Discussion: Am I Not Country Enough?

Call Me Crazy, the latest addition to the exquisite Lee Ann Womack catalog, is a slow-burning stunner, ripe with the rich, textured lyrical and musical concepts that comprise the best of country music.  But although its a strong embodiment of the genre’s most treasured elements, Womack herself is wary of proclaiming her “country-ness.”  CMT’s Craig Shelburne stumbles upon an interesting tidbit in his recent interview with the six-time CMA award winner:

…But there is one thing you’ll probably never hear from her — and that’s a generic “I’m country and here’s why” song. Asked how often she hears that type of song in the demo pile, she replies, “Too often. To me, country is not something you can tell people you are. Country is not something you can put on or take off. It’s not a certain way you dress. And if you have to tell people in a song, ‘I’m country,’ then I start wondering. You should be able to hear it.”

I’m inclined to agree with Womack here.  Although her every artistic decision hasn’t been perfect, I believe she appreciates and understands the genre’s deepest truths better than most contemporary acts.  She’s willing to stretch country music’s boundaries without abandoning its basic musical and lyrical concepts.  I trust her judgment.  I really do.  Stories about the farm (Trisha Yearwood’s “Dreaming Fields”), a family’s rural living (Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter”) and fishing (Brad Paisley’s “I’m Gonna Miss Her/The Fishing Song”) are fine.   But the laundry-list songs about country life are tiresome.

So, it’s a two-part question this evening: What’s your favorite (or least favorite) country song about being country?  And what’s your opinion on Womack’s comment?

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20 Comments

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20 Responses to Discussion: Am I Not Country Enough?

  1. MarcNo Gravatar

    I’m not sure whether Ashton Shephard’s
    “please say I’m Country” song “Sounds So Good” goes in the good pile or the bad pile. It’s a decent song, but it certainly is listy.

    I guess I’ll let the group decide, and list a couple more:
    - Tim McGraw – Something Like That
    - Shania Twain – Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?
    - Alan Jackson – Chattahoochee

    But the Ultimate Fake Country Award goes to…
    …anything by “Larry the Cable Guy”

  2. rockymtrangerNo Gravatar

    Off the top of my head, “I’m From the Country” by Tracy Byrd shows that subtlety is dead. However, I have no problem with George Strait’s “Heartland”, which declares roots in a much more honest way, without trying to prove anything.

  3. Well Craig Morgan’s authenticity must be in doubt then because he’s had a litany of “I’m Country” songs, including one called, well, “I’m Country.”

  4. JaneNo Gravatar

    Any song that goes on about being a redneck, or a country boy. They’re all tend to be tired stories repeated over and over.

  5. Chris D.No Gravatar

    I definitely agree, I’ve heard this comment from her before, and I’ve expressed it over the past week on the 9513 and their forums. I completely agree that the “I’m country” songs bet boring and repetitive very quickly, and I don’t relate with them well because I’m not country, I live in the city.

    Songs about the country are fine, but songs that prove that someone is country are annoying and unoriginal.

    It’s part of the reason why I don’t like a lot of current mainstream male artists.

  6. I like Billy Yates’ “Too Country And Proud Of It.”

    He also has a song called “Country.” both predated the current ‘country’ boom.
    Aaron Lines’ “Lights Of My Hometown” is a nice song about going home to the country.
    AJ’s “Small Town Southern Man” is another good one.

  7. Greg M

    I’m not sure if I understand the question, but my favorite country song now is Ashton Shephard’s “Sounds so Good.” Given what counry means to me, the corous makes it a great country tune:

    ‘Cause there ain’t nothin’ like the sound
    Of a cooler slushin’ on the bed ‘a yo’ truck
    And ain’t nothin’ like the sound of real country music
    C’mon, turn it up
    And I love to hear the whippoorwill sing any night
    And the crickets out in the woods
    Ooh, (and) don’t it feel so right
    Don’t it sound so good

    As for the other question, I wonder if Country is getting to be vague these days. There is so much variety in the country format right now that people’s definitions of what country is are so mixed. The best example I could think of was Big & Rich. When they came out, there was so much talk about whether or not they were country, and it was pretty much split down the middle. I like these comments from Womack because I think it’s good commentary on the country music world we see today.

  8. Favorite song about being country is probably Dolly Parton’s “My Tennessee Mountain Home.” It tells of country living through loving attention to detail, instead of a laundry list of declarative statements.

