic at 10:40 AM on August 25, 2014 [16 favorites]


I think the radio standard is that an audible southern accent makes it country, regardless of anything else about the song.

Not always. Not even if they're white.

I was listening to R.E.M.'s Murmur the other day, and a thought occurred to me: Why isn't this considered country music? At the time, sure, it skewed too far to the rock side of what country was, but now? It's way more country than modern country music.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:40 AM on August 25, 2014 [9 favorites]


I spent the summer listening to Johnny Cash. Like almost nothing else from June through July. The man had a career that spanned decades.

At the start of his career, his work was grouped with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. It had a country flavor but wad not without a certain rock edge. He certainly copped a rock look when it suited him.

He explored some more gospel tinged music a couple of times in his career. So did Elvis. Some of it sounded like Carter Family derived folk, as you'd expect.

His classic sound - that bow chicka bow sound - was not especially country at the time he and his band found it. It had become country of course. Cash rode that sound from genuinely classic sings to deliberate and lucrative self-parody.

When social unrest was brewing, he recorded songs that reflected that - but he also recorded some gung ho, red blooded American patriotic numbers. It's interesting listening to Ragged Old Flag and The Ballad of Ira Hayes back to back.

In the 80s... well the same thing happened to Cash as happened to everyone. Overproduced, largely mediocre pop influenced country pablum.

And then there's his third act, stripped down work with Rick Rubin who made him sound like the sometimes angry voice of God with a simple folk sounding guitar.

I honestly am torn about how much Cash pandered and how much he just played what he wanted to play. Our musical tastes change as we get older. Music evolves and sometimes artists get excited about something new and want to play with it.

I do know that Cash was evolving right to the end (compare his last album with Rubin with his first). I also know when you lock a music in a particular form it begins a museum piece.

Anyhow, Cash spent plenty of tune appealing to young people (Ballad of a Teenage Queen) and plenty of time taking off his hat, going to church and appealing to their parents. He played with both Bob Dylan and with Waylon Jennings.

Country grows when it's musicians are open to other influences. To whit, country is whatever it's musicians are playing and it's a fans are loving.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:41 AM on August 25, 2014 [8 favorites]


it's not a David Allan Coe song, it's a Steve Goodman song (although he says he wrote it with John Prine) that David Allan Coe's uncreative ass appropriated. And unlike David Allan Coe, Steve Goodman always mentioned his contribution and thanked him for it.

Favorited because this is the kind of informed quality musical snark I come to Metafilter for.

The bluegrass/jam band mashup thing (my husband has ended up in a band that kind of falls into this category, though they stick closer to rock than jam) is interesting. Part of a continual search for authenticity, maybe? Bluegrass is huge in its own way, but barely registers to people who listen primarily to radio music. Jam bands; same. I guess if you're gonna go get high and camp out in a tent at a music festival, you can listen to both/either?

Re the oldtimer stuff, if you have Sirius XM you can listen to Willie Nelson's Roadhouse which plays nothing but. I love me some old country, but dear Lord, there was so much that was pure fake cheese. Like 90% of it. The fact that anything challenging/authentic got through at all is kind of a miracle. But that old cheese may be slightly more listenable because so much of it registers as odd or off-kilter now; back then, I think it was just "eh, another hillbilly sad song."
posted by emjaybee at 10:41 AM on August 25, 2014


After rap, country music is the second most cited genre of the statement "I'm into every kind of music except for that."
posted by Apocryphon at 10:42 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Arguably the latest in the body count is Taylor Swift, whose recent pop earworm Shake It Off yt has been getting great reviews but prompted a clear distancing from the C.M.A., who tweeted "Good luck on your new venture @taylorswift13! We've LOVED watching you grow!"

It's like they totally ignored her "Red" album. That wasn't all country. 22 wasn't a country song. A lot of her songs weren't, on that last album. Not the one with Gary Lightbody, not the one with Ed Sheeran. Not the "We Are Never Getting Back Together." And that was 2 years ago. I think only 1 song on that whole album was country.


Question though: When Johnny Cash did the cover of "Hurt," was that country?


