Stranger in Town: Trollheart's Country Music Thread


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Thread: Stranger in Town: Trollheart's Country Music Thread

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    Stranger in Town: Trollheart's Country Music Thread

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    It's that old joke, isn't it? You know the one, from the movie The Blues Brothers? Jake (or is it Elwood, I never remember) asks the waitress what kind of music they play in the bar, and she, with a winning smile, assures him "Oh we got BOTH types here, hon! Country AND Western!"

    Yeah, Country gets a bad rap; it certainly did from me, for a long time. Look, I'm not particularly proud of it but I won't try to deny I was in my youth something of a music snob. I liked what I liked, and the hell with everything else. Pop music was out. Reggae was out. Punk was out. And so on. And Country was definitely out.

    See, I had some very bad preconceived notions of this type of music. Firstly, that it all basically sounded the same, which it probably does to someone who doesn't invest the time to look into it properly, as I never had any intention of doing when I was a young rocker. Secondly, that it was "old people's music". Well, to an extent I couldn't be blamed for that. Country is a very old genre, one of the oldest in fact, dating back to the 1920s, and with the exception of classical is probably one of the few other than folk and traditional (often lumped in together, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly) that is still both relevant and popular today. It's the music our parents and possibly grandparents may have listened to, but with its broadening appeal as it stretches over into the realms of both rock and pop (and, in some isolated instances, even hip-hop!) the younger folks are getting into it too.

    So country music still has its place, and with artists like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain flying the flag, it doesn't look like it's going away any time soon. In this thread I intend to explore this much-maligned and oft-ridiculed genre, find out more about it and dispel some of the myths and prejudices regarding this most American of music styles. I'm quite aware that there are people here far more versed in country than I am, and to that end I'm always ready to learn, so dispense your wisdom here. This thread may be started by me, but it's for anyone to comment, post or recommend music.

    I should make it clear that this is by no means intended to be a history of country music, unlike my progressive rock thread. I wouldn't presume: I know far too little about it and have nowhere near enough experience of it to attempt something like that. But through my usual research through Wikipedia, and any other sources I can find, I will try to lay out a general idea of what country is, where it came from, who the major players are and so on. I'll also be posting reviews of albums I've heard, and will try, to the best of my ability, to cover all of the many sub-genres it encompasses.

    Feel free to join in, add your expertise, or just follow me in your pickup as we rattle on down the dusty highway, to paraphrase Waits, lookin' for the heart of country music.

    Any albums reviewed by me will be kept here in the usual index, and also will be indexed on my main album review thread.

    INDEX PART ONE
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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    INDEX PART TWO
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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    INDEX PART THREE
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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    INDEX PART FOUR
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  5. #5
    If you're starting from the beginning I can think of three to start with. Jimmie Rodgers you may already know as he is considered one of the early pioneers of rock n roll even though he sounds anything but. Then there are the Carter Family who I mentioned in my early influences thread. I think I heard a greatest hits album package from them when I was on the music forum. Needless to say I like them a lot. Then there are the Skillet Lickers who are pure bluegrass. I'm sure you can find some more 1920s and earlier country artists on YouTube. And of course you'll also have to look at other early artists such as Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb, and the Sons of the Pioneers. It sounds like you have a pretty ambitious project on you hands. Good luck.
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    And check out Gertie's blog on her favorite top twenty-five albums between 1955-2017 Hidden Content

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    Quote Originally Posted by mrmustard615 View Post
    If you're starting from the beginning I can think of three to start with. Jimmie Rodgers you may already know as he is considered one of the early pioneers of rock n roll even though he sounds anything but. Then there are the Carter Family who I mentioned in my early influences thread. I think I heard a greatest hits album package from them when I was on the music forum. Needless to say I like them a lot. Then there are the Skillet Lickers who are pure bluegrass. I'm sure you can find some more 1920s and earlier country artists on YouTube. And of course you'll also have to look at other early artists such as Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb, and the Sons of the Pioneers. It sounds like you have a pretty ambitious project on you hands. Good luck.
    No, like I said this won't be a chronological history, so I'll just be posting albums and then talking about various eras (generations, I see they're called: ain't Wiki handy?) and sub-genres, maybe concentrating on specific artists at a time. I think it'll be fun. It'll take years but hey, I've got t - huh? What bus? OH! THAT -----------!
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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    A (Very) Brief History of Country Music

