A Conversation for Country Music
FG Started conversation Nov 3, 2000
Forget Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Billy Ray Cyrus, and other popular acts of today's country music scene. The real heirs to the throne are in the burgeoning sub-genre of alt.country--Steve Earle, Son Volt, and my personal favorite, Wilco. One of the best releases of 1998--obviously in my humble opinion--was their collaboration with English pop star Billy Bragg, "Mermaid Avenue", a collection of unreleased Woody Guthrie songs.
This stuff is real country, not the imitation crappy pop that passes for country music on the Billboard charts.
Spaceechik, Typomancer Posted Jan 14, 2001
I have just discovered alt.country, myself...all of 65 minutes ago.
There is a country music program from Austin TX called "Austin City Limits" and they had on Steve Earle, and Kasey Chambers. He did a song called "The Galway Girl" and another, "Transcendental Blues", both great. Kasey Chambers is a country songwriter from Australia; she was terrific! I have been missing alternative music lately, mostly because it is so cloned its stereo...typical, that is.
More artists, titles, please.
FG Posted Jan 16, 2001
You mean from me, or the author of the original article?
Start with Wilco. They're definitely the best.
Spaceechik, Typomancer Posted Jan 16, 2001
I humbly beg pardon ... on the item I saw, you were the only poster listed! I never saw the original article, but will look for it now!
Thank you for the info, I will try them!
evilwombat Posted Jan 18, 2001
Artists: Old 97's (the most rocking of the bunch), Whiskeytown, Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo (the original band of the songwriters from Son Volt and Wilco), Ryan Adams (lead singer/songwriter of Whiskeytown) solo album, Jayhawks, Reverend Horton Heat (more whiskey rock than alt.country).
Great albums: Old 97's : Fight songs, Wreck Your Life; Ryan Adams' solo album; Jayhawks : Smile, Tomorrow the Green Grass; Emmylou Harris : Wrecking Ball; Steve Earle : Transcendental Blues
FG Posted Jan 18, 2001
I must concur with Emmylou's "Wrecking Ball".
Other good "quasi-country" recordings:
Bob Dylan: "Nashville Skyline" and "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid",
Cowboy Junkies: "Black Eyed Man"...oh, heck, just about anything by the Junkies...
The Del McCoury Band is one of the greatest bluegrass bands ever...
Lyle Lovett--especially "Road to Ensenada",
Neil Young, "Harvest Moon".
I'll come up with more for you, Cadette.
evilwombat Posted Jan 18, 2001
Not to mention Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels on a gravel road.
I love the cowboy junkies, and I know there is no real definition for alt.country, but I would think they're too mellow to fit the category. Their first album, The Trinity Session is one of the top ten albums ever recorded by a non-genetically modified group of humans.
FG Posted Jan 19, 2001
I don't think mellowness, or the lack thereof, is a good delinater for alt.country--that's the whole point of the sub-genre--breaking the rules established by over-commericialized Top 40 country.
I absolutely love the Junkies as well. I hesitated to include them here, they really are of no genre and all genres at the same time. Their lyrics alone establish them as one of the best musical acts today!
Canalside Posted Jul 16, 2001
Here's a few more to try:
- Lou Ford (a group not a bloke)
- Willard Grant Conspiracy (cross between REM and Nick Cave, better than both)
- Shelby Lynne
Canalside Posted Jul 16, 2001
By the way, have a look at my new Neil Young entry and see what you think... It's entry number A595541.
Dr Bob Posted Oct 5, 2001
I must defend top 40 country. So-called "alt.country" is OK, but in some ways is more of a compromise, easier to like if you come from a rock-ist background. I always think of it as country music for people who don't really like it. One limitation of these singer-songwriter types is that they sometimes run out of ideas. I've rarely found a Steve Earle record I didn't want to skip a few tracks.
Commercial country is a system, a production line, that mostly produces Volkswagens, but occasionally comes up with an Audi. Though the trend in recent years has been to sign younger and younger singers, one of the nice things about it is the dues paying: someone like Faith Hill, for example, popular and beautiful as she is, was knocking around in Nashville for around 7 years before she got her break.
