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"Joy is the antithesis of sneering cynicism . . . I’ve come to love country in part because it’s such a potent vessel for expressing joy."
January 26, 2011 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Nashville or Bust is a project where the Onion A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin (previously), who has predominantly listened to hip-hop in the past, spent a year listening to country music. The series proper (apart from a planned road trip in February) ended yesterday with a thoughtful essay about Charley Pride. Along the way the author wrote about Johnny Cash's "Christianity . . . of the deeply spiritual, non-commercial, almost creepily intimate variety," discovered that Willie Nelson "is the coolest motherfucker on the planet," had a hard time imagining Merle Haggard living on a houseboat, decided Garth Brooks is not history's greatest monster, and found the Dixie Chicks to be "way more badass than Toby Keith."
posted by ND¢ (96 comments total) 89 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, the Dixie Chicks are pretty awesome. And Taking The Long Way is a brilliant album. It saddens me to think it may be the last time they record under that name.
posted by hippybear at 7:54 PM on January 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


The quote in the title is from the essay on the Avett Brothers.
posted by ND¢ at 7:54 PM on January 26, 2011


What, you can make money writing about this stuff?
posted by rhizome at 7:55 PM on January 26, 2011


He got me to check out Bob Wills, and for that I owe him a lot. Ahhhh-ha.
posted by COBRA! at 7:57 PM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


No idea why Johnny Cash's Christianity is "so intimate it's creepy."
posted by KokuRyu at 8:01 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really need to get into these annual AV Club series at the beginning and not when they're finished with. This is not the first one that I've seen on the blue and thought "I should read that but I'll have a hell of a time getting 52 weeks' worth of reading on one topic done any time soon".
posted by immlass at 8:04 PM on January 26, 2011


Now we need a story about a country music fan who listens to rap for a year.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:05 PM on January 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh man, I'd forgotten about this, thank you. Took him almost 2 years; I can't wait to catch up. Willie Nelson may be a national treasure (and yeah, if Shotgun Willie isn't the best country album of the 70s it's damn sure in the top three - a perfect mix of gentle, complicated, smart, funny, catchy and stoned), but Nathan counts as an internet treasure; he's been fun to read and one of the most interesting and informative internet critics for years now.

In embarking on this project, I am striking a forceful blow against the tyranny of essays written by people who “know what they’re talking about” and “aren’t completely ignorant.” I will be writing not as an expert, but as a passionate amateur.

Who sure learned quick. Thanks, Nathan. Hope you get a book out of it.
posted by mediareport at 8:11 PM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


No idea why Johnny Cash's Christianity is "so intimate it's creepy."

See also: Billy Joe Shaver
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:14 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


No idea why Johnny Cash's Christianity is "so intimate it's creepy."
I find this pretty creepy.

I also find it awesome, but it's creepy nonetheless.
posted by Flunkie at 8:20 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I shuddered when I read this post . . . these things can be embarrassing. But the pieces that I read were quite good, and given the limits involved, he hit a lot of high spots (Townes Van Zandt, Bob Wills, the Louvin Brothers) and didn't dwell too much on what is pretty crappy stuff just called "country" because the performers wear cowboy hats and they include a little twangy guitar in a song's mix for purely semiotic reasons. I never heard authentic country music before coming to America and sure would have appreciated this back when I was learning about Western Swing and Appalachian folk music and west Texas songwriters.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:30 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was listening to Willie's Moment of Forever at the end of a road trip last weekend, hitting the title track on repeat again and again just as I did for Songbird, and -- Jeebus -- the last few years, Willie's been doing some of the greatest work of his considerable career.

And some badges in Texas have a hard-on for putting Willie in jail over some pot. And to think that those guys are willing to deny the world and eternity Willie's greatness for some easy notch on their belt -- Kee-rist.

Fuck those guys. Fucking philistines.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:34 PM on January 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


I’ve come to love country in part because it’s such a potent vessel for expressing joy."

Maybe. But the juiciest stuff has always been about heartbreak, loneliness, misery and despair. Just a sampling...

Lost Highway
Today I Started Loving You Again
Dark as a Dungeon
D.I.V.O.R.C.E.
Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:37 PM on January 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


And of course...

Cold Cold Heart

and

I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, which, IMO, is one of the finest, most achingly beautiful (in its masterful spareness of expression) songs ever written anywhere by anyone, period.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:42 PM on January 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


He writes really well about country, which is hard to do, because he takes it seriously, which is sometimes hard to do. Sad not to see anything about Gram Parsons or Steve Earle in there, though.

He was spot on about Lefty Frizell.
posted by unSane at 8:46 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry may also the single most depressing song ever written. I've had some low points in my life but it's hard to imagine being in a state so bad that you could write those lyrics. It is one of the most beautiful songs written but man, Hank must of been in some serious midnight of the soul to have penned that.

