One of my longest running criticisms of contemporary country music is the disappearance of the working poor. It’s a segment of the population that has been growing exponentially, but the genre that has historically been associated with chronicling their experiences has instead chosen to lionize and romanticize small town partying and country living. Lots of songs about Sunday mornings and Saturday nights, but almost none about those tiring days in between.
There’s such an obvious trend of genre-hopping between pop, rock, and country right now that I can totally understand the enthusiasm surrounding Kelly Clarkson dabbling with a switch to country music.
After all, if we’re going to have pop and rock stars crossing over anyway, we might as well get one of the best ones, right? She’s got a strong knowledge of and affinity for, at the very least, the past two generations of country music. Her pipes are pretty darn good, too. I prefer the purity of Carrie Underwood’s voice, but there are many who feel the first Idol is still the best.
Writing a song about a current event that pulls at the heartstrings is a difficult thing to accomplish without seeming opportunistic, not to mention that the part of current fades away over time and can potentially make a song seem irrelevant as a result. It’s inevitable, however, that such songs will be written, since one of the most emotional ways to respond to a tragedy is to process feelings through music.
In a year that has already brought the deaths of immortal talents like George Jones, Slim Whitman, Patti Page, and Jack Greene, not to mention the untimely loss of Mindy McCready, it is understandable that the recent news regarding Randy Travis is having the country music fans collectively holding their breath with nervousness and dread.
There is something distinctly different about how I am processing the news about Randy Travis. The thought of losing him is inextricably linked with a feeling that we’d be losing an essential core of the country music that I fell in love with more than two decades ago. Now, I remember Randy Travis from when I was a child. What little kid wouldn’t be in love with a catchy song like “Forever and Ever, Amen”?
Brandy Clark has many times shown that she’s one heck of a songwriter. Recently, her writing talents have been heard on respectable cuts such as Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” and The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two,” while her name appears all over the co-writer credits on Kacey Musgraves’ excellent Mercury Records debut Same Trailer Different Park. Now we get to hear the woman get behind the mic herself with her recently released Brandy Clark EP and her debut single and video “Stripes” – a brash up-tempo number that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Miranda Lambert album.
I haven’t heard a country song spin such a fantastical yet somehow believable yarn about circus folk since Kathy Mattea’s “Harley”, a fan favorite album cut from her 1991 set, Time Passes By.
Don Henry wrote that tune, and he’s a co-writer of this latest single by Miranda Lambert as well. “All Kinds of Kinds” is actually headed to country radio, giving this new tale the opportunity for a wider audience than that little-known gem from two decades ago.
Looking at recent single releases “Red Solo Cup,” “Beers Ago,” “I Like Girls That Drink Beer,” and “Hope On the Rocks,” it would appear that Toby Keith is definitely in the zone for drinking songs right now. His chart success, however, has not been quite so consistent lately. He scored the first double-platinum hit of his career with the ubiquitous sing-along and viral video hit “Red Solo Cup” only to miss the Top 15 with both of the singles from last year’s Hope On the Rocks album.