And these people work damn hard: take a look at their touring schedule, and take note of the number of singers - like Faith or Patty Loveless - who end up with bleeding vocal chords, and have to have operations and even voice coaching so they don't do more damage.
The real beauty of commercial country is that it allows ordinary, regular songwriters, who maybe aren't that good looking, or that brilliant at performing, to make a living writing enormous hits for enormous talents.
I just do not accept that someone like Trisha Yearwood is a lesser talent than, say, Mary Chapin Carpenter or Emmylou. Her voice is awesome, and she has great technique.
Compare the singing style of Country to, say, R&B, and you see a huge difference. Trisha almost never punctuates her singing with "Ooohs" and "Woas" and "Yeas." But she can make the actual words of the song really carry meaning. She's the Frank Sinatra of female country vox. I think it's something to do with the difference between expression and articulation.
Also, you don't want to miss the crossover between top 40 country and the more trendy alt.country crowd. A singer-songwriter like Matraca Berg can release brilliant records (like "Sunday Morning to Saturday Night") into obscurity, and write massive top 10 hits for the likes of Faith, Trisha, Patty, Sarah Evans, and Chely Wright.
So, support your local songwriter: buy top 40 country as well!
FG Posted Oct 5, 2001
I thoroughly disagree. Top 40 Country is nothing but bad pop music. Not only has the music lost touch with it's roots (How often do you hear a steel pedal anymore? Where the heck are the lyin', cheatin', and drinkin' songs a la Merle Haggard and George Jones) but by and large, modern country stars aren't really MUSICIANS anymore. They rarely play an instrument--the Dixie Chicks are a notable exception, they rarely write their own music, and they focus more on image and large hats rather than the music itself. There are some, such as Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakam, or Patty Loveless who go back and rediscover their roots--as in "roots music", but they are few and far between. No, country music has followed in the dreary footsteps of pop music: prepackaged acts without an ounce of originality. I expect to see the Backstreet Boys of country come along any time now.
Dr Bob Posted Oct 9, 2001
Your dismissal simply reveals that you don't posess the competencies to judge. For example, pedal steel is still one of the key ways in which country is distinguished from regular rock or pop music. I hear it on just about every record I buy.
You're subscribing to two myths that have you all knotted up. First of all, the myth of authenticity or "roots." There is really no such thing as authenticity in terms of country music. There was always something that came before, and country music is like a big discussion forum of different styles and attitudes. The definition of someone who can create something out of nothing would be "god." Secondly, and following on from this, the idea of a genre of music being created by individuals who are "musicians", is simply to subscribe to the Romantic myth of the creative individual. As I said in my previous posting, country is a production line, and to judge it competently you have to consider the songwriters, the session musicians, the main vocal/instrumental performers, the producers, the engineers, and even (at the CMA awards) the hair stylists and clothiers. Slightly facetious there, but the bigger picture is all of the people involved in country music production in the square mile of Music Row.
To argue that there are no real "musicians" is to insult the abilities and contribution made by key session musicians like Dan Huff and Brent Mason (guitar), and the matchless ears of producers like Paul Worley. Finally, you should understand that singers and songwriters are musicians too.
So what are the songs about? Well, Top 40 country certainly includes the whiskey and the cheatin' and the lyin', and obviously you haven't been listening. More importantly, what is country really about? It is of course a combination of subject matter and instrumental sounds, of production values, and target audience. But one of the main things you'll find in country is the various ways in which objects conspire to evoke emotion.
The truck that won't start, the pair of shoes left in the cupboard, the tear-stained letter, the ring left on the pillow... objects that remind us of the various ways we have screwed up. The 0018 Martin Guitar, the cigarette drowned inside a glass of gin, the dripping tap, the record collection reduced by 50%... the list is endless.
Finally, ask yourself how many of the 350 songs (according to BMI) written by the transcendent Matraca Berg have been recorded by top 40 country artists. This is just one example, and part of the pleasure of getting into any genre of music is applying your own filter, discovering your own cream of the crop, and making your own mix tapes/CDs, so that in years to come, when your relationship goes bad, you can discover the tape you made when you were happy and find yourself living inside a real life country song. Get yourself some chocolate and a magazine (to quote Matraca) and enjoy.