(I love Taylor Swift, obviously.)
posted by discopolo at 10:42 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


There was a significant country split many decades ago. Willie Nelson and friends (I call them the Texas contingent) thought radio country was losing its way and started "outlaw country". Stick with that side of the fight and you'll always find great music. Willie, Waylon, Kris Kristofferson, Tompall Glaser, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle ....
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:43 AM on August 25, 2014 [12 favorites]


I was listening to R.E.M.'s Murmur the other day, and a thought occurred to me: Why isn't this considered country music? At the time, sure, it skewed too far to the rock side of what country was, but now? It's way more country than modern country music.

Well, a couple of songs, like "Pilgrimage" or "Talk About The Passion", I can see that. But not like "Moral Kiosk" or "Catapult" or "Radio Free Europe". (Although I'd like to hear one of these hat and truck acts do "Moral Kiosk" now").
posted by thelonius at 10:43 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


What's the difference between country and folk, anyway?
posted by Apocryphon at 10:47 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I invite the 'modern country can fuck right off' crowd to listen to Sturgill Simpson

I discovered him this year and while I love his attitude toward the divide, I don't think "I'm tired of y'all playing dress up and trying to sing them old country songs" means he's in the tank for Taylor Swift so much as he feels the other twenty-somethings who dress up like ersatz versions of The Band (who were dressing up like Civil War-era Southerners) are just as lost. For me, he's after finding out what really matters in life after a pretty rough time in the desert. I mean, the first track is a Bertrand Russell reference— not sure that would be in the wheelhouse of people on either side of the divide. Arguing what is inside a genre of music and what is not doesn't seem to qualify.

Like most things driven by the Internet, this is an argument for young people looking for authenticity. I'm too goddamn old to care: I like Simpson who doesn't seem to care about the split and I like Jason Isbell who definitely does. If it sounds good, good; "pop" versions of any genre are going to seem watered-down pap to hard-core fans. They're specifically for people dipping their toes into the genre, not the devotees.
posted by yerfatma at 10:47 AM on August 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


Somewhat off topic: like 10 years ago I heard a story on NPR (I think) wherein a reporter talked about a job he'd had once upon a time at a classical radio station. For some reason I forget his job was to listen to classical music in the basement in the order in which it was composed, so he'd spend weeks at a time stuck, musically speaking, in a particular decade or even a single year.

After a while he came upstairs to the booth for 10 minutes to get a soda or something and they were playing a song from a period just a few years later than the period he'd been listening to for a week and it sounded like total garbage to him, which he remarked upon to his colleagues. The composer was, IIRC, Beethoven.

I think the story had something to do with the brain becoming comfortable with certain sonic conventions and being uncomfortable when confronted with dissimilar sounds. Does anyone else remember this story? I'm sure I must be mangling a bunch of the details.

More on topic: what do country music fans think of Avicii's Wake Me Up, which sort of comes at a country sound from a totally different place? Offensive? Cool?

We all liked it when Aerosmith and Run DMC played together, didn't we?
posted by ben242 at 10:48 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think the radio standard is that an audible southern accent makes it country, regardless of anything else about the song.

Sturgill Simpson's experience suggests otherwise: "Well that label man said, 'Son now can you sing a little bit more clear? Your voice might be too genuine and your song's a little too sincere.'"
posted by yerfatma at 10:50 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Apocryphon: "What's the difference between country and folk, anyway?"

It's the hats.
posted by octothorpe at 10:51 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


We wall liked it when Aerosmith and Run DMC played together, didn't we?

Not Steven Tyler apparently, since he smashed the one in the video down like it was Berlin '89.
posted by yerfatma at 10:54 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was listening to R.E.M.'s Murmur the other day, and a thought occurred to me: Why isn't this considered country music? At the time, sure, it skewed too far to the rock side of what country was, but now? It's way more country than modern country music.

True dat. There's Talking Heads songs that are more country than any given song on the present-day Country Top 40.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:56 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


What's the difference between country and folk, anyway?

The local joke when Taylor Swift moved to RI was that she went from Country singer to Folk singer as required by law.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:57 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I blame "Mutt" Lange for marrying & producing Shania Twain.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:58 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


This list is gonna have to go waaaaay further back to be "comprehensive": country music has been arguing about what "real" country is for as long as it's existed. Charlie Rich "burns" John Denver at the 1975 AMA Awards. Back in the '50s, people complained that Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley's "Nashville Sound" was more pop than country. And so on and on.