    Sure, I know I said this wouldn’t be “the history of country music”, and it won’t. But I think, even for my own edification, a little background would be good before we get going seriously. As I said in the introduction, country music has its roots all the way back in the 1920s, which makes it almost one hundred years old as a genre. That’s impressive. Most genres from that far back, if they even survive today, will be relegated to “niche” or at least specialised areas, such as folk and traditional, both of which, while they do occasionally break out and cross some genre lines and occasionally bother the charts, tend to be fairly rigidly adored by just the fans of those genres. Of course, nothing is that straightforward, and a punk, pop or hip-hop fan could very well have some folk or trad in his or her collection (particularly the former, with the popular crossover into folk and Celtic punk) but there’s generally not the broad appeal among those genres that there is within country.

    There’s a saying - don’t know where it came from; could be a song. I know I heard it first on South Park - “I’m a little bit country”, and it’s true of most of us, to some extent. Certainly, there will be those who are huge, serious country fans, who know all the bands, the artists and can all but quote you the history of this music. They don’t have to be older people (though I would imagine most of them are), but those who are that dedicated to country seem to me to be more or less disinterested in other genres. A country fan listens to country, and that’s it. They’re very loyal to their music, and some of that I suppose comes from its being identified with and linked with the places they know: there are, I believe, places in rural America where all you can hear is country.

    Victor Talks Country (Kind of...)

    If you had slapped down a hundred Euro and bet me I couldn’t name the birthplace of country music, I would have snatched up that money and grinned “Easy. Nashville, of course!” And a moment later I would have been regretting my overconfidence bordering on arrogance, and handing back that money along with some of my own, because although this sounds as simple a question as declaring that the blues began in the Mississippi Delta or that the first progressive rock explosion was in England, it’s completely wrong. Right state, wrong city, apparently.

    The official birthplace of country music is Bristol, Tennessee, where the famous Bristol Sessions were held, which made stars of The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in 1927, as Victor Talking Machine Company executive Ralph Peer travelled across the country in search of new stars to record. Incidentally, Peer was the one who invented the idea of artists being paid royalties for their songs, so I guess if you’re an illegal downloader or hate the record companies for ripping you off, he’s the man to blame. I wouldn’t recommend dancing on his grave though, as I expect it’s a pretty revered site, given that he appears to be essentially the man who invented or discovered, or at least brought to the masses, country music.

    Of course, we should not forget the original progenitor of country music, hillbilly music, nor its great-grandpappy, Appalachian folk music. The latter goes back as far as the seventeenth century, when settlers from England, Ireland and Scotland arrived in the Appalachia region of the USA, which covered an area from southern New York to northern Georgia and Alabama. Bringing with them their traditional songs and ballads, they influenced a new style of music in the 1920s which became known as hillbilly music. Something of a derogatory term these days, country music was all known as hillbilly music up until about the 1950s, and used primarily instruments such as banjos, fiddles and accordions in mostly lively, dancy type songs with relatively simple lyrical matter - simple music, you might say, for and from simple folks. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

    Interesting side note: hillbilly music that was infused with the traditional sound of African America and subsumed into pop music was called… rockabilly. And to some extent, that’s still around today.

    With the formation of the Country Music Association in 1958, hillbilly music was renamed country, or sometimes country and western, and the only real styles still referred to, occasionally, as hillbilly these days are bluegrass and oldtime music.

