Discussion: Countryfied?

kellywillisAlthough 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?

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29 Comments

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29 Responses to Discussion: Countryfied?

  1. Occasional HopeNo Gravatar

    Can we answer none of the above?

    Actually, I think the Chicks’ song is more or less country, although not traditional country, and the instrumentation and harmonies put it in the country camp. It’s closer than any of the other clips, anyway.
    In decreasing countryness, imo:
    Elizabeth Cooks could never sound anything other than country vocally, and the instrumenatation was country too, but the song itself isn’t structurally country.
    Kelly Willis has a great country voice, but I couldn’t really tell on that recording because of sound quality issues; the song itself wasn’t, and it wasn’t given a country backing.
    Brandi Carlile: obviously an actual country song, but the vocals and backing sounded straight rock to me.
    Taylor Swift: nothing about that performance had anything to do with country music that I could hear – the tune, the lyrics, the arrangement, Taylor”s vocal choices. It sounds like a good pop song.

  2. oooohhhhh, should be fun.

    1. I think Taylor’s songwriting is really super duper country in it’s storytelling. so she’s in the running, but the arrangment and her vocals work against her.

    2. Wow, I need to marry Brandi Carlile like, immediately. but that was pretty freakin’ rock and roll. country? I don’t know. So far Taylor is in the lead.

    3. fairly country. kind of 60’s country-rockish, borderline.

    4. the accent does serve to confuse me a little bit, but no, not country. plus, I don’t get U2, like, at all.

    5. solid “new country” I’d say. Sounds like a 90’s Pam Tillis cut. so, yanow, not super “country” and a little bit like “hey look I can sing rock and roll/boogie woogie too, kinda” but country.

    6. half country, the chorus more so than the verses. and the chorus is solidly plugging along till the hook placement which is a little forced for a country song, hmmmm….

    this was fun though.

    I’d say Willis, Cook, Swift, Carlile, Chicks, Sugarland. in that order.

  3. MarcNo Gravatar

    “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.”

    Could not agree more.

    Based purely off of those examples:

    Elizabeth Cook does it for me, despite the “song” not “being country”. Country, in this case, is presented by the arrangement of the song, the style of vocals.

    To add opinion, the emotion of the voice also adds to it, but that’s very subjective to the listener. In that regard, Nettles always scores too.

    Maines has a country twang, and certainly the femmemullet doesn’t harm her chances.. but it’s a not very Country, in comparison. If the banjo was replaced with another guitar, you could hear any of the 90’s “Lillith Fair” type artists (whom I very much enjoy) in that song/performance.

  4. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    Cool idea! Here’s my thinking:

    Taylor Swift’s is smart acoustic pop with a smidge of country sensibility in the lyrics.

    I’ve always thought the full-band arrangements of “Folsom Prison Blues” were as much traditional rock as country, and Brandi Carlile pushes it even further into rock territory. But it’s the kind of organic rock that would sit well in a modern country set-list.

    Elizabeth Cook’s I’d call country-pop. It’s composed like a pop ballad, but the vocal and the instrumentation are decidedly country. It sounds to me like something Glen Campbell might’ve done back in the day.

    I’d call Sugarland’s song “Southern Arena Rock.” Completely unrelated to country music as we know it.

    The Kelly Willis song is like warm late 60’s/early 70’s rock and I couldn’t honestly call it “country” under any circumstance, but I like her and that song enough that I wouldn’t care if she performed it in a country set-list. It kind of reminds me of something that would have been in the soundtrack to the movie Now and Then.

    I concur with Occasional Hope that the Chicks’ song is probably the “most” country. The compositional style of the writing is sort of a blend of bluegrass and pop, with most of the bluegrass coming in the chorus, and the instrumentation and vocals are polished acoustic country all the way. It’s kind of hard to dissect musically, but there’s no question you’d group it as “country” or something like it.

    So my order is like this, from greatest to least: Chicks, Cook, Carlile, Swift, Willis, Sugarland.

