Monday, December 08, 2008

born, not gone, country

I don't remember hearing lots of country music as a kid, but I know that Dad listened to some, at least, out in the barn while he was milking (Did you know I grew up on a farm? And that my Dad spent almost 35 years as a dairy farmer?), and I vividly recall the one and only concert my parents went to during my childhood - meaning, I remember them getting ready to go to it; I wasn't along for the ride: it was the Statler Brothers, sometime in the late '70s. (I also recall the Statlers' The Best of the Statler Bros., from 1975, spending plenty of time on the family turntable, along with my Mom's Carpenters and John Denver records - and while it may not been the reason Mom responded to him, Denver was certainly as country as he was pop.)

As a child, I hated country music. Absolutely loathed it. Country, for me equalled rural America, which I (not coincidentally) also hated, as I was forced to be part of it. (I was a city boy before I'd ever set foot in one, frankly, and since 2000 have lived only in metro areas of at least 1 million people, save for six months in 2004.) Country also equalled, as a kid, the people who didn't get me, or worse were nasty to me, the weird kid with the big white-boy Afro, who had odd obsessions and (once I got to high school) odder musical tastes. Much like with sports, which I also hated for my first two decades of life, I had to come to country music on my own terms.

Eventually, obviously, I did. My first country album was most assuredly Patsy Cline's iconic 1988 12 Greatest Hits; she was the one country singer it was "okay" for a fan of the Cure and the Smiths to like (especially things like the lovelorn "Crazy" and despondent "Walking After Midnight"). I've no idea how I progressed from there - probably via the big crossover acts, most of them female and gay-friendly, like Dolly, Shania, and the Dixie Chicks. And somehow, from that initial toe-dip into country waters, I've become a full-blown fan. The CMAs are never-miss for me (my account of this year's show is here, and as some of you doubtless know, I ended up the go-to country reviewer for Stylus: proof can be found here. This year, I've even been reviewing some country records for Allmusic, hooray! CMT's had two recent specials which have perfectly exemplified why I love country music.

Alan Jackson has become, over time, one of my favorite artists in country. Much like his peer Tim McGraw, I still find his earlier work schlocky at times, but there's no denying the power of his pen, especially; Jackson writes the bulk of his records. His 9/11 response, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" is, possibly, the only good song (let alone classic) to come in the wake of that day, and he's equally as adept at honky-tonking rave-ups like "Chattahoochee" and the recent #1 "Good Time." Not to mention that Jackson's as traditionalist as superstars get. He believes completely in the power of trad country music, as evidenced on records like his superb 2000 duet with George Strait (speaking of traditionalists), "Murder on Music Row."

CMT honored Jackson with their third Giants concert/special, calling in the likes of teen queen Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, and Strait himself to pay tribute at the Ryman Auditorium. The special premiered over the weekend, and actually is special. The performances were fairly uniformly stellar, and the reminiscences and verbal tributes clearly heartfelt. Here's Carrie Underwood talking about "Action Jackson":

Traditionally, I'd never been much of a fan of southern rock, either, but lo and behold, here comes CMT Crossroads pairing Trace Adkins and .38 Special. Were these songs always this good, like "Wild Eyed Southern Boys" and, especially, "Hold on Loosely"?

Trace comes from the other side of country as opposed to Jackson: he's not afraid to be tacky, and vulgar, and ridiculous. (Three words: "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.") And as much as we need Jackson, we need Adkins. He's got one of the sexiest growls in music and is one tall drink of water, too (just like Jackson, come to think of it). His pairing with .38 Special was perfection; he'd match up nicely with ZZ Top, too (but their Crossroads already happened, with Brooks & Dunn a few years back).

I love the diaspora of country music, and I'm not ashamed to say so, y'all.

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