    But back to our friend Mr. Peer, the possible godfather of country music. Offering fifty dollars a day to anyone who would turn up to his recording sessions and play, he eventually recorded a total of nineteen different artists singing over seventy songs over the course of two weeks in Bristol. The two major stars to emerge from these sessions were the aforementioned Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family, and country (or as it was still to be called for some time, hillbilly) music was introduced to America. It’s never been quite the same since.

    First Generation

    The First Generation of Country Music (let’s not call it hillbilly, shall we?) - the Carters, Rodgers, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Cliff Carlisle - had originally to make the long trip to New York if they wanted to record: there were no studios down south. Many didn’t have the money to do that, so the arrival of Ralph Peer must have been a godsend to them (the money offered certainly was!) and allowed them to finally get their music out there. Traditionally based on fiddle, accordion or banjo, country music reached something of a milestone after a chance meeting between Jimmy Tariton and famous Hawaiian guitarist Frank Fererra, leading to the development of what would become a staple of the genre, and still is: the steel guitar.

    Gospel music of course played a large part in the genesis of country music, but we don’t want to stray too far, and the last time I walked into a church a statue nearly fell on me (true story! Well, maybe not…) so probably not going to wander off the beaten path that much. However, the influence of “the Lord’s music” on country can’t be overstated. Jazz and blues of course also played its part, and like most music, country is a mix of various other genres, artists taking what they wanted or needed and creating their own style.


    Second Generation

    First Generation artists had to make do with recording on wax, but by the 1930s a whole new media system had come into being, and the Second Generation had access to the new-fangled radio, which picked up on the country sensation and broadcast barn dances and country music shows, with the biggest and still the most famous being the Grand Ole Opry, which opened in 1923 and is still going. Guess where? Yup: Nashville. Accounting then, I guess, for the influx of country musicians to the studios there, and the city’s becoming the Mecca of country music. Cowboys songs recorded in the twenties were given new life by Hollywood, and the kings of the “Singing Cowboys” were Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, both of whom starred in almost one hundred movies between 1934 and 1953 and even went on to have their own television show. Westerns, which became hugely popular in the US and overseas in the 1930s and really stayed in vogue till around the late 1960s and even on into the 1970s, introduced a new audience to the music of country and western, spreading its influence further than radio ever could have done. As cowboy, or “western” music was often played alongside country music on the same radio stations, the two having similar characteristics, the term “country and western” was born.

    The Second Generation was also the time when the women began to come out of the homestead and into the studio, so to speak. Although there had been the odd female performer in the First Generation - Eva Davis and “Aunt” Samantha Bumgarner became the very first female artists to record and release country songs, and The Carter Family did feature a woman, but they were definitely in the minority - this music had always been dominated by male artists. No room for the little ladies. As usual. It was from western films that this began to change, when cowgirl Patsy Montana had a hit with “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”, which sold over a million copies, and ten years later Jenny Carlson was one of the most prolific songwriters in country music.


    During the Second Generation we get the birth of the sub-genre which came to be known as Western Swing, which incorporates elements of jazz and dance hall music. Western Swing also seems to be the first example of country music wherein an electric guitar was used, whereas up to then if guitars were used at all they were acoustic. We also see the rise of “crossover” genres such as hillbilly boogie, which incorporated elements of, well, boogie into the music and was known for breaking the sacred country code of not using electric guitars, as well as Honky Tonk, which fused Western Swing with Mexican ranchera music and blues, and seems to have used neither fiddle nor banjo in its recordings. Oddly enough, neither do pianos appear, though I’ve certainly heard of honky tonk piano. Must be in some other genre, or later on.