    Also, this quote by Ben…

    “so, yanow, not super “country” and a little bit like “hey look I can sing rock and roll/boogie woogie too, kinda” but country.”

    …is amazing.

  5. Occasional HopeNo Gravatar

    Oh, I forgot to comment on Sugarkand’s song. I thought it was pop-rock more than anything; I don’t think Jennifer’s voice is intrinsically country either.

  6. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Awesome idea, Lynn!

    I’ll have to go with Ben’s order as well. I’d be more detailed, but I’m on my way out the door. I’ll come back later.

  7. CMWNo Gravatar

    Neat idea. Here’s the way I hear it, most to least country:

    Cook (everything but the song is country)
    Willis (new-countryish)
    Chicks (acoustic country-pop)
    Carlile (rock, but has a fair amount in common with outlaw country)
    Swift (songwriting is marginally country)
    Sugarland (has nothing to do with country)

  8. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    Joey+ Rory are Country…this stuff is not what I call Country.. …I cannot even rank them for token country elements contained in any of these songs…I wish you had included something by Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, George Strait or George Jones or one of the other Grand Masters to use as a standard for comparison, a control or Gold standard, if you will. But these songs and choices compel me to answer “none of the above”.

    But I think the best of the bunch here is the exquisite performance by the Dixie Chicks…beautiful vocals and harmonies, and good Country instrumentation with the mandolin and all. But I wouldn’t call the song itself, or the structure of the song “Country” with a capitol “C”.

    The rest of these songs and performances are minor league, by comparison..

    Jennifer Nettles accent is exaggeration to the point of incomprehensibility at times. Her “I’ s sound like “A”s.. I know people from Georgia, and they sound NOTHING like this. And there are many well known Country singers from Georgia who sound nothing like this. Trisha and Alan Jackson come to mind.., …I I like her voice, and some of Sugarland’s songs, but I just cannot get past this. I love vocal twang in my Country, (I find Country without a good Southern drawl somewhat boring), but this is more like quacking…And the ironic thing is that with many artists, their accents disappear when they sing (the Beatles for example) but Jennifer’s diminishes when she speaks, and increases when she sings.

    And just before Sara Evans made the transition from an avid Neo-Traditonalist to a Pop Country diva, she resisted. Then she had a conversation with Joe Galante who assured her that with her authentic Country vocals, she could take any Pop song on the charts, sing it and it would BECOME a Country song…I could not disagree more…It takes more than a Country voice, no matter how authentic, pure and beautiful, to make a Country song.

    I love George Strait’s definition of Country from “Heartland”: “when you hear twin fiddles and a steel guitar, you listen to the sound of the American heart”

    And Harlan Howard’s definition that Country music is “three chords and the truth”.

    And while we’re on the subject, can anyone please explain to me just how exactly Keith Urban can be considered Country? As brilliant and talented as he is, I just do not understand how he was inttially classified as a Country singer. I don’t mean to single out Keith, but this is symptomatic of a deeper problem of just how far Country’s identity has been watered down by Pop influences.

    I’ve said this before, but when I talk to many young people who say they love Country music, they mean Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Rascall Flatts, Sugarland and Taylor Swift..That’s all they know of country music and all they WANT to know.

    And as for too much Bluegrass? NO such thing, lol. I think Country music needs MORE Bluegrass/Mountain influence, not less. Mountain influence is far preferable in this genre to amorphous pop for helping to preserve the identity of this unique and valuable American art form.

  9. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Steve,
    I think my definition is almost as wide as Lynn’s, though it’s often a struggle to define it all the time. I most appreciate the country that you’re talking about, but I think the boundaries of country music are much wider, even if I don’t like all that it encompasses. I think the kind of country that you particularly enjoy is one type of country music. Even the stuff that we all tend to label as traditional employ different instruments and style. I wouldn’t say that Jennings or Cash were twangy (not many fiddles or steel guitars), but we never declare them not to be country.

