State of Today’s Country Music? Sensational, Bro – The Tennessean
Ah, the state of today’s country music.
That’s a subject of much discussion and dissension. It’s also a subject of importance to us in Nashville: Country music has given us our international identity (sorry, hot chicken); it helps drive our economy; and it fills restaurants, bars, hotel rooms and an NFL stadium during our annual CMA Music Festival.
The state of today’s country music? People are worked up about it.
What about all this “bro-country,” with its fanciful, anti-melodic raps about parties and pickup trucks? Jody Rosen of www.vulture.com called bro-country “music by and of the tatted, gym-toned, party-hearty young American white dude,” and that’s a more positive assessment than you’ll usually get. An Internet search for “bro-country” will lead you to descriptors including “misogynistic,” “terrible” and “dumb.”
NPR’s “On Point” recently wrapped an hourlong show around bro-country, and my pal and former Tennessean scribe Craig Havighurst wrote a lengthy piece on his “String Theory Media” blog called “Hell No, We Won’t Bro.”
Meanwhile, bro-country songs remain super-popular on country radio, and bro-country practitioners Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan sell tons of singles, albums and concert tickets and live in much bigger houses than does my pal Havighurst. Country Radio DJ Hall of Famer Lon Helton responded to Havighurst’s blog, calling radio critics’ disdain “at best, misplaced.”
Color me, at best, misplaced. Though I have no disdain. As Elvis Costello once wrote, “I used to be disgusted / Now I try to be amused.”
What about female recording artists’ inability to get traction on the radio? That’s a big, weird deal, right?
Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood are the only female solo artists who consistently get radio play: Taste of Country journalist Billy Dukes recently reported that no country female has topped the Billboard chart in a year and a half.
Lambert’s “Automatic” is the only female-sung song in the Billboard Hot Country Songs Top 20, and less than 5 percent of Billboard country chart-toppers over the past 10 years have come from females other than Underwood or Swift. Kacey Musgraves won a country album of the year prize from the Academy of Country Music and a country album Grammy, yet only has reached the Top 10 airplay chart once.
Then there are issues with streaming services not paying songwriters enough, and with digital sales not rising enough to offset physical sales drops.
So, what’s the state of today’s country music? Lemme check …
It is fantastic. Phenomenal.
Today, Friday, June 6, a CMA Music Festival lineup at LP Field features country music from an array of artists that should satisfy the bro-country and “bro country is no country” crowds, as Lambert, Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Jason Aldean, The Band Perry and Travis Tritt take the big stage. Other CMA shows feature Holly Williams, Will Hoge, Kellie Pickler, Crystal Gayle, David Ball, Jeannie Seely, Sara Evans and a bunch of others.
Shawn Camp, a tremendous singer, songwriter and picker and a favorite of late Country Music Hall of Famer Cowboy Jack Clement, is at The Station Inn this evening, bolstering the state of today’s country music. Tom Douglas, the thoughtful tunesmith who wrote “The House That Built Me,” “Love’s The Only House” and a bunch of songs not about houses, is at the Bluebird Cafe. Ricky Skaggs, Charley Pride and Mel Tillis are on the “Grand Ole Opry.” The Don Kelley Band, a group that has spawned world-class guitarists Brent Mason, Redd Volkaert, Johnny Hiland, Guthrie Trapp and J.D. Simo, is at Robert’s Western World with ace guitarist Daniel Donato.
Future looks good
Today’s country music also includes Merle Haggard playing Long Beach, Calif., Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss in Louisville and a whole lot of other greats playing a whole lot of other places.
Ah, but there’s always the future to worry about. What about the state of tomorrow’s country music?
On Saturday, there’s tons of fine CMA Festival stuff, and the Kelley Band is back again at Robert’s.
Country Music Hall of Famer Emmylou Harris is joining Ricky Skaggs, Buddy Miller, Jamey Johnson, Amy Grant and others for a canine charity show at Fontanel mansion called “Woofstock.” Mandy Barnett is at 3rd & Lindsley, and Larry Cordle is at The Station Inn. Then there’s the “Opry,” and Haggard is in Loughlin, Nev., and Nelson and Krauss are in Lewiston, N.Y., with Musgraves, and I also might listen to tomorrow’s country at home via my album collection or iTunes, or in my car via WSM-AM 650, or via satellite radio.
The state of Sunday’s country music is good, too, according to The Tennessean’s live show listings. On Monday, The Time Jumpers — a band of jaw-dropping talent that includes Hall of Famer Vince Gill — is at 3rd & Lindsley. On Tuesday, traditionalist Dale Watson comes to The Station Inn. Wednesday, the electrifying Greg Garing is at Logue’s Black Raven Emporium in East Nashville.
The state of today’s country music is fantastic. Phenomenal, even for those of us who are overage and under-tattooed.
If you’re listening to anything you don’t enjoy, listen to something else. We have greater quality, quantity and variety of country music available to us today in Nashville than anyone has ever had, anyplace, anywhere.
Be amused, not disgusted. Listen up.
Reach Peter Cooper at 615-259-8220 and on Twitter @TNMusicNews.