But yeah...most of what gets called "new country" is pop music with cowboy hats and (maybe) a fiddle or banjo sprinkled on top.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:59 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


I honestly am torn about how much Cash pandered and how much he just played what he wanted to play.

I can't hold Cash responsible for the wave of overprodction in albums in the 80s. There just wasn't really much of a choice in the matter at the time. If a major label you've signed to demands a certain production level, you have to take it or face breaking a contract. There simply weren't the choices available that would be acceptable to not only the label, but the audience as well, and not be considered a form of novelty album. It's not unlike the situation with trouser legs in the 70s where it was often impossible (or so I have been told by many) to find a new pair of jeans that were not flared or bell-bottomed to some degree. Besides, at least in the 80s we got the Highwaymen.

As for the pandering, Cash came along at the time where mixing about with other performers and styles as a traveling entertainer did not have as much baggage attached to it as it does now. What makes Cash great was that throughout the years, Johnny Cash was always Johnny Cash, warts and all, angry, funny or serious, grim or tender. He could show up in an episode of Columbo, do an appearance on Hee-Haw, or even a murderous bank robber in the 1961 feature film Five Minutes to Live, and come out of all of it without a hint of selling out, only as a professional entertainer showing up and having some fun.
posted by chambers at 11:03 AM on August 25, 2014 [8 favorites]


(Oh man, and now after listening to the great Steve Goodman for a while I've moved over his buddy John Prine's magnificent first album, and I'm remembering how insanely good this stuff is. Wow! Country music is great, innit?)
posted by koeselitz at 11:04 AM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


What is country music?
I don't know but Sturgill Simpson and The Secret Sisters are doing it right.
posted by chillmost at 11:07 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was just thirteen, you might say I was a
Musical proverbial knee-high
When I heard a couple new-sounding tunes on the tubes
And they blasted me sky-high
And the record man said every one is a yellow sun
Record from Nashville
And up north there ain't nobody buys them
And I said, "But I Will"

Nashville Cats - The Lovin' Spoonful - 1966
posted by valkane at 11:08 AM on August 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


He could show up in an episode of Columbo, do an appearance on Hee-Haw, or even a murderous bank robber in the 1961 feature film Five Minutes to Live, and come out of all of it without a hint of selling out, only as a professional entertainer showing up and having some fun.

Yes, but then there's this. Which is so far beyond anything my mind can comprehend I just let it sit there, a koan of Cash, if you will.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 11:09 AM on August 25, 2014 [9 favorites]


Oh man, the "Titty's Beer" song and video linked in the EW article are fucking gross.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:19 AM on August 25, 2014


Yes, but then there's this. Which is so far beyond anything my mind can comprehend I just let it sit there, a koan of Cash, if you will.

1985. My guess is they showed up at his house with a truckload of cocaine.
posted by bondcliff at 11:22 AM on August 25, 2014


What's "country"? From what I can tell, it's the many-times reheated leftovers of what they used to call folk music in Woody Guthrie's day, as evidenced by old Guthrie tunes like this one (complete with a boasting intro that wouldn't sound too out of place on anything produced by any of the Outlaw country artists about "letting a couple of old hillbillies show you how it's done"). Hank Williams Sr. sort of picked up from where Guthrie left off with more personal, inwardly focused lyrical subject matter, setting up the country and western template of baleful tunes about hard times and heartbreak, but then, the term "folk" was originally just a designation meaning the music of the people, and arguably, that's what pop or popular music is supposed to be, too.
As this (probably debatable) timeline of country music history suggests, "folk" and "country" were at one time interchangeable terms. I don't think they're going to be able to settle this question at such a great historical distance removed from the original forms they're concerned with preserving. I mean, none of it is really authentic folk music anymore, and I don't think most country stars would look too favorably on being labeled as "folk singers" anyway.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:23 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


They could call it Crunge, and Hank 3 should be consulted.