I love this series, I've only caught bits of it over the last year, I'll have to go back and read through them all now.
posted by octothorpe at 8:56 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


You Don't Know Me

As for Garth Brooks, his vocal on his semi-recent single More than a Memory is a ragged, human smackdown to the overly pitch-corrected Swiftian 'country' sound.
posted by grounded at 9:05 PM on January 26, 2011


Sad not to see anything about Gram Parsons or Steve Earle in there, though.


Week 6: Gram Parsons: The International Byrds Burrito Submarine Brothers Flying Band Years
posted by ghharr at 9:08 PM on January 26, 2011


George Jones = punk as fuck

You don't think so? Did YOU ever get a DUI for riding a lawnmower to the liquor store?

Punk. As. Fuck.

And, IMO, the saddest modern country song is He Stopped Loving Her Today.

Listen to that voice. Saws right through your heart. Goddamn, but I love the Possum.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:10 PM on January 26, 2011 [23 favorites]


Is this where I can register my agreement that Willie is national treasure? There is something about his music that really elevates him to The Next Level, like a Jim Henson or a Bill Watterson. I really enjoyed Rabin's thoughtful review of his career.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:13 PM on January 26, 2011


Yeah, you could say that George Jones has, well, the ultimate country voice. He can be a little too much for me with that voice, but, yeah, he has the authority of jin-yoo-wine countrified country in that voice of his.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:17 PM on January 26, 2011


One thing he didn't pick up on about the Dixie Chicks was that as they matured as people they wrote about those ongoing experiences -- songs about leaving home and falling in love turned into songs about marital struggle, infertility, and achingly beautiful lullabies to babies. Most women in country music only get to sing songs about love, break-ups, and gurl power. With the range of topics they take on they remind me a bit of Reba or Dolly, but the songs are less story songs like "Coat of Many Colors" or "Fancy" and more very personal expressions of the deep emotional life of women ... and parts of the emotional life of women that don't very often make it into pop culture. (We need a sort of Bechdel test for music!)

(Also, I thought just being vaguely aware of the fact that there were such things as "Dixie Chicks" and "Toby Keith" would also make one aware that the Dixie Chicks are infinitely more badass than Keith.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:23 PM on January 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


I find this pretty creepy .

I also find it awesome, but it's creepy nonetheless.


If it's the lyrics themselves that seem creepy to you, you should know that that song is old, maybe older than John himself. I can't tell you how many versions of it I've heard over the years. I've got three that I know of in my own library -- John's, the Blind Boys of Alabama's, and Moby's (don't judge, you're judging). Maybe Chanticleer too, I can't recall for certain.

George Jones = punk as fuck

You don't think so? Did YOU ever get a DUI for riding a lawnmower to the liquor store?


Buddy of mine used to work at a barbecue joint in my hometown. A local had a habit every Sunday of getting liquored up and driving his lawnmower through the drive-thru for pulled pork. Theory was that he couldn't get a DUI for a non-street-legal machine. Dude really needed some 'cue.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:50 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


> And, IMO, the saddest modern country song is He Stopped Loving Her Today.

My wife and a friend of hers still bring up the time I "sang" that one during a karaoke get-together a few years ago; to say it harshed their buzz would be an understatement.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:53 PM on January 26, 2011


I should add that I heard "He Stopped Loving Her Today" all the time when I was growing up because my parents listened to a lot of country music. I never really listened to it all that closely, though, and figured it was a song about a long-married couple falling out of love, which, while sad, is stock material for country songs. Then one time I finally gave it a close listening, and...oh. Oh, man.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:58 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a really fantastic version of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" on Andrew Bishop's Hank Williams Project.

And no discussion of country is complete without mentioning the recent work of Dead Raven Choir. Here's "The Trees They Grow So High".
posted by kenko at 10:30 PM on January 26, 2011


And, IMO, the saddest modern country song is He Stopped Loving Her Today.

Jesus Fucking Christ.

OK, story time. My father committed suicide about five years ago. A couple of years after that, I was tasked with being the "father" for the father/daughter dance at my sister's wedding. I don't remember what cheesy crap pop/country song she picked out, but I Swear To God I Had Something In My Eye by the second verse. If she'd picked this song? I'd have been lying on the ground in a fetal position sobbing uncontrollably while my sister was kicking me saying, "WTF?" and everyone else was staring at the floor uncomfortably.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:32 PM on January 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've always thought that Let Him Roll off Guy Clark's first album -- Old No. 1 (1975) -- is a great companion piece to He Stopped Loving Her Today, bookends. If you don't know Guy Clark, I hpe you get a chance to, a spectacular Texas artist.