    I suppose the times that I say that things don’t sound country to me is if they clearly sound like another genre of music, such as straight up pop, rock or even folk (though I can sometimes mistake some folk for country).

    As for the Strait song that you quote, I’ve always thought it was ironic that it includes that line, but still manages to be one of his most rockin’ songs to date.

    I agree that Urban has really stretched the definition of country and would love to hear him pull back a bit myself, though I tend to like him for what he does, even if he pushes things.

  10. MarcNo Gravatar

    Steve from Boston com-PLETELY missed the point of this one, and clearly doesn’t have the wide berth of “Country” that most of us here would share.

  11. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    memo to Steve – there are parts of Georgia where the accent is even thicker that Ms Nettles’ accent

    I like Steve’s definition of country music in that 95% of my favorite country music would fall comfortably within its bands.

    I would not not regard the posted aongs of Taylor Swift or Brandi Carlisle as country but the rest fit on the fringes except Elizabeth Cook, who is solidly country

    I do think that we are getting too inclusive in that we seems to be including all forms of acoustic music as “Country” .

    I recently purchased the excellent new album by Richie Havens NO ONE LEFT TO CROWN. I recently heard someone describe THAT as country. It isn’t and never will be. That’s not to say I he isn’t worth checking out (trivia bit – he was the first artist to perform on stage at the (in)famous Woodstock festival

  12. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    In case I didn’t make it clear above, my absolute favorite kind of country is Steve’s definition. I simply recognize that that’s not the entire scope of what country music is.

  13. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    I understand that there are many strains that comprise real Country music, but I don’t think that watered down, pop-diluted Country is one of them..This is my opinion, and we were asked what WE think makes Country music Country. I know it when I hear it, and I know (or think I know, lol) what it aint, and I was using the example of excessive Pop elements as an indication, and to define BY CONTRAST what I think makes real Country.

    I think Lynn made a good point in bringing up Texas swing and Country Rock, Bakersfield, Alt Country, being good legitimate alternatives to my favorite Mountain/ Bluegrass inspired Country…I didn’t mean to imply that Mountain and Traditional was the ONLY kind of Country…I do acknowledge these other strains as real Country as well , I’d also add Honky Tonk and Rockabilly to that list.

    And Leeann, I got no problem with Rock and Blues influence with Country, after all, Rock was born from Country, Blues, and Gospel…So the Rock influence is kinda full circle, the way I look at it. I think Rock and Blues influence on Country adds spice, whereas Pop influence, generally waters it down.

    But I will say here, that I do love some Pop Country, when it is well conceived and excecuted. I think that Sara Evans “Restless” album is a transcendent masterpiece of country pop, as well as the pop flavored songs on Patty Loveless’ Strong Heart, “Thirsty” for example, and “My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again”..With very few exceptions, (Trisha Yearwood’s works being one) I hear very little in today’s pop-country that can compare, as least on the singles charts.

    The Strait quote I used, (as well as the Harlan Howard quote) was an oversimplification, and was not intended to be a comprehensive definition. I used them to make a point…With the “Heartland Lyric” my point was that there ARE some defining intrumentation characteristics in Country music, that GENERALLY do apply…Yeah, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard didn’t always use fiddle and steel, but they are indisputedly Country. On the other hand, Keith Urban doesn’t even have fiddle or steel in his band, and I would not call him Country by any stretch.

    But pop music, what are the defining characteristics of THAT genre, aside from blandness? At least Rap, which I despise, has an identity, as does Reggae, Rock and Roll, Classical, Folk, etc…To me, “Pop” is miscellaneous music, amorphous and bland. And it is the excessive POP influence I decry, which is diluting todays Country to a point of unrecognizability. Without much adherence to roots at all nowadays, Country music is in peril of losing it’s identity.

    As for “missing the point” Marc, I did try to answer the question that Lynn posed of “what makes Country music Countrry”..That is my opinion, and I did bring in some outside examples, beyond the samples given for us to consider to illustrate my broader point, that being concern for what is happening to “country” music today. With some few exceptions, the traditional and even newtraditional stuff doesnt get played today. Especially the works today’s more tradtional female artists.