I must've misheard you -- Kris Kristofferson and crunge could be like Neil Young was to grunge, and now's the perfect time for a fresh permutation of The Law Is For Protection of the People or Best of All Possible Worlds
posted by mr. digits at 11:24 AM on August 25, 2014


Ooooh Ooh! Is this where I get to mention Les Claypool's newest wild and crazy project? Also featuring M.I.R.V. member Bryan Kehoe.

So I've been jamming on their album for a few months and got to see them perform live this very last Friday.

I don't what country is. I don't know if Duo De Twang is country, but I really enjoy them. If country could become something that would incorporate more stuff like that I'd probably listen to more country.

Granted I'd listen to Claypool fart into a base for an hour and a half, so what do I know of taste?
posted by Twain Device at 11:24 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Taylor Swift is not part of the body count. She flat out said her new album is not country. USA Today quoted her referring to 1989 as her "first documented, official pop album." She has moved on, but I hope she'll go back someday.

I used to be one of those country fans that only liked Johnny Cash and all of the old timers. Then I started watching Nashville and thought that was what modern country music sounded like. What a rude awakening when I watched the CMA awards. Um, yikes! I love what Nashville is doing musically and hope more of that style of country AKA Americana makes it to the charts/radio.
posted by missmerrymack at 11:26 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh FFS. Anyone following Country in the 70s has heard this all before. BJ Thomas and John Denver were not the end of Country music. If you like it, listen to it. If you don't, don't.

While sites like Saving Country Music provide some interesting info and snark, in the end it's a lot of folks getting het up about losing control of something that was outside their sphere of influence in the first place.

In any case, their music will continue to be there. No one is saying well, let's not make anything that sounds like George Jones anymore. It's always going to be around, but now there are more things growing from it.

When it comes to music, more is good.

I like Sturgill Simpson and Brantley Gilbert, without apology.
posted by frykitty at 11:26 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some of my earliest memories was the 5 weeks I spent one summer listening to country music 8Tracks in my Grandfather's cab-over fruitliner as we tooled around America delivering whatever fit on the flatbed.

What passes for country music these days so far departed from that, I wonder sometimes if I didn't crawl out of the cab of that truck onto a different planet entirely.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:27 AM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


"folk" and "country" were at one time interchangeable terms.

There's no way to really fully disentangle folk, country, blues, pop, rock, swing, rhythm-and-blues etc. If you listen to those old Folkways compilations or to the "country," "folk" and "blues" music of the 20s, 30s and 40s it's amazing how profoundly they're all interwoven. Any arguments for "purity" of a particular line of musical descent are just untenable.
posted by yoink at 11:31 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


What's the difference between country and folk, anyway?

Part of this question is easy: Folk music means songs so old, their authors are unknown. Young people in the early 1960s blended the old songs with protest lyrics, creating Folk-Rock.

The more interesting question is

What's the difference between Country and Western?

Not difficult -- Western music is what cowboys sang. Like Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, singing "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" (you heard this in The Great Lebowski).

So what is Country music?

When I was young, there was two kinds, on the radio -- up tempo, like Buck Owens, with drums and electric guitars;and hillbilly music aka Bluegrass. Buck Owens' country rock style became mainstream; like Western, you're hard-pressed these days finding any hillbilly music on the radio, especially on a "Country" station.
posted by Rash at 11:39 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yup.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:39 AM on August 25, 2014


This would explain my confusion when CMT was on one of the TVs at my gym last week and it really didn't look like country music videos I remember from high school (even those definitely looked slick too).
posted by Kitteh at 11:44 AM on August 25, 2014


Part of this question is easy: Folk music means songs so old, their authors are unknown.

That's not a very good definition, because it's too narrowly focused on the contemporary usage of the term. A person would completely misunderstand what they were reading if they read an article from the 40s or 50s about "folk" if they were using this as their working definition.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:45 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


I only gained an appreciation of country music once I stopped thinking about it as Country Music and started simply seeing as Music, period.

Modern country can die in a ditch, though, for the most part (get some medication for that nose issue, guys.)