    Third Generation

    The Third Generation began in the 1950s, just as television was making its debut, and with it came the emergence of Bluegrass, a hillbilly offshoot of Applachian folk music pioneered by Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Bluegrass is typically more banjo or fiddle-oriented, normally played at a faster pace than some of the more maudlin, slower country music, and with a great deal of exuberance - almost, you might say, the punk or speed metal of country. Maybe.To quote Monroe (and he should know) it’s “Scottish bagpipes and ole time fiddlin’. It’s Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It’s blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound.” There are three sub-genres of bluegrass: traditional, progressive and gospel, but we’ll get to those later.

    Politics, sometimes a uniting force but more usually a divisive one, proved the latter as country music shunned its more rebellious brother, folk music, and particularly the folk revival movement, which was all about taking on the system, while the neo-conservatism of country music believed the system was just fine, and if you’re a-thinkin’ otherwise, well I got me two full barrels here! Few artists managed the crossover from folk to country; Western music, on the other hand, was just fine, standing back to back and shoulder to shoulder with country music against the rising tide of new young’uns, preserving the traditional values in a world in which those values were slowly being eroded away, or becoming less and less relevant. It reached its peak in 1959 with Marty Robbins’s hit “El Paso” getting to number one both in the country and pop charts.

    Country also targeted the working-class man though, and for a lot of people working meant sitting behind the wheel, and so a new sub-genre was born at this time, which would become known as, you guessed it: trucker country. People like Red Sovine and Dave Dudley would bring a new type of country music to the downtrodden working stiff. In 1953 the first ever country music station was opened, in Lubbock, Texas. Yet another sub-genre, rockabilly, taking the precepts of rock and roll as its guide, would give us future giants such as Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and the King.

    By the late 1960s the singing western, or musical western movie was on the way out. A new generation wanted more realism and less singing. They had grown up learning of the real fighting men of the west, and they knew that the true cowboy did not carry a guitar but a gun. They weren’t interested in gentlemanly cowboys who serenaded senoritas down Mexico way, or whistled happily as they drove the cattle rustlers before them to the jolly sheriff's office. As Homer once moaned “Oh no! They’re singing! Why are they singing? Why aren’t they killing each other? Their guns are right there!” Blood, guts, bravery, drama and above all action - proper action - this was what was needed. The generation that had swooned and sighed over and cheered for Rogers and Autrey, and bought their records, were retired now, and their successors wanted something different, something at least halfway believable.

    And Hollywood responded, with Peckinpah and Leone, with a slew of “gritty” westerns like Ride the High Country, Hombre and of course The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; with tough-guy actors like Eastwood and Newman and Redford, and a whole new take on the Wild West. In these movies there was no room for singing cowboys: the themes were stark and haunting (who can forget Ennio Morricone’s theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?) and music very definitely took a second, or third seat to action, drama and violence. The day of the singing cowboy was over, and western music (as opposed to country) was on the decline. There would, however, be room for the cowboy ballad and honky-tonk music when the new outlaw country surfaced in the 1970s.

    The Nashville Sound

    The Nashville Sound came into being in the mid-fifties and had by the late 1960s successfully overtaken the “honky tonk” sub-genre that had up till then dominated radio airplay. Rough and ready music, perhaps we could call it roughneck country and still be able to show our faces on the streets of Bakersfield, record companies considered it too raw for radio, and I suppose in the way “true” or what they call “free” jazz is seen as a totally different animal to smooth jazz, The Nashville Sound became the smoother, more acceptable and certainly more commercial and saleable face of country music, with artists like Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Don Gibson and later on, the King himself, Elvis Presley. He, of course, would be more linked with the rockabilly sound, but as already explained above, this itself was an offshoot of country, or indeed, hillbilly music.

    The Bakersfield Sound

    But the Nashville Sound artists didn’t have it all their way. In the late sixties a new sound began to emerge out of Bakersfield, California, latching on to the newborn rock and roll, and bringing in significant changes with the widespread use of electric instruments. Some of the Bakersfield Sound’s biggest stars were Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Jean Shephard, Tommy Collins and Freddie Hart. Later on, and crossing genre divides somewhat, the Bakersfield Sound was carried on by classic rock bands such as The Grateful Dead, The Byrds and Creedence Clearwater Revival, who would, with many others, including Bob Dylan, create a new sub-genre: Country Rock. The Bakersfield Sound was also responsible for the sudden growth of guitar shops in the area as the West Coast Sound, as it was to be known, took such influences later from the Bakersfield Sound.