FG Posted Oct 9, 2001
As a member of the music-loving public, of course I have the right to judge a genre that has forgotten, or at the very least, prostituted its "roots". First of all, roots music is not a myth. Most country/western/folk/bluegrass/gospel--some would argue rock, jazz, and blues as well--come from a wellspring of music forms primarily originating in America's South; largely Celtic ballads and Afro-American slave call-and-response songs. Well into the 1960's many country musicians kept these traditions alive. It wasn't until the days of Chet Atkins' "Nashville Sound" did the whole notion of the production line as part and parcel of the music began. Don't get me wrong. Atkins was a great guitarist and a traditionalist in the best sense. However, his revolution led to the distancing of the musicians and the songwriters from the actual production of the music and from the listening audience. Maybe I'm an idealist, but I appreciate creativity. I'm not saying any particular songwriter or session musician lacks it, but I wish their performance could be captured on video or CD. When the writer performs his composition, it gains a depth and understanding that a hired talent will never be able to grasp. And that's my main complaint about the genre today. It's not unlike the scandal of the early nineties, when the dance-music group C & C Music Factory used fabulous singers in the recording studio, yet their videos and live performances featured bland fashion models, so as not to turn off the audience. You yourself referenced the "production line" inherent in country. And that is the difference between you and me. I do not want the end-product of an assembly plant. I do not want "hair stylists and clothiers" to be an important part of the process. I do not want Cheez Whiz. I want the music.
AlienTourist Posted Oct 9, 2001
I might as well make a plug here...
My next door neighbor's alt.country type band, Chineseburn, is 'Artists in Residence' on London's XFM 104.9FM for the week Commencing: October 22nd. Four songs recorded live in session for the John Kennedy show (Mon-Thurs 11pm-1am). You can listen to it on the net. The best description I can give of the band is Wilco with a Theremin.
And by the way, evilwombat, you forgot to mention Golden Smog- a sort of alt.country supergroup featuring members of Run, Westy, Run, Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, Wilco and Big Star.
Dr Bob Posted Oct 9, 2001
Clearly I have perverse tastes. I can't explain my love for Top 40 other than to say, I love it when you discover really good stuff in circumstances you wouldn't normally expect to find it.
I tend to think that in any given era, talented people will usually end up working towards commercial ends. Great writers end up writing episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or inventing slang on NYPD Blue.
So, yeah, we have a music business which has always, in every era, been hopelessly corrupt (I think Hunter S. Thompson said it was something like a money trench, and music business people were like pigs with their snouts in the trough), and yet somehow good things get done. And I like to look for them where you'd least expect to find them, amongst all the chewing gum wrappers and the bubble gum.
It's kinda like the way the guitar solo arises out of the muddy mix on the title track to Bob Dylan's "New Morning."
I still think you're wrong about the roots thing though. If the music went back to its roots, country'd end up being French accordion music and classical spanish guitar. And stuff.
FG Posted Oct 9, 2001
Watch it, buster. I also happen to love Spanish classical guitar. No one can play more beautiful music than Pepe Romero--Enya, stand aside!
Key: Complain about this post
- 1: FG (Nov 3, 2000)
- 2: Spaceechik, Typomancer (Jan 14, 2001)
- 3: FG (Jan 16, 2001)
- 4: Spaceechik, Typomancer (Jan 16, 2001)
- 5: evilwombat (Jan 18, 2001)
- 6: FG (Jan 18, 2001)
- 7: evilwombat (Jan 18, 2001)
- 8: FG (Jan 19, 2001)
- 9: Canalside (Jul 16, 2001)
- 10: Canalside (Jul 16, 2001)
- 11: Dr Bob (Oct 5, 2001)
- 12: FG (Oct 5, 2001)
- 13: Dr Bob (Oct 9, 2001)
- 14: FG (Oct 9, 2001)
- 15: AlienTourist (Oct 9, 2001)
- 16: Dr Bob (Oct 9, 2001)
- 17: FG (Oct 9, 2001)
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