So many excellent musicians used to so little effect. A shame, really.
posted by metagnathous at 11:52 AM on August 25, 2014


Not difficult -- Western music is what cowboys sang

Well...kinda sorta. That is, cowboy music (of the singing cowboy film star variety) was definitely "Western" but then so was something like Tex Williams--who never tried to suggest he was out there ropin' steers or driftin' along with the tumblin' tumbleweeds. He played a very sophisticated, thoroughly urbanized mixture of swing jazz, honky tonk, talking blues etc. etc. There's just no neat demarcations, no "well, once upon a time country was this" claims that actually stand up to historical investigation.
posted by yoink at 11:59 AM on August 25, 2014


Everything I wanted to know about Modern Country I learned working backstage...the young "country" musicians and entourages all show up for gigs and rehearse in trucker hats and are totally indistinguishable from the average douchey fratty bro of the moment, complete with hip-hop slang and no accents. Come show time they arrive onstage in cowboy hats and boots, bolo ties, western shirts and with a nice thick accent. I've worked with most of the big names, and it doesn't change much.

The old-timers? Show up in a button-down and pressed jeans, maybe a big belt buckle, carrying their own guitars. They go onstage in the same outfit. The accents don't change.
posted by nevercalm at 12:18 PM on August 25, 2014 [17 favorites]


Dale Watson's "Old Fart (A Song For Blake)" should be added to this FPP's soundtrack.

“Well, I'd rather be an old fart/Than a new country turd…”
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:22 PM on August 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


The bluegrass/jam band mashup thing (my husband has ended up in a band that kind of falls into this category, though they stick closer to rock than jam) is interesting. Part of a continual search for authenticity, maybe?

As someone who grew up going to ceilis I find modern bluegrass festivals bewildering. No one dances* which is 89% of the point. You do have your ballads and so forth at ceilies too but most of it is dance music. And set dance music at that, which is very social. Going to something like Hardly Strictly is like going to a rave where everyone just watches the DJ then politely applauds. The music might be staying popular but the whole culture around it is gone.

*flailing in circles does not count.
posted by fshgrl at 12:25 PM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


> Western music is what cowboys sang. Like Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.

Just listening to SotP, still had the page open. Empty Saddles in the Old Corral

Empty Saddles isn't a Hank Williams song but he must have done a cover at some point. On camera too, because somewhere out there is a three-way split screen video of Hank the first (in black and white), Hank Jr., and Hank III singing Empty Saddles together. Wonderfully well. I've been watching the video sites for this to crop up for as long as there have been video sites. Not yet.
posted by jfuller at 12:25 PM on August 25, 2014


Bob Dylan is pretty old, but I'm pretty sure we know him.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:27 PM on August 25, 2014


I like modern country as well as alt country and pop. Well not all of it, but sometimes something like, say the Zac Brown Band or Brad Paisley or Miranda Lambert or even Hootie's recent efforts are very very enjoyable summer beer drinkin' bbq music. It's not tasteful or complicated, and sometimes that's what you need. Well maybe just me, cuz I'm not morally superior to nobody. I'm sorry I like it, but on the other hand, I'm not sorry. Good luck with your fancy thread.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:30 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not difficult -- Western music is what cowboys sang

So, take a song like Ghost Riders in the Sky : when done by Stan Jones, in 1948 it is obviously a western.

But what about the cover by The Outlaws ?

Is it still a Western, or is it rock, or is it country ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:33 PM on August 25, 2014


> No one dances*

My impression of the bluegrass festivals I've gone to is that everyone who attends can play, and very well too. So they all group up into bands real or impromptu and sit around in lawn chairs amongst the vans and ice chests in the car park, playing bluegrass like mad, with and for one another. Do bluegrass festivals even have a stage?
posted by jfuller at 12:33 PM on August 25, 2014


Well maybe just me, cuz I'm not morally superior to nobody.

What's morality got to do with taste, Potomac Avenue? Aesthetics and ethics are separate fields for a reason. Bad taste never hurt anybody, as far as I know. We're all free to be as tacky as we like without feeling guilty about it for one second in my book, even though people's tastes can get them eviscerated on the internet way faster than you'd expect, considering the low stakes.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:38 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


so this is kind of like classic rock vs new wave except it's 30 years later and it's country music?

we need stations that play both kinds of music - country and best western
posted by pyramid termite at 12:50 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't remember how I came to know him (maybe through the Cowboy Junkies ?) but discovering Townes van Zandt really changed my appreciation of country music.
posted by nicolin at 12:53 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Please please please people. If y'all take nothing away from this thread but one thing, let it be "I have to hear the new Sturgill Simpson record."