Let Him Roll -- bad recording off someones vinyl, two songs, Let Him Roll starts at 3:04
posted by dancestoblue at 12:19 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Darius Rucker doesn’t count
posted by dirigibleman at 12:46 AM on January 27, 2011


Lyle Lovett's "Pontiac" IS fantastic, but it's a pity that Rabin didn't make it to the joyous, Gospel-heavy "Church," off the marvelous "Joshua Judges Ruth." Talk about a different take on religion on country music!

Also, no Steve Earle? Just wrong.

Thanks for posting this, ND¢.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:03 AM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


"If you went to college in the mid-’90s, chances are good that you probably spent some time with classmates who thought country was the official music of ignorant, racist hillbillies, yet clung to Johnny Cash’s American Recordings as proof of their open-mindedness. "
This.

I'm enjoying this so far.
posted by Harald74 at 4:11 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


And this: "In the special features for the Mark Romanek’s Directors Label DVD, Bono says Cash was put on Earth to sing “Hurt,” which is exactly the sort of pompous jackassy thing Bono would say."

Heh!
posted by Harald74 at 4:13 AM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the piece on Emmylou Harris: "How could I have gone my entire life without hearing this music? What kind of cosmic motherfuckery could lead to such a grievous oversight?"

Country music is not just for Them.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:14 AM on January 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sigh, I'm never going to get to work if I keep watching Willie videos on YouTube.
posted by octothorpe at 4:55 AM on January 27, 2011


Willie Nelson is a gift to mankind that we will never deserve. I really enjoyed these essays and thought it was obvious how much respect the author brought to exploring the genre and how much effort he put into the essays. I think he read several books about the subject of most of the entries. I would have liked to see him discuss Reba, the Judds, the Bellamy Brothers and especially Don Williams. Basically I would like him to continue writing these forever.
posted by ND¢ at 5:15 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rabin is a good writer and if he gets a book deal out of this, I will pick it up. I bought My Year of Flops and was happy with the abundance of book-only content.
posted by Jorus at 5:36 AM on January 27, 2011


With Brooks, the song always comes before the singer. He’s just a vessel that people can project their own dreams, fantasies, or beliefs onto. Garth is all. Garth is nothing. That is the Zen Of Garth.

I don't care what anyone says, Garth was able to write some pretty killer songs.
Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old
Friends In Low Places

OK, so mainly just those two songs, but they are excellent.
posted by NoMich at 5:43 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


My guide into Brooks’ world is a fawning biography by veteran music writer Patsi Bale Cox called The Garth Factor: The Career Behind Country’s Big Boom. It provides an inside account of Brooks’ career, in the sense that it was written with the author’s head deep inside Garth Brooks’ ass.

heh. I like Garth Brooks, but that's a great line.
posted by misha at 7:01 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Inspiring. That series is a prototype for jus about everything I can think of - walking a mile in someone else's moccasins. He should contemporary Christian music next. And then may e theoretical macroeconomics and DSGE modeling (two things that can't have any value right? Ugh.)
posted by scunning at 7:07 AM on January 27, 2011


Willie's a national treasure. I"ve probably gone through ten copies of Willie and Family Live - literally wore the grooves out when it was vinyl. Stardust is a criminally unknown album. It goes on and on; Willie is a wordsmith with few equals.

The Austin/outlaw country area is an incredible fount of poetry and music: Willie, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Lefty Frizzell, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, James McMurtry, Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams... Must be something in the water (or the weed).
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:27 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Last year I started getting into outlaw country and ol' Hank via my newfound love for (sadly broken-up) Uncle Tupelo. While I had already been into Johnny Cash, that was about it for country and me, save for Ween's "12 Golden Country Greats".

Now, Waylon, Willie and Hank Sr. are always on my iPod. American legends, all of them. I can listen to Willie all the time. Shotgun Willie, Phases & Changes, The Red Haired Stranger and Stardust---all classics!
posted by unwordy at 7:53 AM on January 27, 2011


Glad he mentioned Lee Hazlewood and kd lang.

"Nashville or Bust" shouldn't really be the title of this, because a good number of the musical legends that he lionizes are people who made their names giving the big middle finger to the Nashville music industry and everything it represents -- or to whom Nashville gave the big kick in the pants because their sound or style didn't fit.

As the climax of my musical journey, I plan to end the year with a pilgrimage South to visit the Country Music Hall Of Fame, Dollywood, The Grand Ole Opry, and other sites important to country music. Hopefully by the time I take a train to the heart of Dixie, those places will be rich with significance for me.

If you want to visit sites important to country music tourists, sure. Another good idea would be to visit some of the bars and music venues in Nashville (and not in Nashville) that don't get in the travel guides or get touted as you land at the Nashville International Airport. Nashville markets the latest pop/country/rock stuff, and pushes it hard. That's not what these musicians were really after, though most of them surely have recorded or do record it or versions of it. The Grand Ole Opry is worth a visit, but it's just the beginning. I look forward to reading about his trip here next month.