    And if no one else thinks this is a crises in the genre, how’d y’all like the last CMA program? I remember readling a LOT of complaints about how watered down it was..

    And gee, I do hear a LOT of complaints about Taylor Swift here…whlie others get a pass who are guilty of similar transgrssions…

    Thank you Leeann for your acknowledgement of at least one of the points I was trying to make, that Keith Urban has stretched the definition of what is Country to the breaking point. And even though Mr. Urban is probably the most extreme example of this, it DOES point to a deeper problem in the industry, because it is Keith Urban who DOMINATES the genre, with sales and awards., how many Entertainer of the Year awards has he won?

    Without adherance to at least SOME of the traditons and roots, Country music is in peril of losing it’s identity. I stand by that assertion.

    And Marc, since you said I completely missed the point, do you think I make ANY good points at all? How bout addressing some of my assertions and examples, instead of categorically dismissing everything I said as irrelevant…

    And maybe you can tell me exactly what is Country about Keith Urban?

    So please folks, dont try to paint me as more narrow than I already am !

  14. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    OK, I posted my defense before I was able to read Paul’s comment and Leeann’s follow up.

    I appreciate both those posts. Leeann I hope you understand now that I do ackowledge other forms than just my favorite Mountain and Traditional as real Country as well. Texas Swing, for example is not my favorite, and the whole “Western” sound of Country-Western, the Cowboy thing, but I certainly not dispute that those are authentic threads of Counry music.

    It was the excessive pop influence on today’s country that was the main target in my comments.

    I do understand how many may have reached the wrong conclusions in my initial post, I do tend towards oversimplification in my rhetoric.

  15. lisaNo Gravatar

    i think alot of people on here have put down taylor swift for the same thing that shania, carrie faith and more from country music have done for years, being po country. you people have to include these names also, carrie u. songs like her new sounds TOTTALY like pop and she is screaming. my point is you sould not bash one person and not others that do or did the same .

  16. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Steve,
    My initial comment was in response to your first comment when you said that you couldn’t rank any of Lynn’s examples as country. Of course, this is fine, I just meant to explain why I felt that they were legitimate to this conversation, even if some *are* a stretch for one reason or another.

    As for Taylor Swift, I actually think her first album was pretty country, even with the lack of steel guitar. This latest one, well, not so much.

    I agree with your aversion to pop infiltrating country music and, likewise, second your observation of pop as blandness. Like you, however, I have been known to like some well crafted pop country ear candy from time to time.

  17. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    Lisa, that’s kind of the point I was making as well.

    Leeann, thanks, I understand that….

    I did try to address some of the examples Lynn threw out for us to consider, The Dixie Chicks song being the best and all, and by the comments about Jennifer Nettles singing accent, as well as Sara’s more pleasing vocals (to my ears anyway) were meant to make a point that Lynn touched on as well…that it takes more than just a Country voice to make a Country song.

    But when I bring in too many outside examples, it can seem like I’m getting off topic. But if y’all bear with me, I usually bring it back to a relevant point or the subject at hand.

    Paul, I’m no expert, but it’s not that Jennifer’s accent is thick, but that it only seems to be thick with certain words and vowel sounds. And seems to disappear when she talks. I think her accent is more similar to Reba’s than any Georgia accent I’ve heard. But I’m sure you know the area far better than I do.

    And Marc, if you do criticize me, please address me directly instead of in the third person…more respectful that way. Otherwise it feels like piling on, like your trying to make me feel like an outcast or something..

  18. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Luckily for me then, I don’t mind Carie, Taylor, Shenia or Faith for the kind of music they do. So, I’m safe from this part of the conversation? I like songs from all of them and dislike the same things about all of them.

  19. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Steve, I realize you addressed her examples, but my points were regarding your comment that you couldn’t categorize any of them as country when I believe that there were elements of country in most of them. Of course, she chose challenging/grey area examples on purpose.

