I found this video recently on YouTube. It’s a chronological collection of all of Madonna’s music videos from the past 26 years. I’ve mentioned a few times that Madonna is one of my favorite artists. She’s definitely the best live performer I’ve ever seen, and she’s one of my favorite songwriters. It’s amazing to watch and listen to her music evolve and change with time:
You may be wondering how this is related to country music, and the answer isn’t the line dancing that she does at the 20:47 mark.
It just has me thinking about how so few country artists actually evolve over time, even some of those who are among the greatest in history. Think about how little Loretta Lynn’s sound changed over the two decades she was a radio staple. Brooks & Dunn have made quite a few albums since 1991, but you could take just about any track they’ve done and place it on a different album without it sounding out of place.
The same is true for Alan Jackson, who has stepped out of his comfort zone exactly once, and he was crucified for it among traditional country fans. So after the creatively adventurous Like Red For a Rose, he went right back into his old groove with Good Time, and was promptly rewarded for it.
The same thing happened to Lee Ann Womack, who was ostracized for Something Worth Leaving Behind. The material was as solid as anything else that she’s done, but it wasn’t until she went back to hardcore country that she showered with praise.
I tend to prefer artists who try something new with each album. I remember Pam Tillis doing interviews for All of This Love. She talked about “The River and the Highway,” saying that she wouldn’t have put it on Sweetheart’s Dance because it would be out of place, but that on the new album, it was the centerpiece.
I’m always curious to hear what Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris will do next, since it always seems to be different from what they’ve done before. At the very least, I think an artist’s evolution over time should be audibly discernible.
What about all of you? Do you prefer artists who change it up? Which artists make for the most interesting listening when their work is played chronologically?