Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why Country Music is dying.

Country music has a bad rap among many music buffs. It’s viewed as schlocky, sappy trash bought by misguided southern teens and conservatives. On Facebook, many people don’t even bother listing their favorite bands; they just go right ahead and exclude an entire genre: “anything but country.”

How did country music get such a bad reputation? It does have good, simple intentions. The songs fall neatly into five categories: love songs, cheating songs, murder songs, patriotic songs and drinking songs. The stars are accessible, next-door-neighbor types with usually strong voices and spunky personalities that come across well on CMT. The distaste for country music among indie-circles is, I believe, due to not only to country’s lack of imagination and originality but to country’s political affiliations.

While the original stars of country- the cowboys, outlaws and Cash’s of the world- wrote poetic verses about dusty roads and sang with experience and emotion, today’s Top-10ers are manufactured, and few even write their own songs. For every respectable star (songwriting teen Taylor Swift comes to mind) there seem to be fifteen phonies with an appealing image but no true talent aside from passable vocals.

Politically, indie is a liberal-leaning genre (see Obama endorsements by Wilco and Arcade Fire for proof), and country music finds most of its fans in the red states, rendering it utterly uncool to have Toby Keith on your iPod. It’s almost a political statement to oppose plasticized and synthetic country stars and embrace the homeless aesthetic of indie-cools like Fleet Foxes and Devendra Banhart.

Interestingly enough, many indie-rock fans adore groups such as Wilco, its predecessor Uncle Tupelo, and country-influenced songwriters like Ryan Adams and Josh Ritter. These artists name-check Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr. when referencing their influences, but wouldn’t touch contemporaries like Tim McGraw or George Strait with a fifty-foot rod.

Those older “outlaw” country artists are considered more legitimate than those on the charts nowadays due to the emotion and sincerity in their music. Country music is no longer country; it’s become so dependent on crossover hits that many country chart-toppers are indistinguishable from pop ballads if it weren’t for that slight, affected Southern twang in the singer’s voice. The outlaws sang with purity and wrote poetry- the goal of many rock bands today.

Note the success of groups lately: My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Jenny Lewis and Blitzen Trapper have all found success via steel-pedals and vintage, outlaw-influenced jams. They take the old, beloved country singers and modernize their sound. In fact, these independent groups are more “country” than those on the charts. The country music business could take a cue from below the radar if they want to inflict a new spirit in their tired genre.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Go out and buy some CDs!

Today was a great day for new releases. In fact, I may well be broke from buying these.

Today's releases of note:
  • Acid Tongue- Jenny Lewis
  • Only By The Night- Kings of Leon
  • Dear Science- TV on the Radio
  • Loyalty to Loyalty- Cold War Kids
Coming weeks bring more good stuff (Ray LaMontagne, T.I.).