“I hear down there, it’s changed, you see. They’re not as backward as they used to be.”
“Gone Country” is a snapshot of country music at the peak of the boom years, when forces within the music industry and larger shifts in the social landscape of America coalesced to launch country music from its long-suffering redheaded stepchild status into a billion dollar business.
Penned by Bob McDill, a pop songwriter who’d gone country himself many years earlier, the song’s sing-along chorus lends itself to “Born in the U.S.A.” syndrome. Many sang along without realizing that it was actually an indictment of musical artists who manipulatively decided to go country, rather than a celebration of the explosive new audience that had embraced the format in the early nineties.
Who but Alan Jackson could have delivered it so masterfully? Even during the hat act years, when every young new buck was falling over himself to declare his affinity for Haggard and Jones, Alan Jackson stood out as the real deal. But despite his staunch traditionalism and reverence for the genre’s greats, he still skillfully incorporated fifties rock, sixties pop and seventies rock into his sound, which is why he could cover “Tequila Sunrise” just as credibly as “A Good Year for the Roses.”
The man singing the song had reached mega-superstardom, selling more copies of one album than many of his heroes had sold of their entire catalog. Even as he played the cocked-eyebrow guardian of the genre, looking at these carpetbaggers with disdain-laced suspicion, he also knew that the gold rush that was calling their names had made him successful beyond his wildest dreams.
So while there’s a whiff of condescension toward the Vegas singer going “back to her roots”, the folkie who thought “some of that stuff don’t sound much different than Dylan”, and the pop executive who was sure he’d “be back in the money in no time at all”, his confident air throughout the song was a reminder that all of their perceptions were based in truth.
Nineties country really did share some roots with the pop and rock music that lounge singers would belt out in Vegas. Mary Chapin Carpenter, a folkie if there ever was one, was selling multi-platinum and dominating the award show circuit. And while pop music was at its lowest nadir, languishing in the shadows of both grunge rock and hip-hop, country radio was the only place on the radio dial where bright production and lyrical emphasis could be found.
It was a golden moment in the genre’s history, the first and last time when country dominated the entire American musical landscape without having to compromise its own identity to capture the interest of the crossover audience. They made smart, contemporary music that acknowledged and built upon the genre’s rich legacy, and the audience came to them.
These days, of course, they’re as backward as they’ve ever been. Hillbilly pride songs compete for airtime with songs so blatantly pop that they don’t even need remixing for pop and AC airplay. But “Gone Country” is a beautiful snapshot of a time when buy generic viagra online the genre had risen to the top of the music scene, simply on the twin strengths of authenticity and artistry.
Uncaged may be the product of studio recording sessions, but it pulses with the energy of a live set.
That much is evident right from the bongo drums and whistle hook that open the album on “Jump Right In.” Immediately afterward, the title track lays down a heavy arena-rock groove that was obviously made for a live setting. Needless to say, the band’s eclectic musical stylings will not suit every listener’s personal taste, while traditionalist country music fans will find relatively little to celebrate on this record. Regardless, it remains obvious that, of all the bands currently in heavy rotation on country radio, few are as fully developed as an actual band as Brown and his cohorts.
Yet Uncaged would not be the success that it is if not for the high quality of Brown’s songwriting, consistently characterized by unaffected sincerity, straightforwardness, and naturalness of flow. “Goodbye In Her Eyes” begins with the line “I could tell that it was over when her lips met mine/ It was an emptiness in her voice, hesitation when she smiled” and heads from there to “She’d found what she’d been looking for, and I knew it wasn’t me,” while the backing instruments swell with a rising sense of urgency, making the track a clear standout in lyrical construction as well as overall song structure.
The weakest track on the album is called – wait for it – “Island Song,” and sounds like just about every other “island song” pervading country music. It generally brings nothing new to the tiki bar, save for a painfully affected fake Jamaican accent on Brown’s part, while the aforementioned “Jump Right In” draws on similar reggae influences, but does so with a greater level of personality. Likewise, “Sweet Annie” is a solid song on its own merits, but one that sounds a little too much like a retread of last year’s hit “Colder Weather,” both lyrically and melodically.
