Tuesday, October 29, 2002

I've been listening to a lot of bluegrass music this year. some of it, traditionalists wouldn't call bluegrass (there's a great article at ibluegrass titled "the future of bluegrass" that's worth reading). but what I don't get is, who fucking cares?! it's like the old independent-artist-signs-to-major-and-"sells-out" debate; it's completely irrelevant. if listening to the nitty gritty dirt band, or dolly parton's recent return to blue grass, or nickel creek, gets me into other artists (like flatt & scruggs, or ralph stanley), isn't that a good thing? anyway, I digress. it all started for me, like it has for so many, with the o brother, where art thou? soundtrack, which was totally a word-of-mouth thing (one friend buys it, tells another, who told me that I had to get it, and I did). then I saw nickel creek's "when you come back down" on cmt (which, by the way, is likely the biggest supporter of bluegrass music in the u.s.), and bought their first album. and so on.

bluegrass was also my 'gateway drug' back into country music. yeah, a lot of it's overproduced nashville poo, but there's also more good stuff coming from the nashville crowd now than there has in years (to wit: keith urban, tim mcgraw's new stuff, martina mcbride, dixie chicks, et cetera). and the vets, getting love from cmt if not from dumb, dumb "hot country" radio, are firing on all cylinders (willie, dolly, and merle, take some bows).

more about cmt: besides being the only national music channel left that still plays videos, their playlist continues to amaze. earlier this year, a video from merle haggard's western swing album - a cover of a lefty frizzell song, for pete's sake! - made their top 5. so did earl scruggs' all-star jam on "foggy mountain breakdown." and these videos are getting played back-to-back with country heartthrobs like kenny (chesney) and shania (no last name needed). kasey chambers, patty griffin, and steve earle all get love from the channel, too. and just last week, while channel-surfing, I caught, immediately following shania's latest, martina mcbride's "independence day." from 1994. think about it this way: picture mtv following nelly or avril lavigne with soundgarden's "black hole sun" or a coolio video. understand what I'm saying? it's ridiculous to some, and cmt's all the better for it. cmt is my favorite cable channel.

about a month after (last year's) 9/11, jeffy and I were talking about how our music listening had changed immediately following the horror. I wasn't surprised that he'd veered more towards singer-songwriters; I think he was a little surprised that I returned to country: mostly classics from george and tammy to garth and the chicks. I told him it was because country (and certainly bluegrass) is inherently american music, moreso than even jazz or hiphop, I'd say. and the best of it is honest. country tells stories, interesting ones, and generally tells them well. yeah, country has its (more than) fair share of drinkin' and cheatin' songs, but also has "d-i-v-o-r-c-e" and "independence day." the best country - often the simplest - hits me right in the solar plexus, and makes me feel good more than a lot of the other music I love (I wasn't exactly running to my public enemy or smiths records post-9/11). country music is like country fried steak and mashed potatoes; it's damned fine comfort food. and it looks like it'll play a big role in my best of 2002 list in a couple months' time. but we'll get there when we get there.

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