Also, Charlie Louvin passed yesterday. Might as well mention it here. The linked post gives an idea of how deep his influence runs.
posted by blucevalo at 7:54 AM on January 27, 2011


With that impossible quest having reached an unmistakable end, Pride embarked on an even more quixotic endeavor: becoming the world’s first, and to date, only, black country superstar—Darius Rucker doesn’t count...

Uh, why doesn't he count?
posted by elsietheeel at 7:55 AM on January 27, 2011


my newfound love for (sadly broken-up) Uncle Tupelo

Honestly, I think Uncle Tupelo broke up at exactly the right time. Anodyne is fucking perfect. I don't know how they could have topped it, and there's a lot to be said for going out on top.

Plus, the resulting fork into two new bands gave us some obscene riches for a while, as Tweedy and Farrar duke it out over the legacy. Jay Farrar's guitar skills blow me away on the Uncle Tupelo albums, but then he goes out and finds a guy who's even better to tear it up with Son Volt. And somehow Trace winds up being nearly as perfect as Anodyne. Wilco's first album's just so-so, but Being There is kind of a London Calling-type response to Tweedy's career up to that point. And Wilco's had a hell of a hot run for a while after Being There.

Son Volt and Wilco both petered out (my votes for the downfall would be Wide Swing Tremolo and A Ghost Is Born, but of course that's subjective), but it was great to see each of them flower before fading. And this way we never had to suffer or excuse an Uncle Tupelo version of Okemah and the Melody of Riot or Wilco: The Album.
posted by COBRA! at 8:05 AM on January 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Great thread here... gotta spend me some time checking out all the tasty links. And I've never really been into country, although I do agree that Willie Nelson is ubercool. My ears need educatin'.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:07 AM on January 27, 2011


I love Garth Brooks!

"papa loved mama" is one of my favorite songs ever for the great energy and drama.

"Callin' Baton Rouge" is great too, so happy and amped up like new love.

"Two Pina Coladas" is one of my favorite sing along breakup songs.

"Standing Outside the Fire" makes me cry every time. The video doesn't help.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:18 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, which, IMO, is one of the finest, most achingly beautiful (in its masterful spareness of expression) songs ever written anywhere by anyone, period.

Yep. Jimmie Dale Gilmore introduced this song in concert by describing Hank Williams as "the greatest white man who ever lived." With a lot of older country songs, almost everything rides on the lyrics because the arrangements are so spare. Simple words, simple rhymes -- like Hank Williams' "You Win Again:"
The news is out,
all over town
that you've been seen,
out runnin' round.
I know that I
should leave, but then
I just can't go,
You win again.


Other country songs whose lyrics just get me:
'Til a Tear Becomes a Rose, Bill and Sharon Rice
Feel Like Going Home, Charlie Rich
There Stands the Glass, Webb Pierce

I think of goofy country songs (that I also love) as leavening that had to be there so that country radio audiences could make it from one gut-wrencher to the next. Songs like My Wife Thinks You're Dead, by Junior Brown.
posted by Killick at 8:35 AM on January 27, 2011


I just have to put a plug in for No Depression, where a lot of the country artists who don't get played on country radio get their due.
posted by tommasz at 8:42 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Townes Van Zandt is so amazing that I named my equally amazing cat after him. Seriously though, oh man.
posted by eunoia at 8:43 AM on January 27, 2011


Jolie Holland and Iris Dement, is all I came here to say.

Wicked talent, and accents I wish I could, shit, I don't know, bathe in.
posted by everichon at 8:44 AM on January 27, 2011


Darius Rucker doesn’t count...

Uh, why doesn't he count?


If I were the one saying Darius Rucker doesn't count, I'd be saying that because he became a superstar entirely outside of country. Well, maybe not entirely, but like 99%.

But I'm not the one saying Darius Rucker doesn't count.
posted by kingbenny at 9:00 AM on January 27, 2011


Oh, hell: Ray Wylie Hubbard. He's probably best known for "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother", but his recent stuff is much more interesting:

"Snake Farm"

"Wanna Rock and Roll"

His version of "This Morning I Am Born Again" (Amazon, track 6) is spooky, joyous and righteous--backed by a midnight choir of excellent voices--and well worth seeking out. "Roll and I Tumble" and "Whoop and Hollar" have made it on to more than one mix.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:14 AM on January 27, 2011


blucevalo: "Glad he mentioned Lee Hazlewood and kd lang."Nashville or Bust" shouldn't really be the title of this, because a good number of the musical legends that he lionizes are people who made their names giving the big middle finger to the Nashville music industry and everything it represents -- or to whom Nashville gave the big kick in the pants because their sound or style didn't fit.

I couldn't agree more.

