June 30, 2008
We all know of John Rich. He’s the guy from Big & Richwith a silky smooth voice who has a personality that doesn’t match. He has made more than one controversial statement and has an arrogance that likely even he wouldn’t deny. However, the most significant aspect about him, in this forum of Country Universe, is his musical contribution.
As I have been listening to songs to review, I noticed that Rich has connections with at least four of the artists for my consideration. This got me thinking about how he has inserted himself into much of what we hear on country radio today. He’s written songs for and/or produced many artists including Faith Hill, Gretchen Wilson, Jason Aldean, John Anderson, Shannon Brown, Jewel, James Otto, Randy Owen and I’m sure there are others that I’ve excluded.
When I first heard the music of Big & Rich, I have to admit that I thought it was refreshing and interesting. I enjoyed how they created their own brand of country music by intertwining rock with country. I, however, can say that my infatuation with Big & Rich and their sound is pretty much over. I don’t know if this is due to the fact that I’ve out grown it or if it’s because John Rich seems to be injecting his sound into the music of every artist he can get his hands on, which has turned into John Rich overload.
Good producers are the ones who know how to make their artists shine. They know how to make their production compliment who the singer is as an artist. They may have a particular style, but they are capable of making it work uniquely for each of the artists they produce.
For example, Rick Rubin. Not only has he produced artists in rock and rap music, he has found a place in country music as well. He revived Johnny Cash’s career with brilliance. When Cash’s voice was still strong, he had the foresight to make an acoustic record that would accentuate Johnny’s rich voice and ability to interpret songs. Moreover, when Johnny’s voice lost the richness that everyone knew and loved, Rubin persuaded him to sing anyway and made an extremely well respected record with what he had, which easily could have been argued as not being very much at that point.
Then there’s the Dixie Chicks. The album that he produced managed to make a fiddle rock. One may hear similarities between the Cash and Chicks albums, but Rubin was able to make them sound unique to the artists. He was able to create productions that complemented the artist he was producing.
This is what John Rich does not seem to be capable of doing. Instead, he simply applies a general production to all of the artists he produces. Almost without fail, one can discern if a record was produced by Rich. People may argue that this is a good thing by suggesting that it is admirable to have a recognizable sound. While it is good for an artist to have a signature sound, it is not appropriate for a producer to adopt one. It is the job of the producer to adapt his production to suit the artist and help to facilitate the artist’s signature sound rather than his own.
To put it more succinctly, the producer should not overshadow the artist. The point of listening to a singer is to get to know the artist, not the producer. And this is where John Rich does the artists that he produces a disservice. Sure, it can also be suggested that the artists know what they’re doing when they hire Rich to produce them. I cannot debate this point. I, however, can still maintain that the artists are selling themselves short and Rich is helping them to do so.
While it’s fine for Rich to maintain his signature sound in the music of his duo, it is unfortunate that he is enforcing his narrow production on everyone else’s albums. It is not good for the artists that he produces and it is not good for current country radio.