Thursday, January 11, 2007

Spotlight Music

Sherpa Country Rant
The main genres I find myself listening to the most are probably folk, americana country and indy rock, however I rarely listen to contemporary mainstream country for some of the reasons listed in this article. Even though I more or less grew up on country music up I find the stuff on the radio overtly simplistic, jingoistic, and sentimental(I like early Garth Brooks, Strait and some Alan Jackson) as the article says...but the first two paragraphs hit a nerve--however I listen to mainstream country enough to know I'm happy in my alt-country elitist dreamland.

As Ryan Adams said on his "Rescue Blues" rant about the hat people of Nashville--"they think that because people may work at wal-mart we have to dumb it down a little-people with at least a ninth grade education know that a tractor isn't so sexy(referring to the song called "she thinks my tractor is sexy)." Maybe its because I have repressed feelings of self-doubt because of my rural, redneck background. Nah, I'm glad where I grew up. I'm just a bit of a "ghetto snob" I guess.

That being said, I'm finally okay with the fact that Tim McGraw covered "When the stars go blue" and it became a big country hit. Especially if it gets more people listening to Ryan, the cocky, talented bas$%$$ he is.

The Stars go Blue(Ryan Adams) live mp3

For several years I've been taking a highly informal poll of friends, family members, coworkers, and random passersby, and I've discovered that the most popular answer to the question "What kind of music do you like?" is "I like everything," qualified with "except rap and country." This is unsettling. Let's set aside the possible race and class implications of that appending phrase; anyone who closes themselves off to these two genres is missing out on vast and exciting worlds of music in which territory is being explored that's foreign to indie guitar bands, squeaky clean pop acts, and dead rock idols.
Mainstream hip-hop has been filtering into indie culture for a few years, but contemporary country music has been slow to take root beyond safe alt- holdovers. Perhaps it's because the music as played by corporate radio stations is perceived to be simplistic, jingoistic, and sentimental-- which is true to an extent-- or simply because Arcade Fire fans don't want to be associated with NASCAR fans and Wal-Mart shoppers. As a result, indie faves Neko Case and Jenny Lewis are considered to be merely dabbling in country, and Tim McGraw covering "Stars Go Blue" doesn't mean Ryan Adams is the new Kris Kristofferson. Instead, older country music gets a pass, and artists like the Carter Family, Dock Boggs, and Bob Wills are perfectly acceptable to indie ears, perhaps because there was no rock'n'roll to compete with at that time or because they're so far removed from our current music climate that they don't register as country anymore. Even the next few generations of country artists have found an audience among younger listeners: Willie Nelson is a favorite due to his ceaseless experimenting, Loretta Lynn found a new audience working with Jack White, and Johnny Cash is more popular with the indie (and every other) crowd dead than he was alive.

Well, at least I'll check out the box-set.

In going along with the theme of that Pitchfork aricle, here's a clip of Dylan and Cash. Dylan didn't smoke in preparation for this album he was promoting (1969 Nashville Skyline) on the Johnny Cash Show, and his voice has never sounded better.

Cash and Dylan

Cash covering Cohen-"Bird on the Wire"--here's one of my alltime favorite songs being covered by "the voice." This was '96 or '94 I believe. He really aged in the last 7 years of his life..but I'm grateful that he was in the recording studio up until he died. His last 10 years of recording? As beautiful as any other recordings in his life.

Band of Horses--Everything all the Time

While this album reminds me a lot of the Thrills, "So Much for the City," its different enough to be held on its own merits, and this is a serious album for serious people. Okay, not really--but it would have definitely made my top 10 of '06 if I started listening sooner. The whole album is a gem.

"If I stayed behind, would you let your hair grow?
I will forget the favors that you owe.
I'm dreaming of car wrecks and thunderstorms bright.
Let's bury ourselves and go haunt someone tonight."
- Band Of Horses, "Saint Augustine"


Steve said...

I'm guilty of saying "I like everything", which is true to some extent. But I certainly have favorite genres and less favorable ones, which generally are "rap and country". I grew up, due to a lack of ANY OTHER station, listening to country, so I made the conscientous choice to leave behind country; mainly b/c the mainstream stuff IS dumbed-down, but no worse than any other mainstream genre.

As for "old" stars in country being "ok" to be liked, I think that just comes with earning respect. They have proven themselves and can venture into covering rock or experimenting. It's no different in any other genre. Examples include Madonna, System of a Down, Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg, etc. These artists have proven and earned their careers and we accept their experimenting and often times this experimenting is what we claim makes them superstars.