The first song is about the cosmological implications of hallucinogenic insight. The second song is about beer, I think. The third song is a love song. The fourth song is a cover, about trucking. The fifth song is a humorous deflating of existential angst that includes the carve-it-on-my-tombstone-worthy line "ain't no point in gettin' out of bed if you ain't livin' the dream" which is, I think, the single greatest observation I've ever heard made over the wail of a pedal steel guitar.

(I may have the song order messed up, I'm on my phone w/out the album to consult.)

Sturgill Simpson, "Metamodern Sounds In Country Music". Buy it. Love it. Live it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:05 PM on August 25, 2014 [10 favorites]


Ctrl-F "Neko"

Boo!
posted by gern at 1:11 PM on August 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


and have other stations that play country oldies or country that at least contains a fiddle or banjo or something "country".

Do you have an A.M. country station within listening distance?

They are almost always old standards or what people think of as "classic" country.

Bonus, you get that scratchy, low-fidelity sound appropriate for Waylon and Willie.
posted by madajb at 1:14 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


They could call it Crunge

Because, wherever the confounded bridge is, it's certainly not in Nashville.
posted by The World Famous at 1:18 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Switching it over to A.M.
Searching for a truer sound
Can't recall the call letters
Steel guitar and settle down

Catching an all night station
Somewhere in Louisiana
It sounds like 1963
But for now it sounds like heaven

posted by entropicamericana at 1:19 PM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


I grew up listening to country music and slowly stopped when I realized I could listen to an hour plus of a country station and not hear a woman singer. While country music remains interesting, the country music industry can fuck right off.
posted by FunkyHelix at 1:29 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


If it weren't for traditional country and "alt-country" music, when I decided to start a band and start playing in bars this year, I would have no music to play. My skill level (primitive) and age (53) preclude a stab at most other kinds of music with any degree of credibility. God bless country.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:32 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


If I've learned one thing from this thread, it's that I will now be using the phrase "[x] can fuck right off" quite a bit for a while.
posted by nevercalm at 3:47 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]



"Its all folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing."
-- Louis Armstrong*


--------------------------
* (Or Lead Belly. Or Pete Seeger. Or . . . ?)

posted by Herodios at 4:06 PM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


Ctrl-F "Neko"

Boo!


Some friends and I were trying to decide a while back if Neko Case even counts as any sort of country any more. The best argument for saying she's a country artist is, well, if she wasn't a country artist, what would you classify her as? But the stuff she does nowadays is very far away from her early works, which were a lot more obviously influenced by classic country.

It probably doesn't help that my friends and I have a spectacularly poor idea of what country music actually is, besides Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn on the one hand, and bro-country on the other.
posted by chrominance at 4:22 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't know if and where his stuff fits in on the authentic-country spectrum, but I recently found myself listening to Canadian Corb Lund and quite enjoying it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:24 PM on August 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


Western music is what cowboys sang . . .

cowboy music (of the singing cowboy film star variety) was definitely "Western" but then so was something like Tex Williams--who never tried to suggest he was out there ropin' steers or driftin' along with the tumblin' tumbleweeds . . .
I'm an old cowhand from the Rio Grande
And I come to town just to hear the band
I know all the songs that the cowboys know
'Bout the big corral where the dogies go
Cause I lerned 'em all off the radio!
Yippie-i-o-ki-ay! Yippie-i-o-ki-ay!

Bing Crosby (original)
Roy Rogers
Dan Hicks Hot Licks
Sonny Rollins
 
posted by Herodios at 4:29 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


George Strait is still country, right? Please tell me yes or I will be quite disappointed. :::coming from the woman whose Pandora is permanently set to Clarence Carter Radio:::
posted by sara is disenchanted at 4:36 PM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


The best part about Pandora is that you can tell it to only play you good country. I probably spent five hours today listening to Neko Case and Nikki Lane and all sorts of related music that will never get played on a "country" station but is more real than the latest bro single.