    I hope you weren’t offended by my comments because, as usual, I only meant to engage you in debate. I thought you raised interesting points that I wanted to give my opinions on.

    By the way, have you given Elizabeth Cook a try? She really does fit into our favorite kind of country category, I think…decidedly country for sure.

  20. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    You’re safe Leeann, lol..

    By the way, I do think you have good taste, especially when you agree with me! ;)

  21. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    I actually did see some examples in the samples provided of real Country elements.. But you folks know how long winded I can be, and my post would have been even longer if I addressed the small Country component in all of the samples, so I oversimplified and focused on two.

    I agree about what I have heard from Elsizabeth Cook, and thanks for the reccomendation Leeann, as I have indicated earlier, I trust your taste and judgement! The example provided however, was very faint in the sound quality, so I couldn’t really get a good bearing on it.

    And no offense taken Leeann, I appreciate the way you engage in debate,( and your sense of humor!) but was a little frustrated that I didn’t express myself clearly enough so that you didn’t realize my definition of Country was actually a little broader than I made it seem.

  22. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I’ll admit that I’ve always thought Jennifer Nettles’ singing accent sounds put-on, like she made a deliberate effort to study how a certain kind of southern person from a certain area (couldn’t tell you which) talks and then tried to apply all those same vowel shapes to her singing, but was never able to keep from over-doing it. It actually kept me from realizing how impactful a singer she could be until “Settlin’.” I actually still think it sounds affected on a lot of stuff, but I guess I’ve just learned to ignore it now.

    At his most organic-sounding, Keith Urban is country-flavored pop-rock, and since the pop/rock scene generally doesn’t accommodate anything “country-flavored” at all, it was natural that he would wind up marketing himself to country music fans. I agree that Urban’s music has probably had a big part in changing the popular perception of what can musically be considered “country,” and I do take some issue with that. But I also think his musical vision from Golden Road on has been brilliant, and as the All Music review of that album points out, the sound Urban crafted on that album actually brought sonic elements of bluegrass (banjo, mandolin, a reliance on acoustic guitar) back to country radio even as it touted its heavy pop and classic rock influences.

  23. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I’m all for Keith’s Golden Road album. That’s the one that sold me on him, actually. The first time I heard “Somebody Like You”, I was a new fan! I also enjoy Be Here, but never completely got into his Love, Pain And The Whole Crazy Thing album, though “I Told You So” and “Raise The Barn” are among my favorite Urban tracks.

    Nettles’ seemingly exagerated accent really turned me off at first too. I’m still not a real fan of hers, but I think I’ve gotten more used to her at least. I doubt that she really decided to sit down and try to exagerate an accent as much as she possibly could. I’m thinking that it’s just her way of singing and talking for who knows what reason. Living where I live, it’s amazing what accents you’ll hear all within the same family. Our best friend has no real detectable accent, while her mother has somewhat of one and her father and siblings have serious downeast Maine accents (leaving off r’s and exagerating certain syllables…probably heard it in some Stephen King movies.).

    Steve,
    I feel the same as you. I think people have especially good taste when they agree with me.:)

  24. I absolutely adore Kelly Willis, so I’m in.

    (1) Taylor Swift, “White Horse.”
    Unlike Urban, who actually tries to incorporate elements of country and bluegrass into his otherwise straightforward adult-pop sound in a way that demonstrates how the conventions of those two genres actually can compliment each other, Swift is an example of an act who seems to tack flourishes of country instrumentation– the occasional banjo riff here, a don’t-call-it-a-fiddle there– as afterthoughts. Which is why the pop remixes of her singles for which she’s often unfairly vilified actually sound more natural and work better: Girl can structure a pop song brilliantly. And that’s the case here, as well. I actually look forward to hearing the pop version of this, which is easily her best song. I just don’t think that anything about the song’s narrative really rings true as “country” music, and the attempts to “countrify” the production are strident and ineffective.