I'd also like to add:
Chris Knight
Deryl Dodd
The Warren Brothers

posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:16 AM on January 27, 2011


Sorry.. Closing the italics here...
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:17 AM on January 27, 2011


If I were the one saying Darius Rucker doesn't count, I'd be saying that because he became a superstar entirely outside of country.

Yeah I have a lot of affection for Darius Rucker because he is from my home state and I generally like his voice and think his music is okay, though not something I would go out of my way to listen to. I would have to say that he "doesn't count" as an African-American country star the same way Charley Pride does because he gained fame and fortune as a "rock" musician and then was able to translate that into a record deal with Capitol Records Nashville and into hiring prominent and seasoned producers and songwriters and became a bestselling country artist as a result of that in addition to his talent and smarts and determination and what have you. Charley Pride is country through and through, while Darius Rucker is more someone performing country music at the moment.
posted by ND¢ at 9:23 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


My wife likes country music, taught me how to line dance, took me to teach kids in a juvenile detention center how to line dance (which was a lot of fun for everyone - some tough kids are better dancers than they'd like to admit), and got me to realize country music wasn't the musical equivalence of a Thomas Kinkade gallery.

The sad songs listed above are great, and I'll add a few: Whiskey Lullaby is on the current pop side of country music, but it'll catch me if I listen to it at all. And for some reason, my wife likes to slow dance to Like We Never Loved At All, which makes the song even sadder.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:30 AM on January 27, 2011


This is an awesome post about an awesome project.

I've been trying to get back into country again, beyond my old stand-bys Willie, Johnnie, Hank I/II/III, Steve Earle, and a couple others. I grew up with one side of my family being huge fans of 70's/80's/90's country, and I abandoned almost all of it as something I was far too cool for when I also switched to a diet high in hip-hop.

A couple people have mentioned a several great Garth Brook's tunes that everyone should make themselves familiar with. I submit one more: The Thunder Rolls.
posted by rollbiz at 9:32 AM on January 27, 2011


Here's a shoutout for some newer talent.

Proving that Austin still attracts the talent: Reckless Kelly (doing a Richard Thompson cover here).
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:47 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


From '89-94, I had an "almost full time" (36 hours/week) job first as the "board op" and then eventually my own show doing the announcing, playing records at a 100kW country radio station in small-town Oklahoma. (Literally, records at first - I was SO HAPPY when we got rid of the vinyl and moved to all-CDs).

As much as I love Garth and George and Willie, and admire some of the EXTREMELY talented musicians (some of whom could wipe the floor with proficient "metal" players) in the genre, I can say that a country station is the absolute worst place to work when you've just broken up with a girlfriend.
posted by mrbill at 10:29 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and two more words that anyone that is the least bit interested in country music: Dwight. Yoakam.
posted by NoMich at 11:14 AM on January 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I frequent a Huddle House with an internet jukebox, and every time someone selects "I Love This Bar" or "This Ain't No Rag It's a Flag" I turn into a ball of hate, twisting and writhing, a black spheroid of fury bubbling in the seat. Songs like that have me a determined un-fan of country music. White men emitting cloying guitar chords while singing about the virtues of conservatism and testosterone is really unappealing for me.

These essays show me better than anything else I've seen that there might be something of value there to seek out.
posted by JHarris at 11:17 AM on January 27, 2011


NoMIch -thank you so much - i got through the thread and was like - don't forget DWIGHT FUCKING YOAKAM.

i grew up on country music. i was country when country wasn't cool. as i grew more liberal i had to give up some of my old standbys. as much as i love the fiddlin' and the energy, charlie daniels is a hateful motherfucker. but i also had some anger at the "johnny cash's american recordings!" as if johnny cash needed a rock and rap producer to make him awesome (love rick rubin, don't get me wrong). that man was bad ass on orange blossom special, decades before he covered NIN.
posted by nadawi at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


White men emitting cloying guitar chords while singing about the virtues of conservatism and testosterone is really unappealing for me.

Yeah, one could easily be forgiven these days for not appreciating the fact that the vast majority of the old traditional roots country and folk artists--like Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Willie Nelson, George Jones, etc.--were almost all pro-labor leftist activists. Hell, Guthrie was a card-carrying member of the IWW.

Basically, all our greatest country artists were exactly the kind of liberal scum that good, upstanding Americans like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would like to see shot in the head.

It's mind boggling how much contemporary country music culture has not only forgotten but turned actively hostile to its roots in the US labor protest and folk movements. And it seemed to happen so quickly.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:40 AM on January 27, 2011 [19 favorites]


i grew up on country music. i was country when country wasn't cool. as i grew more liberal i had to give up some of my old standbys. as much as i love the fiddlin' and the energy, charlie daniels is a hateful motherfucker.