So in general, I think most people have a preference to which type of music they listen to, they just don't want to hear other types unless it's from a proven professional that isn't a one hit wonder just playing dumbed down mainstream music.

Sherpa said...

I think its more of the younger generation realizing that the music Johnny Cash, Willie, Dolly, and Loretta put out is for the most part quality stuff. There's a reason Willie, Dolly and Loretta are on the greatest living songwriters list. Willie wrote crazy amongst others-Willie's first two albums are classics. Johnny was a singer-songwriter in Nashville, but he was more than just country music-he transcended it-look at his music and his influence over the spectrum of music.

What stays and perpetuates, and gets respect through genres is quality music-they experiment, we accept that because we respect them as musicians.

I think a few of the country stars today will earn the same respect these singers have simply because the quality isn't there. There's some that will, but many of the country singers today that are putting out anything of worth are singing other peoples material. Check out a Patty Griffin album with a friend who listens to country and they'll be like, "I know that, and that and that" for example. They don't know Patty, but they know their stuff. However, that doesn't bother me so much because that means the quality of country is upped, if only for that one song on the radio.

The mainstream country is dumbed down, but I think I left it partly because it hits a nerve. Its dumb, kind of condescending for anyone who grew up "real" rural or below mason-dixon. But at the same time, theres quite a few "alt-country" artists that I really enjoy, and listen to quite a bit.

I don't know how many friends will say, like in the article, "I hate country" but in the same breath declare their love for Adams, or Tweedy, etc etc

All genres on the radio are for the most part dumbed down. People like what they like, which is cool. I like a variety of stuff, but like I said before, this is partly the base. I was still in highschool when I branched over to other stuff besides country, but didn't go all that far, really.

I think most people like quality, as they get older. The term quality isn't concrete however, its subjective more or less.

Lucy Stern said...

I like Johnny Cash and I enjoyed watching the movie "Walk the Line" and learning more about him personally. I'm not a big country music fan but it does have some beautiful music....

Esperanza said...

Sadly, I like all of the jingle-istic and simplistic in country music these days, I like that country has become more upbeat, but I admit, Willie Nelson hits the spot for me! And I love Tim McGraw's cover of Stars Go Blue. Actually, Tim McGraw can't go wrong with me either!

stacer said...

I grew up hating country except Alabama and the Judds, mainly because country was all my dad listened to and I wanted to listen to The Cure and U2.

It wasn't till college that I discovered all the old stuff my dad listened to, and some that he never did. I mean, I was listening to Tanya Tucker and Randy Travis and Loretta and Conway Twitty (their duet albums are a hoot, and I especially love "Lousiana Woman, Mississippi Man") the whole time I was growing up, and sang along to them and secretly liked them, but it just wasn't *done* in my generation where I lived to actually like country.

So I'm glad I gained a love for country--including a lot of the current stuff. And I still like it, but I rarely listen to the radio stations nowadays for the reasons you list, and because my Ipod is more interesting. I like being able to mix it up with bluegrass and gospel and with rock and alt from over the years. I like folk from all over the world, and it's much more interesting to be able to create my own playlists.

I'm going to have to investigate alt-country, but the few songs I have (from Dainon's list) sound to me more like John Cougar Lennencamp than country (but I love Lennencamp--not a bad thing). To me, country is about living in the country, being a country person, appreciating the simple things (Randy Travis is good for that), stuff like Alabama's "18 Wheeler" (which made me cry when I was a kid because my dad was a truck driver) or a love song like any number of the Judds' ("Mama, He's Crazy" has always been a favorite of mine).

It really doesn't matter to me anymore whether our generation suddenly has decided that it's okay to like the old stuff. It just matters whether the songs speak to me, new or old. I think one reason why a lot of the new country getting played on the radio doesn't speak to me is because of the political climate. Country is the last bastion (aside from the Dixie Chicks, who I love, by the way) of conservatism, and it serves a very conservative audience. Back in the 90s, you had one or two songs mention God or religion, but rarely. Now, a lot of country songs are getting back to their gospel roots, but in a beat-you-over-the-head way. And all those patriotic songs that came out after Sept. 11 about how if people come here to make trouble, we'll kick their ***, like it's some kind of modern Hatfield and McCoy fued. Just not appealing.

So, like I said, I tend to stick to my Ipod.