As someone who grew up going to ceilis I find modern bluegrass festivals bewildering. No one dances* which is 89% of the point. You do have your ballads and so forth at ceilies too but most of it is dance music. And set dance music at that, which is very social. Going to something like Hardly Strictly is like going to a rave where everyone just watches the DJ then politely applauds. The music might be staying popular but the whole culture around it is gone.

Some of my earliest memories are of bluegrass concerts/festivals in the early/mid 70s. The jam band connection was alive and well then, and it was kind of the alternative music of the time (for a very poor mapping of those terms). I remember people doing the same kind of arm-waving wiggle you saw at Dead shows, fueled by the thick clouds of pot smoke in the rented church basement, but not more coordinated dancing like you see at a contra dance.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:57 PM on August 25, 2014


I don't know if and where his stuff fits in on the authentic-country spectrum, but I recently found myself listening to Canadian Corb Lund and quite enjoying it.

I prefer his old band.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:09 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]




George Strait is still country, right? Please tell me yes or I will be quite disappointed.

Yeah, but...

"The King of Country, Mr. George Strait, is currently on the final leg of his farewell tour, "The Cowboy Rides Away," a 47-date odyssey that finishes, fittingly enough, in Texas on June 7."
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:25 PM on August 25, 2014


This debate goes back to Vernon Fucking Dalhart and Fiddling John Fucking Carson. It is as tiresome as ever. There is no such thing as authentic music. Country has always been urban popular music created to appeal to nostalgic fantasies of the rural past (which is now updated to 1970s suburbia). There has always been bad country music as well as good. There is nothing new about any fusion. Jimmie Rodgers was called out for sounding too black in the late 20s. Hank W and Bob Wills likewise in the 40s.

Snore. Back to my Merle Haggard records I go. He is still recording and touring, so ask me if I give a fuck about Blake Swift.
posted by spitbull at 8:27 PM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


One of the few bands of the recent era in this genre I quite enjoy that seems a bit more in line with country music of a more classic nature is Blanche. Often classified as 'alt country,' the band was formed by Dan "Goober" Miller, of the 90's good-time cowpunk band Goober and the Peas and his wife Tracee Mae. Dan Miller also played Luther Perkins, Johnny Cash's guitarist in the film Walk the Line. After a brief project called Two-Star Tabernacle with Jack White (who was once the drummer for Goober and the Peas years before and still frequently work/play together) broke up, Jack White went on the form the White Stripes, and Dan and Tracee Mae formed Blanche.

Here's a few tracks from their "If We Can't Trust the Doctors" album:
Garbage Picker
Jack on Fire
Do You Trust Me?

And the great hidden track from that album that I can't recommend enough is a sort of 1930s-40s era country gospel interpretation of Van Halen's Runnin' With the Devil.

If you click only one link in this comment, make it this last one.
posted by chambers at 8:29 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Because, wherever the confounded bridge is, it's certainly not in Nashville.

I lived there briefly. It's a neat town, but oh god is it full of itself. Pizza joints in Nashvegas have valet parking, as do chain restaurants.

There are still pockets where great music happens, but as an establishment it's all hair dye and tooth veneers. Some of it almost feels like a museum about itself.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:43 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's weird how much really great country music comes out of the whole indie folk scene but doesn't call itself country. I mean, come on, this First Aid Kit track has not only crossed completely over into country but it's one of the better country songs I've heard in years. And it's still, ostensibly, "indie folk" or, at a stretch, "Americana" or "country-influenced". Same goes for a dozen other modern "folk" bands - too cool to be country, I guess, but they're kicking ass at it.

Though I suppose being classified as something other than country opens up the ability to get away with a verse like the one at roughly 1:10 here without being completely disowned by the entire country scene, so there's that.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:22 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Country" and "rock" were really useful labels to slap on radio stations back when that was how people listened to music a lot of the time. And "country" at the time meant "in the mainstream of playlists on radio stations that self-identified as country. And things like "bluegrass" meant "we won't usually play it, but we will on something we call the 'bluegrass hour' on Tuesdays."

So fitting the mold of "country" made a huge, huge, economic difference to an artist in say, 1975. If you were "Americana" vs "country" it meant "keep a day job." It still does matter economically now, since the industry is is still built according to lingering vestiges of their golden (dollar-wise) age of vinyl. But less so. And the more people consume from Pandora, Spotify or Youtube, or whatever it is you cool kids use now (what is that, BTW?) the less these genre labels mean in a prescriptive sense, meaning the less that genre label determines the audience.