    The Next Wave of the Nashville Sound - Countrypolitan

    In a way that seems perhaps to mirror the later attack of punk rock on progressive rock, or even I guess rock and roll on the mainstream bands of the time, the Bakersfield Sound was a direct reaction to the new incarnation of its smoother rival, the Nashville Sound, which by now had morphed into what became known as Countrypolitan, using full orchestras, lush arrangements and vocal choirs, and targeting the more mature and refined audience. With the deaths of two of the biggest stars in the Nashville Sound, Patsy Cline in 1963 and Jim Reeves the following year, the Bakersfield Sound had begun to gain ground, but Countrypolitan fought back and eventually dominated with artists such as Glenn Campbell, Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Lynne Anderson, Tammy Wynette and George Jones. This would basically set the scene for what would become a kind of crossover to pop in the 1970s, as country artists would have hits outside of the country charts. Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” and Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” are still remembered today, even by those who have no interest in country music, and have become music, rather than just country standards.

    Country Rock

    As mentioned above, artists like The Byrds and the Dead, Creedence and Bob Dylan began to take country influences into their music, mostly if not all from the harder-edged, rawer Bakersfield Sound, and in fact it was Dylan who eschewed the zeitgeist of the time, hippie psychedelia and experimentation, and instead went back to rock’s basic roots, heading to Nashville to record his album Blonde on Blonde. Quickly followed by The Byrds, this engendered a rush by other bands to follow suit, and artists like Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers and Emmylou Harris began also fusing the two genres, until country rock was a thing. Later this would also give way to Southern Rock/Southern Boogie, but that might just be a sub-genre bridge too far; we’ll have to see. Certainly “Sweet Home Alabama” is a very country-influenced song, but whether we want to step over the state line and start blurring the distinction too much I have yet to decide, at least insofar as my own writing goes.

    Fourth Generation

    As the 1970s hit so too did country pop, which is still with us today, although in a more polished and some would say more soulless form, this derived of course from the original Nashville Sound and Countrypolitan, while the Bakersfield Sound gave us outlaw country, of which the two main stars to emerge were to be Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Punk got in on the act too, as cowpunk resulted in bands like Jason and the Scorchers and The Long Ryders, while John Denver rose to fame in 1972 with a soft, crooning kind of music perhaps harking back to the old “cowboy songs” of Gene Autry et al. Then disco tried to claim country in 1980, but neo disco country was shot in the head by artists such as George Strait, Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis, who pioneered Neotraditional country, determined to take country back to its roots, idolising the likes of Hank Williams and George Jones.

    The 1970s and 1980s were the heyday of country pop, when artists like Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton had hits on both sides of the country divide, and others like Juice Newton, Willie Nelson and Crystal Gayle scored serious points on the mainstream charts, most hitting the top five or ten with their releases. John Denver was a major figure in country pop, as was Olivia Newton-John, possibly (though I'd have to check) the first act from Australia to break into the American country scene, in fact winning the Country Music Association’s award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1975, something that irked traditional country artists like George Strait and Tammy Wynette. There was, however, no stopping the march of musical progress, whether it was seen by Strait and his cohorts as a march backwards, or by Parton et al as vindicating their talent and introducing them to a new audience.