Me too. I was surprised as hell when I learned later how many of those old country stars were actually active political leftists--particularly on labor issues. I had always assumed that their political values were the same as my grandparents, who were die-hard Republicans.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:48 AM on January 27, 2011


I love me some Dwight Yoakum, but there'd be no Dwight without the Father of the Bakersfield Sound, Buck Owens.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:50 AM on January 27, 2011


saulgoodman - well, willie nelson and george jones were called outlaws for a reason. they were for a time there the alternative to the standard country fare. in every era of country music you can see that the outcasts of the time before are now the beloved saints. in current country the more liberal side has been banished to "alt. country" but there's a lot of good stuff there.

a lot of the nashville machine is hooked up to the religious conservative right - but that's not even close to the whole of contemporary country music.
posted by nadawi at 11:51 AM on January 27, 2011


bitteroldpunk - a no one knows that more than dwight himself. :)
posted by nadawi at 11:51 AM on January 27, 2011


Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Willie Nelson, George Jones, etc.--were almost all pro-labor leftist activists.

Heck, Willie campaigned for Jesse Jackson for president.
posted by octothorpe at 11:55 AM on January 27, 2011


a lot of the nashville machine is hooked up to the religious conservative right - but that's not even close to the whole of contemporary country music

Oh sure--but so much of the contemporary stuff seems to be auto-tuned and post-produced to death now. I'll admit, I don't know enough about the contemporary country scene to know about the exceptions (Steve Earle springs to mind as one), but the contemporary mainstream stuff IMO seems to have discarded many if not all of the qualities I most admire in the older honky tonk and folk/blues stuff. Not just in terms of the content and/or politics, but in terms of production values, etc.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:04 PM on January 27, 2011


To see just how badass the dixie chicks are, please check out Shut Up & Sing. Especially the last scene, where they go back to same venue of their 'embarrased' comment 1 year later.
posted by signal at 12:13 PM on January 27, 2011


This is as good a place as any to post the best song yet written about the Iraq War, by former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell. Not a sweeping condemnation, not overtly political, not a rallying cry. Just a song about a single soldier who'll never come home. Warning: this WILL make you cry.

Dress Blues

(The line "drinkin' sweet tea from Styrofoam cups" is so, so perfectly spot-on, just the right kind of observational detail, that it makes me blubber every single time.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:20 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Townes Van Zandt is so amazing

QFT.

I was too young to know his music when he was in his prime, and when I first heard about Townes, I kind of dismissed it as one of those cases of a guy's work being over-celebrated because his life was such a tragic, self-destructive mess. But then I gave some of the songs a better listen. And good christ this guy was a writer.

As Steve Earle puts it in the excellent quote that opens the linked take on him, "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”

Here's the one I've had on heavy rotation the last few months, "Lungs":
Seal the river at its mouth
Take the water prisoner
Fill the sky with screams and cries
Bathe in fiery answers
And as a bonus, here's Steve Earle doing it.
posted by gompa at 12:29 PM on January 27, 2011


Since so many worthy names are being dropped...

I cannot recommend Ill Lit enough. I Need You and Tom Cruise are works of beautiful, melancholy poetry that lift the soul and break the heart. A few songs are totally danceable, too.

Preston rules
posted by byanyothername at 12:29 PM on January 27, 2011


if you only listen to the radio then every genre of music is shitty right now. country is no exception. i mean - how taylor swift is supposed to by a country act and not a pop act is beyond me.

some people to get acquainted with (and to preempt the naysayers - yes, i know i've mixed country, roots, folk, americana, and bluegrass) - avett brothers, be good tanyas, old crow medicine show, slobberbone (bonus slobberbone), tres chicas...

there's a lot of good music out there - very little of it in any genre is what you're told to like by clear channel.
posted by nadawi at 12:31 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's mind boggling how much contemporary country music culture has not only forgotten but turned actively hostile to its roots in the US labor protest and folk movements. And it seemed to happen so quickly.

As Rabin mentions in his opening essay, "hip-hop and country . . . have historically been the voice of the black and white underclass, respectively." What happened to the politics of country music is the same tragic thing that happened to the white underclass's politics as a whole: rich people convinced us to vote against our interests by pandering to our religion, our nationalism, our fear of the loss of our culture and identity, and our racism. What's fucked up about country music is what's fucked up about America.
posted by ND¢ at 12:45 PM on January 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


I really wanted to tack links onto my Ill Lit recommendation above, but the songs on YouTube--Los Angeles and Mostly Fair Skies--while not bad, aren't really representative.

There's some other Daniel Ahearn stuff there, though, that works better for what I want. I love his almost Robyn Hitchcockean ability to write these bittersweet ballads built around bad puns.

Hope

Down for the Count

Rumors

Spending Midnights


San Vicente


Takes All Kinds


Dues (Ronee Blakely cover)

Bonus! CMG & We Are the Night (feat. Daniel Ahearn on lead baby lap bobbing) - Sweet Shoes
posted by byanyothername at 12:52 PM on January 27, 2011


What's fucked up about country music is what's fucked up about America.