And good riddance.
posted by tyllwin at 9:44 PM on August 25, 2014


Seconding Corb Lund... But I like to listen to a little modern country from time to time.
posted by drezdn at 8:44 AM on August 26, 2014


Sometimes I hear one of these dance pop songs from a country artist. I find them completely bewildering. It suggests that genre can have more to do with identity than with any kind of sonic or musical quality.

When people call Against Me! and their Springsteen-esque arena rock 'punk' then yes, genre is assuredly about identity and belonging rather than the music.

Oddly, metal seems resistant to this - there are many bands that used to be metal and now make very different music, but are no longer considered metal bands, unlike for most other genres (rock, country, punk, etc.)
posted by Dysk at 2:42 AM on August 27, 2014


So, thanks, thread, for introducing me to The Secret Sisters.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:40 AM on August 27, 2014


discovering Townes van Zandt really changed my appreciation of country

townes van zandt seems kind of folk :P (same with emmylou harris & steve earle!)
posted by kliuless at 8:32 PM on September 1, 2014


There was a significant country split many decades ago. Willie Nelson and friends (I call them the Texas contingent) thought radio country was losing its way and started "outlaw country".

All Roads Lead to Willie Nelson: Rolling Stone's Definitive Profile of the Country Icon - "Willie Nelson and his friends open up about his life and career at home in Luck, Texas."
The hippie and redneck worlds famously converged at 1972's Dripping Springs Reunion, country music's Woodstock moment. The bill combined new acts such as Walker, Waylon Jennings and Kristofferson with vets like Bill Monroe and Ernest Tubb. Drawing only 18,000 people over three days, it was a financial disaster, but Nelson used the same location the next year to stage the similar Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic. It drew 40,000, establishing him as the pre-eminent leader of a new, slightly dangerous music scene. "Backstage it was pot, whiskey, pills and some cocaine," Jennings said. "The audience was as twisted as we were: all day and all night drinking hot beer."

"The French have a good word: laissez faire," says Jimmy Buffett, who played his first of many picnics in 1974. "Anything went. There was nothing like those first ones. There were a lot of hot-looking college girls – I always liked that crowd better than the bikers."

In the early Seventies, Jerry Wexler signed Nelson to Atlantic, finally allowing Nelson to use his own band in the studio rather than Nashville session players. It kicked off an incredible run, including 1974's Phases and Stages, a concept record covering both the male and female sides of a failed marriage. Nelson had recently divorced his second wife, Shirley, after she had opened a hospital bill for a child Nelson had conceived with his future wife, Connie. ("I was going through a lot of shit," Nelson says.)

In 1975, he recorded a set of songs centered on the old murder ballad "Red Headed Stranger," the story of a preacher on the run after killing his wife and her lover. Between the album's spare, subtle instrumentation – much of the disc is just Nelson and Bobbie playing – and the Old West-style portrait on the cover, it felt like Nelson was stepping into the boots of a John Ford character. Nelson knew that it would be a hard sell to his new label, Columbia, so his manager brought Jennings into a meeting; when one exec said the album sounded like a demo and suggested sweetening it with some Nashville strings, Jennings called him a "tone-deaf, tin-eared son of a bitch." The label relented, and Red Headed Stranger went double platinum.

Suddenly, Nelson and his friends ruled the radio with songs like "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," and his Jennings duet "Good Hearted Woman," from 1976's Wanted! The Outlaws. On some level, Nelson knew that he was playing a part. "All of a sudden, we were outlaws," says Nelson. "I thought it was the funniest thing in the world. And I tried not to disappoint 'em!"

"I remember in Corpus Christi one night when everybody in the band had eaten some mushrooms," says Raphael, describing a gig in the mid-Seventies. "I said, 'I can't wait till Willie gets here – there will be some semblance of normalcy.' And he shows up, and he'd taken some acid, tripping his ass off. And he says, 'I hope you guys can hold it together.'"
posted by kliuless at 3:28 PM on September 9, 2014


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