    Bands hailing from the state of Oklahoma became known as Red Dirt, due to the colour of the soil found at Stillwater, OK. Incidentally, Oklahoma was also the home of Western Swing and the Tulsa Sound. The main thing about Red Dirt seems to have been the breadth of different sounds, the experimentation and the supposed impossibility of pinning it down to one style. In some ways, it’s been likened to indie music, in others punk. Or to put it in the words of one Stillwater resident, singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave: "It's kind of hard to put into words, but if you ever drive down on the (Mississippi) Delta, you can almost hear that blues sound," he explains. "Go to New Orleans, and you can almost hear the Dixieland jazz. Go to San Francisco, and you get that psychedelic-music vibe. You hear the Red Dirt sound when you go through Stillwater. It has to do with the spirit of the people. There's something different about them. They're not Texans, they're Okies, and I think the whole Red Dirt sound is just as important to American musicology as the San Francisco Sound or any of the rest. It's distinctly its own thing."[7]

    Bands linked with red dirt include Moses, The Great Divide, No Justice, Red Dirt Rangers and Bob Childers, the latter of whom is seen as the father of the sub-genre. Some describe it simply as country music with attitude while others believe it’s impossible to describe properly. Red dirt contains elements of Americana, folk and the later alt-country.

    Fifth Generation

    This seems to be split mostly between neotraditional acts such as Randy Travis and Alan Jackson, and the new emerging sub-genre of stadium rock in country music, typified by the likes of Garth Brooks and The Dixie Chicks. The extension of FM radio signals to city and suburban areas meant that the country music stations, who had been up until now broadcasting on AM, mostly or only in rural areas, were now able to reach the cities, and this allowed more people than ever to hear country music. Allied to this was the abandonment by many stations of their former “muzak” format to embrace country. Of course, this wider availability of country music did also mean that the rougher, rawer sound of the past decade was no longer feasible for radio or for record sales, and accordingly production became more polished and tended more to target the pop and casual audience, rather than appeal to the die-hard country fan.

    With the arrival of country stadium rock, not only were records by country artists selling well in the mainstream, the whole profile of country music had risen and acts such as Brooks could command top dollar for their tickets. Conversely, artists were expected to provide value for money, leading to the perhaps rather silly sight of old Garth flying around on a highwire on stage like some latter-day country version of Peter Pan! Other artists such as Travis Tritt, Clint Black and Toby Keith became very popular in this generation, as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s. Female artists, who had been somewhat restricted to the likes of Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette in the previous decade, began to come into their own, with Reba McIntye, Shania Twain and Faith Hill all having Platinum albums.

    On the other side of the coin, the 1990s saw the rise of Alt-Country (literally, alternative country) as bands lashed back against the established order and the new wave of pop country artists, incorporating elements of punk and alternative rock in their sound. Building a little on the idea of outlaw country, and pushing the boundaries thereof, bands like Bright eyes, Jason and the Scorchers, Lucinda Williams, Drive-by Truckers, Old 97s and Steve Earle looked more to the music of old hands such as Woodie Guthrie, Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt for their inspiration. Cowpunk bands such as Lone Justice and the Long Ryders were also part of the alt-country scene. Perhaps vindicating the “alt” tag in their new sub-genre, these bands were largely ignored by the mostly conservative established country radio stations and got little airplay, but became known to listeners through soundtracks to movies, and the breakout of artists such as Earle and Ryan Adams into the mainstream, where they could no longer be ignored.

    Sixth Generation

    Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, though artists still play and thrive at the likes of outlaw country and neotraditionalist, the genre itself has been watered down to such an extent that we have pop playing a far greater role in the music of country artists, so that your Taylor Swifts and Carrie Underwoods are often cited by people who “think they know country”, while Faith Hill, despite being married to country star Tim McGraw, can really only claim the most tenuous link to the genre through her mostly pop-oriented songs, as can Shania and others. Such sub-genres as the godawful Bro Country have risen, marrying the worst of pop/boyband tropes with the most inoffensive country strains, drinking songs and questionable attitude towards women, with more emphasis on love of trucks, especially pickups, than girlfriends, resulting in a coupling that should really be seeking divorce right now.