    (2) Brandi Carlisle, “Folsom Prison Blues.”
    Covering a classic country song doesn’t necessarily make the new performance “country,” but the fact that Carlisle doesn’t tinker too much with the arrangement beyond adding electric guitar solos that are more in keeping with the style of her own work would put this somewhere in the territory of, say, Drive-By Truckers or Michelle Malone instead of Patty Loveless or Randy Travis. Which is to say that it falls somewhere under my “big tent” view of the genre, but it’s seated a bit away from the center.

    (3) Elizabeth Cook, “Sunday Morning.”
    Cook is undoubtedly a hard country singer, and the instrumentation here, as compared to the previous song, is pretty squarely in the middle of a “big tent” view of the genre. I do think it’s debatable whether or not the song really works as a country song, making this the reverse of Carlisle’s case: A country singer covering a song doesn’t necessarily make the new performance “country.” While this is far superior to, say, Mark Wills’ cover of Brian McKnight’s “Back at One” from a couple of year’s back, I’m not entirely sold on this VU song really working as country. Interesting, risky idea from a terrific talent, but the execution is questionable.

    (4) Sugarland, “Love.”
    As I said in my review of their album, there’s really nothing about either this song or its arrangement that is identifiable to me as country music: Southern-Fried Arena Rock covers it really well. And one of my problems with Sugarland, as others have mentioned, is that Nettles often sounds like she’s trying to mask her deliberate stylistic choices with a ridiculous, affected drawl. As far as Sugarland’s version of Arena Rock goes– and if that’s what they want to record, more power to them, I just wish Nettles would stop exaggerating her accent– I prefer “Take Me As I Am,” which has a stronger hook and melody, to this song. All that said: I do think Sugarland frequently writes and performs “country” music. Their pop influences are just of maddeningly inconsistent quality.

    (5) Kelly Willis, “Teddy Boys.”
    Something I’ve always loved about Kelly Willis is that, like Trisha Yearwood, she has terrific instincts about choices of cover songs that genuinely work as country. But when I had the privilege of interviewing her a couple of years ago, we talked about how that wasn’t her goal with “Teddy Boys.” The song was intended, at least in part, to showcase the influence that Wanda Jackson’s rockabilly style had on her, and I think that absolutely comes across in both the performance and the production. Still, this song is one of the first times that I ever thought Willis’ tag as “The Queen of Alternative Country” truly fit: The song isn’t country in the least, and little more than the guitar tuning and Willis’ vocal stylings attempt to place the song within the genre. Whatever genre label applies to it, though, it’s just a fantastic single and performance from one of my favorite country artists.

    (6) Dixie Chicks, “A Home.”
    This is one of my least-favorite songs from Home: Whether or not it’s “country,” I think it’s just dreary, boring, and with a structure that’s awkward by any genre’s standards. But the Chicks, at their best, are one of the best examples of pop-country, and both their vocal and instrumental arrangements, even on one of their weakest songs, showcase a definite understanding of contemporary and traditional country forms.

    So if we’re keeping score, that would be:
    – Dixie Chicks
    – Cook / Carlisle / Willis
    – Swift
    – Sugarland

    Show of hands for those who are surprised that it’s the two current radio A-listers that offer the songs with the least connections to the genre..?

  25. MarcNo Gravatar

    “And if no one else thinks this is a crises in the genre, how’d y’all like the last CMA program?”
    I didn’t like any of the previous ones either.. or any award shows. :)

    Steve, sorry if I struck a nerve, I took the lead question to be as much a comparison of the songs listed, rather than going outside the scope. In your subsequent post you expanded upon that theme. That said, I greatly appreciate, for once, that the comments have turned into an actual discussion. I’m kinda sad when I see one of the great topics on this and 9513 and the comments are basically just responses to the theme and rarely eachother.

    As for Keith Urban.. he’s 10x LESS country than Taylor Swift, and I’m not much of a Swift fan (or hater, to be fair)

  26. Razor XNo Gravatar

    My general rule of thumb for determining whether or not something is country is, if you have to ask, it probably isn’t country.