Having had the catastrophic misfortune of once being stuck in a cab where "Watching You" by Rodney Atkins was playing too loud on the stereo, thus to ensure I didn't miss a single detail of the opening scene in which our all-American hero drives around stuffing his kid full of McNuggets, with the hunk-a-junk plastic toy being withheld as reward, and then somehow thinks the kid saying "shit" when he spills his orange pop is the problem with this scenario, and then having later learned that this awful overproduced Eagles-lite twang-pop slice-of-branded-exurban-consumer-life monstrosity was the No. 1 Billboard country song of 2007 - having endured this horror, I am inclined to agree with you. It was like being serenaded by David Brooks channeling a Glenn Beck rant.

(The song is too terrible to link to in good conscience. The lyrics are here, in case you think I exaggerate.)
posted by gompa at 1:03 PM on January 27, 2011


My employer threw a party a few weeks ago at which Willie Nelson did a surprise benefit concert. I can attest to the fact that Willie has a good sense of humor.
posted by bendy at 1:10 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


As i grew more liberal i had to give up some of my old standbys. as much as i love the fiddlin' and the energy, charlie daniels is a hateful motherfucker

The weird part is that quite a few of his early songs are essentially about being a dope-smoking hippie.
I wonder what happened.
posted by madajb at 1:43 PM on January 27, 2011


I jes' wanted to say that the quality of critical writing in the Onion AV Club has been in decline in the last few years, but Nathan Rabin has been the exception. For someone who doesn't claim to be an expert, he brings real insight into his work. I loved his recent Porter Wagoner essay.
posted by ovvl at 1:48 PM on January 27, 2011


From the piece on Emmylou Harris: "How could I have gone my entire life without hearing this music? What kind of cosmic motherfuckery could lead to such a grievous oversight?"

Speaking of Townes Van Zandt.
posted by madajb at 1:49 PM on January 27, 2011


madajb - he got "saved". he rerecorded some of his old songs to remove cursing and reference to drugs. uneasy rider got reimagined into a song about beating the gays. but there's really not a non-awful era of charlie daniels - on the same album as long haired country boy you have the south's gonna do it again. i am deeply conflicted over his catalog. there a lot to love - i probably sing something by him at least once a week (drinking my baby goodbye is a later era daniels song that i love).
posted by nadawi at 1:53 PM on January 27, 2011


The weird part is that quite a few of his early songs are essentially about being a dope-smoking hippie.
I wonder what happened.


Well, he did get a whole lot of popular mileage out of that song he wrote about making a pact with the devil.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:55 PM on January 27, 2011


I just noticed this from Rabin in the comment section of the last article responding to a compliment on the series:
Nathan Rabin

26 Jan. 2011 | 2:42 AM CST

Thanks, it was an enormous amount of work, and was never particularly well-read or commented upon but I'm proud of the work I've done and am happy to have been able to experience all this wonderful music and all these great stories myself and share them with an informed and passionate readership.
posted by ND¢ at 1:58 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


but the contemporary mainstream stuff IMO seems to have discarded many if not all of the qualities I most admire in the older honky tonk and folk/blues stuff. Not just in terms of the content and/or politics, but in terms of production values, etc.

One of the criteria I've always had for something to qualify as "real country" is that the singer carries the song, if that makes any sense.

These days, a lot of songs played on country radio are essentially interchangeable, since the music is pushed so far forward, you can't really tell one singer from another.
posted by madajb at 2:02 PM on January 27, 2011


uneasy rider got reimagined into a song about beating the gays
What the hell.

you have the south's gonna do it again. i am deeply conflicted over his catalog. there a lot to love

I always viewed "The South's gonna do it" as sort of a proto-Southern Rock kind of song.
posted by madajb at 2:18 PM on January 27, 2011


A few things about Charlie Daniels:

When I was in college (78 -82) I was the stage manager for all the universities concert venues. We had a 3000 seat auditorium, a 9000 seat arena, and a football stadium. I was fortunate to work with a lot of talented people, including Charlie Daniels.

The first thing I noticed when we met is the dude is huge. My father was 6-8, 270 and I'm 6-4 so I'm not usually quick to notice big guys. Charlie was bear-sized. And his hat was about ten feet across. When I shook hands with him, I noticed he's missing half a finger on his right hand, and he had honest-to-God ranch-working hands. Rough and calloused and huge - I had heard stories that he still worked his ranch and they were obviously true. He was very polite and friendly.

The second thing I noticed was he and his entourage were a bit weird, to say the least. All his road crew and bodyguards (he had about 8 guys that just physically ran interference for him) were all Vietnam vets - big special-forces types. From load-in to load out they were in constant communication on walkie talkies, running the operation like a military operation. I'm talking physically surrounding Charlie when he walked from the hotel to the limo and from the limo to the venue. His "manager" (the main bodyguard guy) said that they lived in constant fear of the crazies who were against Charlie's pro-America stances, and that any of them would take a bullet for him. The whole thing was so tense and strange it wasn't a very enjoyable show. I haven't followed his career at all since that day.

