Saturday, May 31, 2008

Another Country

Before i started working in on-line music i thought that i had fairly broad and eclectic musical interests. I grew up on Bach cantatas and jazz standards and i had explored numerous pop and art music categories. I listened to 12-tone music and Norwegian death metal and Ornette Coleman and music from Africa and Latin America. By the standards of some of the people who work in the music industry, my taste is still very shallow; but i stick to the idea that people who like music will always keep looking for new stuff.

But when i look at other people's professed musical interests, i see one very common theme. After listing a few bands, they will conclude with "i'll listen to anything, except country". It's the "except country" part that gets me. I see this so frequently that it seems like music sites should have two options: (A) country (B) everything but country. I know what people mean when they say this. Historically speaking there has been a lot of dreadful country music, and i've listened to a crapload of it. I grew up in the middle of nowhere and my dad's truck only had an AM radio. We had basically two radio choices: country and talk, by which i mean Less Nessman-style farm reports.

However, country music is a hugely important part of American music (even if it has roots in European folk music), so i'm depressed that so many people have dismissed it out of hand due to a bad experience with a Billy Ray Cyrus song. Also, with apologies to a lot of George Strait and Loretta Lynn fans, i think we're in something of a Golden Age in country music. There are several mainstream country performers that i like right now, and there's a both-way crossover happening between country and other pop categories. Music of course is always a matter of taste, but i'd be honestly surprised if a person couldn't find something on the fringes of the genre that they like.

My first case in point would be Neko Case. She's firmly in the alt. country realm, but her last album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood was indie-rock friendly (and she's also part of indie favorites The New Pornographers). There's something unique and ethereal about her voice that makes me fall a little bit in love with her every time i hear her sing. It's not too far from case to the more accessible songs of Alison Krauss like Restless and The Lucky One, but of course Krauss also has authentic bluegrass credibility (and some rock and roll cred after her recent collaboration with Robert Plant). Krauss has also did one of my favorite country duets ever, the somewhat painful Whiskey Lullaby, with country superstar Brad Paisley. Personally, i like Paisley a lot, although i can see why songs like Ticks would only appeal to someone who grew up in sight of a corn field.

My subversive attempt to get people to listen to country music is my Slacker custom station that i call Another Country, which i borrowed from the title of a Tift Merrit album (yes, she's on the station). I've mentioned my alt. country preferences in the past, and a lot of those bands appear on the station. I've got some of my favorite regular country performers (Paisley, Sugarland, Vince Gill), some more-or-less indie stuff like Okkervil River and The National, southern-ish bands like Drive-By Truckers and My Morning Jacket, old-school country like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, and a little bit of folk (Richard Thompson, Richard Shindell). My only real criteria are that i like it and it has some tenuous roots-music connection. I've got the music discovery mode on so that related artists get pulled in, but not too much (i'm listening to White Lightning by George Jones as i type this).

I doubt that i'll gain many converts, but i sort of hope that some people will go to it and think "hey, this doesn't sound like country music" at least for a couple of tunes. Or maybe they'll be surprised to find that Buck Owens is pretty decent and not just a Hee Haw comedian. At the least they can verify more rigorously they they don't like country music.

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