    For better or worse, many, even most artists, whatever their genre (with the exception - mostly - of hip-hop, and one would assume this is more due to a racial disparity - country being traditionally, and mostly still, seen as “music for whites”) have tended to dabble in country music. Richard Marx included five country songs on his album Days of Avalon, while Bon Jovi’s Lost Horizon album was reviled by many fans and critics as being “too country”. Other pop artists have successfully (commercially at least, if not always aesthetically) mixed country with their pop tunes and have made a bundle and created a huge following. We’ve already mentioned Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, but there have been tons of others: Kelly Clarkson, Faith Hill, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Miranda Lambert, The Shires… the list goes on and on, some better than others, some more country and some more pop. Shania Twain and Melissa Etheridge continue to enjoy mass appeal, and nearly everyone loves Dolly and knows a song or two.

    It would be unfair, unkind and wrong to say that the 9/11 attacks were a godsend to country music, but there’s no denying that they helped bring the more traditional values of country - nationalism, god-fearing, patriotism and fighting back - to the fore again, and very much into the mainstream. Toby Keith, Alan Jackson, Ryan Adams, Trace Adkins, even the largely-forgotten Charlie Daniels, remembered by most for that one song, all stood up to the terrorists as country music came together and shook its collective fist in the direction of - well, wherever the terrorists lived, they guessed. Or down towards Satan in Hell. Who cared? They were showing Al Quaeda, and the world at large, that while you certainly don’t mess with Texas, you do not fuck with the United States. I'm sure Bin Laden was shaking in his sandals. Naturally, such patriotic fervour did not do any harm to their flagging record sales, either.

    Of course, though country music as a genre began in the USA it has since spread far and wide, with even the stupid Irish getting in on the act (believe me, you do NOT want to hear an Irish country song! Not unless you have medical insurance, cos you’ll need to have your ears amputated) and countries as diverse as Germany and India, the Philippines and even Iran! However this is not intended to be a detailed, blow-by-blow, country-by-country chronological history of country music, and is merely presented here as a basic guide, so that ignorant people like me, who know, or knew until I began researching and listening to it, next to nothing about country music can get a decent grounding in what it’s all about, how it began and how wide and varied the breadth of music is.

    If nothing else has come out of my research (and it definitely has) then I’ve learned that country music is not all about pig farmers playing banjos and sitting around singing about tractors and women, the Dust Bowl and how times used to be better. It’s got a long and varied history, and it deserves some damn respect.

    Let's give it some, huh?
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  8. #8
    I listen to many types of music, including country (and western).
    However, I do not listen to much past Alan Jackson or Garth Brooks. By and large, most country music has turned into pop that couldn't make it on pop stations. It is generally uninspired, and has no twang.

    My definition of what makes music truly country is this:
    1) You need to be able to dance to it (2-step, triple-time, shuffle...)
    2) It needs to be twangy
    3) Johnny Cash. (Many of his songs do not fit rules 1 or 2, but if Johnny ain't country, then I'll kiss yer ass!*)

    But modern country is mostly crap.


    *Taken from the lyrics of a classic David Alan Coe song.

  9. #9
    What is interesting is that Country has its roots in Blues.
    In fact, one of the great legends of Country, hailed as the King of Country, Bob Wills, was heavily influenced by Bessie Smith. Word is that as a teenager he walked ten miles each way to see her in concert, at a black venue no less.

    Bob Wills is still the king!

  10. #10
    For me, country lost it when they became politically correct.
    Back in the day, Country music was drinking-fighting-fucking music. There were no apologies in country music.
    It was unabashedly twangy, sometimes even bordered on yodeling (Hank Senior!) and cried into its own beer.

    But nowadays, the music is all about political correctness. It's like the difference between Van Halen and Van Hagar. Dave would be singing about how he liked how the line in her stockings ran up her leg, and Sammy sang felgerkarb like "Could this be love?" If I wanted to hear PC BS, then I'd listen to NPR.

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