The other thing about CD that not a lot of people know is he was a pretty successful Nashville studio sideman for a while - he plays on every song but on Bob Dylan's "Nashville City Skyline", for example.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:26 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


...he plays on every song but one on ...
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:37 PM on January 27, 2011


Lyle Lovett's double album "Step Inside This House" consists of covers of those Texas singer-songwriters. Here it is on Grooveshark. Kinda long, so I'd recommend as highlights Guy Clark's "Step Inside This House," Vince Bell's "I've Had Enough," Townes Van Zandt's "Flyin' Shoes," and Walter Hyatt's "Babes in the Woods." Lovett's a great songwriter in his own right, of course, with stuff like "I've Been to Memphis" and "L.A. County."

Thanks, great post & thread.
posted by ibmcginty at 2:47 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't know for how much longer, but WFMU's playing a bunch of Louvin Brothers right now.
posted by mediareport at 4:10 PM on January 27, 2011


Yeah, I've been following this column for the past few years, and it is excellent. It's also turned me on to a lot of artists, like the Avett Bros. and Lefty Frizzel, and has inspired me to get back into artists I grew up with like Nelson and Hank Williams. Nathan Rabin is the stuff.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:44 PM on January 27, 2011


Loving this thread. I hate what "Country Music (TM)" has come to mean in the last twenty years and it's refreshing to know that there are a few of us left that know that there's more to it than f-ing Toby Keith.
posted by octothorpe at 6:42 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


ibmcginty: "Lyle Lovett's double album "Step Inside This House" consists of covers of those Texas singer-songwriters. Here it is on Grooveshark. Kinda long, so I'd recommend as highlights Guy Clark's "Step Inside This House," Vince Bell's "I've Had Enough," Townes Van Zandt's "Flyin' Shoes," and Walter Hyatt's "Babes in the Woods." Lovett's a great songwriter in his own right, of course, with stuff like "I've Been to Memphis" and "L.A. County."

When I try to introduce people to what Austin/Texas music is -- no, not country music, Texas music -- I'll use this Step Inside This House. Willie also. Stevie Ray. Lucinda Williams -- no, she's not from Texas but she sure has soaked in it. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, esp Spinning Around The Sun -- such a fine record, and a great cover of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" on it. Anything by Terry Allen. West Texas Heaven by Kimmie Rhodes, this songbird singing with Townes on I'm Gonna Fly -- one of the last things he ever sang on, you can damn near hear him dying but he's still giving it up to the song -- is one of my all-time favorite songs, chills down my spine, and she sang with Willie and Waylon on that record, and the guest musicians and back-up singers are an all-star line-up. What a record! Jesus Christ!

There is just so much fine music from Texas, so many think Texas sucks and it damn sure can in many ways but damned if the heart of it isn't expressed through its music and damned if that music isn't just fine.

stepping off soapbox...
posted by dancestoblue at 6:50 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


dancestoblue - for what it's worth - that band linked up there, slobberbone, they are a texan band.
posted by nadawi at 7:32 PM on January 27, 2011


gompa: "What's fucked up about country music is what's fucked up about America.

Having had the catastrophic misfortune of once being stuck in a cab where "Watching You" by Rodney Atkins was playing too loud on the stereo, thus to ensure I didn't miss a single detail of the opening scene in which our all-American hero drives around stuffing his kid full of McNuggets, with the hunk-a-junk plastic toy being withheld as reward, and then somehow thinks the kid saying "shit" when he spills his orange pop is the problem with this scenario, and then having later learned that this awful overproduced Eagles-lite twang-pop slice-of-branded-exurban-consumer-life monstrosity was the No. 1 Billboard country song of 2007 - having endured this horror, I am inclined to agree with you. It was like being serenaded by David Brooks channeling a Glenn Beck rant.

(The song is too terrible to link to in good conscience. The lyrics are here, in case you think I exaggerate.)
"

Gompa: This is the one of the worst country songs ever written. Our former manager in my former band used to think this song was the greatest and would turn it up on the bus whenever it came on. I couldn't tell if he was fucking with us or what but I swear to god, I wanted to gouge his eyes out and piss in the sockets for putting us through that. Rodney Atkins' songs are about as subtle as a treble hook colonic.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:33 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've enjoyed this thread. This seems like as good a place as any to mention one of my favorite albums of the past few years. Solomon Burke's Nashville. Crushing interpretations of country classics by the old soul man. I was saddened to learn that he died this past fall.

Here's one of the songs from that album, a duet with Gillian Welch.
posted by kingbenny at 7:30 AM on January 28, 2011


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