  27. I enjoy the “is it country” debate, and would like to interject

    Steve from Boston

    “Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, George Strait or George Jones or one of the other Grand Masters”

    aside from Jones, all I can say is srsly?

  28. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    See? To a point, this conversation is pretty subjective, I’d say. Then again, it wouldn’t be as much fun to discuss if it was a cut and dry topic.

  29. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    OK, I’m going to go in reverse order here…

    Ben, yes seriously…George Jones is s Grand Master…and Patty, George Strait, Alan Jackson and VInce Gill will be considered as such someday as well. I think they are on the verge, mark my words. Their fidelity to Tradition and their creative re-interpretation of classic Country songs, themes and musical elements has already put them in VERY high standing with critics and musical scholars. I have a stack of reviews of Sleepless Nights where many critics state that Patty Loveless is already one of the greatest Country singers of all time, and some say she is the last of the true Country singers. And I’m sure I could find similar statements regarding the other artists I mentioned as well,. And most of these still active artists are far to humble to admit this, but oftentimes their covers are superior to the originals…Now THAT would be a good topic for discussion and debate, I could give some really clear examples of this.(subjective, of course) Just because someone is from an earlier era, or even a pioneer in some way, does not automatically make them a better artist or singer! But George Jones truly is one of the best male singers of all time, in ANY genre, no doubt.

    Razor X, GREAT rule of thumb, I think you nailed it!.

    Marc, no, you didn’t strike a nerve…but I admit, I did kind of BYPASS one point that Lynn was making in favor of another, equally relevant point…I did not miss the point, but I do see where you could have taken it that way….I didn’t address Lynn’s comparison question of the six songs as thoroughly as I should have, and went right to what I percieved as the essence of the topic, which Lynn also formulated into a question, namely “what makes a Country song Country?” or words to that effect. My first response to the comparison question was an elaboration of the first post actually, where someone said, “can we choose none of the above?” Which is kinda what I did. As for my outside examples, sorry if you dont like that technique, but that’s just my style…again, if your bear with me, I usually do bring it home to the main point of the discussion And I have no problem when people just respond to the theme, topic or subject of the thread. But youre right, it is good when we engage each other in discussion and debate as well..

    And I see we agree on Keith Urban! For the record though, I’d just like to make it clear that I think Keith Urban is an amazing talent, a great and sensitive song-writer, a good, expressive singer, and a phenomenal guitar virtuoso. I just don’t see how he fits into ANY definition of Country.

    Actually, Dan…you have given the best explanation I have read or heard so far. No place for a Country flavored pop, acoustic, or soft rock musician except in the ever broadening Country music marketplace. But I guess what you call Country flavored, I call folk flavored. But you make me curious to sample Keith Urban’s Golden Road record…Sounds like some good, richly textured acoustic stuff there, and any sonic similarity to Bluegrass has me intriqued.

    But so far, the only really Country song I have heard by Keith Urban, is the single “Where the Blacktop Ends”

    But it is kind of ironic, that the man most of us acknowledge has very little real connection to traditional Country music, is celebrated with award after award as one of the greatest Country singers of our time!

    I’d just like to elaborate on a point that Leeann and I were discussing…Rock and Blues influence as opposed to Pop infuence…I think we do agree here, about Rock and Blues spicing up Country whereas too much pop, waters it down. A great example is Patty Loveless’ music. She has described her style as “Traditional Country with and edge”…I believe the edge she is referring to is a heavy Rock and Blues influence, especially on her earlier, Honky Tonk stylings.. And dang, that suits me just fine…that is actually one of the many, many reasons she is my favorite artist!

    And I love what Trisha Yearwood has been doing with her last two albums, masterfully bringing those Rock and Blues influences to bear on her material as well.

    And several people have picked up on the Jennifer Nettles accent discussion…I just wonder, does anyone know if she came up covering Reba songs? Or if Reba was a great influence on her? That could explain a lot.