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Is Real Country Music Dead, Or Just Sleeping?

Yes, the face of country music has changed.

Yes, at the moment that face may be 16 years old. And, yes, maybe adolescent dollars have been waging a battle for control of country-music airwaves and concert-tour bookings.

Still, is this proud genre — which probably would try to reject George Jones and Loretta Lynn if they were coming up today — IS traditional country music doomed?

Actually, no. The pop-country sub-genre’s grip on the brass ring may be loosening.

Catch this slice of life: Billboard’s top 10 country songs this week feature salutes to
- cleaning up your act as you mature
- accepting what you cannot change
- the banjo as an antidote to the soullessness of the concrete jungle
- the way hearing a song by Springsteen — you read that right — takes you back to being 17
- the simple pleasures having a truck brings
- the workaday heroism of America’s fly-over states

Write this down: the majority of acts in Nashville’s winners’ circle right now got there with themes that get beyond early-1960s hormonal romance.

Translation: the country-music pendulum just may be starting to swing back.

I don’t mean we’ll be hearing much Luke the Drifter any time soon. But we could be in for more of the traditional craftsmanship and focus of a couple of decades ago. That songwriting relied on story. It gave you an insight or two — so when you were done taking in the three-minute movie, you understood a little more about how the world works.

A prime example of that kind of songwriting would be something like 1990’s ‘Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow’. Alan Jackson and Jim McBride wrote about the rise of a country-music performer: the mother who used to sing to you when you were a baby now worries about your taking the singing a little too far — playing in bars, chasing the neon rainbow.

That songwriting isn’t cotton candy: it’s meat and potatoes. It doesn’t celebrate what’s superficial. It celebrates humility. It nods to the responsibility of paying those five pickers in the truck who are on tour with you. Half the time, you may have to sing for free. You work for what you get. And when the crowd appreciates your work — well, you say ‘Thank you for letting me live my dream’.

Getting back to that kind of country music would make a lot of people happy. Some of those people even could be 16 years old.

Who knows? If the charts keep pushing past the tipping point this way, you might be driving along one of these days and hear a new duet from George and Loretta.

A.D. Maclin,, is a songwriter (NSAI, ASCAP) in Chicago.

Reader Comments (2)

Nice article. Country music traditionalism has been on the ropes since Fiddlin' Jack Carson cut those acetates for Okeh records. The front porch and the record store have been knee deep in a culture war. This friction has resulted in Pasty Cline and Eddie Arnold taking to the dinner clubs by Owen Bradley.and Willie and Waylon and the boys splitting off as a outlaw splinter faction.

Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert, Marty Stuart and the current incarnation of Kelly Pickler has recently mined the trad mine. Traditionalism is risky but people want it. Jason Eady, Justin Townes , Earle and Whitey Morgan reflect the rising strength of the Americana genre as the current torchbearer of the outlaw principle of traditionalism in contemporary form.

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterBaron Lane

Nice article, A.D. Jim McBride is my godfather - well, to be accurate, as a kid I picked him to keep me if something were to happen to my parents. I was about 12 years old, and our family was moving to Nashville for my dad (Kim Williams) to pursue his songwriting passion which eventually led him to co-author classic country hits such as, Randy Travis "Three Wooden Crosses," Garth Brooks "Papa Loved Mama," and Keith Anderson "Pickin' Wildflowers."

Jim is a sweet, sweet man with a lot of living in his shoes. He sings just like Don Williams - the grand piano voice of country music.

I think you're right about the songwriting taking a turn for substance - whether that will translate into radio hits, an underground music explosion fueled by film and television placements, or the engendering of a new breed of artist. Maybe all three combined and then some.

Good to make your acquaintance. Let's figure this thing through.

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