Lead single and current Top 20 hit “The Wind” is easily one of the best and coolest-sounding singles to make it to radio airwaves this year. It’s one of the few tracks on the album that scans unmistakably as country music, but one that nods to genre conventions without compromising the band’s distinct sense of identity. The band taps into a smooth jazz vibe with the Trombone Shorty collaboration “Overnight” – a sultry come-on lyric that could have scanned as embarrassingly campy if delivered through a lesser performance, but one that Brown manages to sell with infectious gusto.
While the band’s influences run the gamut from Alan Jackson to the Eagles to Jimmy Buffett to Bob Marley – and this album alone includes collaborations with Amos Leigh, Sonia Leigh, and Jason Mraz - Uncaged still manages to sound first and foremost like a Zac Brown Band album. The effortless charm of Brown’s singing and songwriting, not to mention the energy of the band’s musicianship, creates a common unifying thread that runs throughout all the genre styles experimented with through the course of the set.
It’s consistently clear How do u buy propecia in canada that, according to the Zac Brown Band’s musical approach, it’s not about genres. It’s not about radio formats. It’s not about pleasing one’s chosen demographic. It’s about music, plain and simple. As a result, Uncaged is an unshakably confident, ambitious-sounding record that refuses to condescend to its listeners, and it thus may be just the thing to impart a shot of authenticity to mainstream country music.
Jackson does so many basic things right on his new album that it's tempting to award him five stars right off the bat.
The production is clean, his singing doesn't get in the way of the songs, and those songs have complete ideas and actual structure. It's the first mainstream country album in a long time that isn't overrun with production tricks, or kicking up the loudness to eleven, or playing an exaggerated personality type that's condescending to its audience.
In short, it's what we used to expect most country albums to be, but in today's climate, it sounds almost revelatory upon first listen. Truth is, it's just a solid Alan Jackson album, and when put in the context of his own body of work, away from the comparisons to today's substandard standard-bearers, it demonstrates his usual consistency but perhaps not the creativity that has fueled his best work.
Jackson co-wrote about half the album, and he revisits some of the themes that have resulted in his greatest performances, but the latest variants are not as distinctive and memorable. “Dixie Highway” captures his love for his upbringing and his roots, but despite charming support from Zac Brown, it's just not specific and urgent enough to meet the bar he set with “Home”, “Chattahoochee”, “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, and “Small Town Southern Man.”
“Everything But the Wings” is a beautiful love song with some poetic turns of phrase, but it doesn't have the seductive romance of “I'll Go On Loving You” or the personal poignancy of “Remember When.” Similarly, there are some brilliant lines scattered throughout the solemn closing track, “When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey)”, but the rambling narrative lacks the potent simplicity of “Sissy's Song” and “Monday Morning Church.”
The latter of those two classics was penned by outside writers, and interestingly, it is the outside material that shines brightest on Thirty Miles West. “You Go Your Way” is a goodbye song in the same vein as the George Strait classic “Easy Come, Easy Go”, but it's not so easy for the protagonist of this one. It has one of those great couplets that only sounds right in a real country song, soaked in fiddles and steel guitar: “I poured some bourbon in a coffee cup. It's been too long since I drank too much.”
Only a man who could sing that line convincingly could also get away with the opener, “Gonna Come Back as a Country Song”, which finds him promising his wife that she needn't grieve once he's gone, providing reincarnation is real. He'll be back as a country song, living in eternal paradise “between the fiddle and the steel guitar.”
Two breakup songs are even better. “She Don't Get High” has something of a misleading title, with its lament being that he “don't make her fly anymore…Hard as I try, I'm not the sky she's looking for.” Even better is the current single, “So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore”, which isn't just the best song Alan Jackson has recorded in the past few years. It's better than nearly everyone else's best, too.
But my personal favorite moment comes from Jackson's own pen: “Her Life's a Song.” It tells the story of a woman who loves every type of music and associates all of the big and little moments of her life with it. He creates a totally believable character, and does so without succumbing to a single female stereotype or disparaging other genres and styles for the sake of putting country on a pedestal. In a weird way, it's like the music lover's counterpart to the universality of “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”, celebrating everyone's experience with music as valid and worth singing about.
“(Who Says) You Can't Have It All” is not just an average song of lost love. Rather, the loss translates into a certain resolution from a man who is the lord and master of his proverbial castle that has turned into nothing more than a lonely room with “a ceiling, a floor and four walls”, full of pictures and memories of the broken past.
