Country is a special genre of music that has achieved a remarkable level of success in the United States. Often simplistic in nature, country music themes often mimic that of blues, except that the melodies are entirely unique. The genre is actually, contrary to popular opinion, quite open to various artists' interpretations. Many of the basic melodies revolve around three chords, which can be twisted into a more traditional 'honky tonk' sound to the more progressive pop-sounding 'Countrypolitan' or the rock-and-roll sounding 'Bakersfield Sound'.
Roots and Evolution
Country music, formerly known (and still sometimes referred to in the hills1) as 'Country & Western,' is a blend of ethnic influences. Much of it originates in the Anglo-Irish-Scottish ancestry of those who settled in the Appalachians, and it also contains the influence of Deep Southern tradition and the slave population, later black freemen. One song might feature only a fiddle, only a guitar, or when things really get wild, they might use both a guitar and a fiddle. Later incarnations had people playing jugs, saws, or any other tool that could be found in a barn. Today's country music uses electric guitars, synthesizers, and all the various digital effects that one normally finds with other pop-like genres.
Fans of country music largely come from rural areas of the US, although there is a growing contingent of fans in urban areas. Americans typically have a love/hate relationship with country music - that is, people either love it or hate it. Those that hate it usually associate country music with NASCAR racing2, wrestling, moonshine, or nervous bow-legged sheep in the barn. Many country songs lend themselves to these 'chicken-fried'3 topics.
For example, there is a country artist named Junior Brown whose lyrics read,
If you think that I want trouble,
Then you're crazy in the head,
Because you're runnin' from the po-lice,
And my wife thinks you're dead.
Many country songs will harp on this 'woe is me' theme like the countless tunes about grandmothers in jail.
Modern incarnations of country music are virtually indistinguishable from pop music. These are commonly called 'crossover' tunes, and they are played on both pop stations and country stations. This is much to the chagrin of traditional country music fans, who are very territorial and don't appreciate it when innovative artists break out of the stereotypical folksy style.
However controversial, the new interpretations of this strong musical tradition have attracted a new class of country music fans that are helping to make the genre more and more popular with each ensuing year.