January 9, 2009
Although the question and ensuing discussion regarding whether a certain artist “is country enough” has generally gotten old, discussing “what is country music” has not…nor should it ever. In order for the genre to thrive, and indeed to survive, discussion about the history, significance and boundaries of the genre is important. (Hey, that’s why we’re here!)
I generally have a broad view of what encompasses country music. I believe all of the so-called sub-genres of country music (e.g., bluegrass, alt-country, red dirt music, pop-country, classic country, Bakersfield country, Texas country, americana, etc.), in their infinite variety, are not only within the boundaries of country music, but are extremely important. The genre needs to continue to stretch and grow and test its limits in order to stay, not only relevant, but interesting. Let’s be honest, as much as it pains me to say, there is such a thing as too much bluegrass. So, in between healthy doses of bluegrass, it’s good (and necessary) to throw in a pinch of rockin’ country from Texas, some tangy country from Bakersfield and some good old-fashioned wailin’ from the hills of Tennessee.
However, despite my country radar and inclusive nature, it’s not always so easy to determine the line between country and something entirely different. The idea for this particular discussion initially came to me when I was putting together my end-of-the-year lists for 2008. I definitely struggled this year with whether or not certain albums even fell into a sub-genre of country. Could I include them? I internally argued,”Well, this one has a banjo and fiddle; that lead singer has a southern accent; the songwriting on this one is phenomenal…they don’t do that in pop or rock.” I went round and round and eventually ended up rationalizing a lot of my picks. (If people can say Taylor Swift is country, then I can certainly say that Bob Dylan is country…right?)
So, I’m going to pick your brains and see what you think makes country music country. I’ve put together six videos from six well-known female singers. Disregarding preconceived notions about the artists themselves and the remainder of their work, here’s my question (in the vein of those truly awful multiple choice questions with no right or wrong answer):
Although they all obviously have a toe in country, which of the performances below do you consider the MOST country? And why? (Was it the voice, the song, the performance?)
Taylor Swift has become famous in the country world for transforming her innermost thoughts into popular song, such as on “White Horse,” but is the Pennsylvania native country?
Brandi Carlile isn’t classified as a “country” singer, but she’s singing a classic, Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues;” is that enough?
Elizabeth Cook has a killer country voice, but does it come across on this Velvet Underground song?
Jennifer Nettles has a deep Georgia accent, but does it make up for the U2-esque power pop song, “Love”?
Kelly Willis, a Texas chanteuse, has one of my favorite country voices, but is that enough to make this performance of “Teddy Boys” country?
The Dixie Chicks bring beautiful harmonies to “A Home,” but is it a country song?