From the first strains of the mournful fiddle, we can almost be sure that we will be treated to a pure country song. What's more, Alan Jackson's equally forlorn voice singing the opening lyrics, “A stark naked light bulb hangs over my head/ There's one lonely pillow on my double bed”, serves as confirmation that we're in for 3 minutes and 30 seconds of a deliciously straight-up country weeper that turns out to be one of Jackson's most satisfying singles yet.
Garth Brooks, Connie Smith, and keyboardist Hargus “Pig” Robbins will join the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
Brooks is the top-selling country music artist in history. At fifty, he is one of the youngest living inductees ever.
Smith is the fifth female artist to be inducted since 2008, when Emmylou Harris ended a nine year drought for female inductees.
Since playing on the George Jones classic “White Lightning” in 1957, Robbins has recorded with countless legends of country and rock music, including Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Alan Jackson, and Bob Dylan.
What’s your take on the 2012 inductees? More importantly, who deserves to join them in 2013?
We’ll run a list of our picks for the next round. Share your suggestions in the comments!
The Class of 1989 permanently changed the face of country music. Clint Black was its valedictorian.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Texas, Black’s vocal talent was evident at an early age. He played in a band with his older brothers, and taking a gamble, he dropped out of high school and pursued a solo career.
The new traditionalist movement of the early eighties inspired him to commit himself to the country music genre. As he honed his craft throughout the eighties, he met songwriter and guitarist Hayden Nicholas, who would become an instrumental component of Black’s success.
Signing with RCA, he recorded his debut album with his road band. Black wrote or co-wrote every track on Killin’ Time, and the 1989 release had a seismic impact on country music. Black became the first country artist in history to have his first four singles reach #1, and the album quickly reached multi-platinum status. Beyond its sales and radio impact, Killin’ Time was widely hailed by critics and genre enthusiasts as a masterpiece.
The impact of Black opened the doors for fellow artists like Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and Alan Jackson to find similar massive success with their debut albums. Together, they rejuvenated the country music market, putting it on the even playing field with pop, rock, and R&B that it still enjoys today. Black won several major industry awards, and then had another multi-platinum album with his sophomore set, Put Yourself in My Shoes.
Throughout the nineties, Black continued to write and record radio hits. Even as his album sales cooled to platinum and then gold, he still maintained a streak of top ten hits. It wasn’t until his 29th solo single, “Loosen Up My Strings” in 1998, that he missed the top ten. To a certain extent, Black’s profile was reduced because of the very door that he opened. The flood of talent that followed in his wake included major talents who soon overshadowed him.
The tail end of his run with RCA found him recording with wife Lisa Hartman Black, and they enjoyed a big hit with their duet, “When I Said I Do.” Collaborations with Wynonna, Steve Wariner, Roy Rogers and Martina McBride also gained positive attention. In the new century, Black took the bold step of launching his own label, Equity Records, resulting in two studio albums that achieved moderate success. One of them, 2004′s Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic, was his most critically acclaimed set in years.
His most recent release is 2007′s Love Songs, which featured re-recordings of some of his hit ballads from the nineties. He’s kept his profile alive with various film and television appearances, and he does some light touring, preferring at this stage to spend as much time as possible with his family.
A throwaway track that ended up being a pretty big hit.
The song had been recorded several times over the years, by everyone from Steve Miller Band to Meat Loaf. But Jackson had the biggest hit with it, with its driving beat capitalizing on the success of “Chattahoochee.”
In retrospect, it might be the least essential Jackson hit of its era. Fun to listen to, but not worth making extra effort to seek out.
This timeless classic won CMA trophies for both Single and Song of the year, and was Jackson’s signature song for the rest of the nineties.
Why did it work so well?
Perhaps because it looked back on the innocence of adolescence with bemusement and fondness for that transitional period of life.
Or perhaps because it rhymed Chattahoochee with “hoochie coochie.”
Regardless, with so many of our male stars today in a permanent state of adolescence, “Chattahoochee” is a refreshing reminder that your late teens should shape who you are today, not who you wish you could still be.
Oh, and if you came to country music in the current century, this is the song that “Red Dirt Road” ripped off.