    Least favorite? There are many, but I’ve always really hated Tim McGraw’s “Down on the Farm.”

    Womack’s comment is interesting. She’s held up as a traditionalist standard-bearer, but she’s pushed the boundaries quite a bit more than that, even on the albums that are considered her most traditional.

    I feel the same way about Patty Loveless, who is championed so much as a mountain singer and classic country singer that her skills with pop and country-rock are unfairly overlooked.

  9. TomNo Gravatar

    i’d say, when the word “country” appears in the title, the song beneath often comes across limping. it’s like ordering a “big mac hamburger” at mc donald’s. ms. womack is absolutely right. then again, i enjoy quite a few of these “shopping list” type of songs. with me, they work like someone clicks on the jpg-icons in my mind and pictures appear, one after the other. joe diffie’s “home” is a perfect one, luke bryan’s “country man” slightly less so.

  10. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I suppose I’d just rather that songs show me country living rather than dictate it to me, if that makes sense. Then again, I don’t hate all country list songs; they just have to be well executed and not stupid like “That’s How Country Boys Roll.”

  11. JL

    The song that immediately comes to mind from this post is Josh Turner’s “Everything is Fine.”

  12. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    Re. Dolly’s “My Tennessee Mountain Home”–of course, Dolly knows whereof she speaks, having grown up in the country and in what can at the very least be described as extreme poverty. Her ability to put these feelings down in song the way she does makes her special. And she’s been able to do it more than once, as well.

    Truth be told, I find most “I’m Country” songs today to be…well, “manufactured” is the most charitable word I could use. So many of them seem to be pandering to the audience. If you’re really “country”, you shouldn’t have to spell it out.

    This is why I’m taking a different tract and choosing four songs by more folk-oriented artists who now have considerable respect among country artists nowadays (but who didn’t have it at the time these songs came out):

    “Take Me Home, Country Roads”–John Denver
    “Back Home Again”–John Denver
    “Country Road”–James Taylor
    “Carolina In My Mind”–James Taylor

    Even if these two artists never grew up in the country, they have seen a great deal of it to put it down in song and make it credible and lasting (IMHO).

  13. I’m especially fond of Little Big Town’s “Boondocks,” which is so good that it took me months to realize it was an “I’m so country” song. Proves you can make anything fresh if you do it artfully enough:

    “I can feel that muddy water running through my veins
    And I can hear that lullaby of a midnight train
    It sings to me and it sounds familiar”

    And Lee Ann is entirely correct. A lot of these songs have a “the singer doth protest too much” air about them.

  14. ScottNo Gravatar

    I take a middle ground stance here..some of these sub-genre songs are very very good (“Sounds so Good”) and some are really contrived (RVS’ “Simple man” for example). it just depends on the song for me.

  15. LanibugNo Gravatar

    I just read this article about Lee Ann and thought it went with this article — I loved #2 and #3 –

    http://www.nashvillegab.com/2008/10/wow-lee-ann-womack-really-is-crazy.html#comments

  16. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    Lanibug, I read that article and the corresponding piece with Peter Cooper this morning. It provides a nice insight, in my opinion.

  17. sheldonNo Gravatar

    Dottie West’s brilliant “Country Sunshine” is a great one, and Dolly’s “In the Good Ole Days (When Times Were Bad)” has one of the best lines ever written in a country song; “No amount of money can buy from me the memories that I have of then, but no amount of money could pay me to go back and live through it again…in the good ol’ days, when times were bad”

    And no mention of Barbara Mandrell’s “I was country when country wasn’t cool”??? At one time that song was the furthest thing from a country song…now I long for radio to play a song that sounds as country as Mandrell’s signature song

  18. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    As the thread shows, “country” country songs land on both sides of the fence. Not all of these types of tunes are bad, of course. But unfortunately, some artists seem to be very defensive and feel the need to mark their territory, as if the rest of the world is criticizing the country way of life. Those are the kinds of “country” songs that are cloying and annoying.

  19. MarcNo Gravatar

    How on Earth did I forget to add “Gretchen Wilson – Redneck Woman” to this list. What was I thinking? Awful!

  20. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Least favorite: “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”

    Favorite: too many to say but the following songs come to mind :

    “Hillbilly Fever” – Jimmy Dickens
    “Country Music Lover” – Jimmy Dickens

    “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” – John Denver
    “Blackland Farmer” – Frankie Miller

    “In My Tennessee Mountain Home” and “In The Good Old Days(When Times Were Bad)” -Dolly Parton

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