Modern Country

I’m on the road again, in one of those towns where there really aren’t any restaurants besides chains.  So I went to the nearest place within walking distance of my hotel — a Longhorn Steakhouse.

img_5171-1For a chain joint, the Longhorn isn’t bad.  The servers are nice, the place is clean, and the food is decent and reasonably priced.  There’s only one problem — the soundtrack at the Longhorn is “modern country,” which is enough to make pretty much any rational diner lose their appetite.  If there’s a more soulless, generic, synthesized, cookie-cutter music genre out there these days, I don’t know what it is.

I have no idea who modern country artists are — I just know they all sound the same.  The only thing that’s “country” about them is that they wear cowboy hats and try to sing with a twang.  Other than than, they’re indistinguishable from soulless, generic, synthesized, cookie-cutter pop stars.  As musical performers go, the modern country “stars” seem to be all hat and no cattle — pathetic, lamentable posers who aren’t fit to carry the boots of the country music stars who came before them.

It’s sad, really.  Country music used to be interesting, with artists like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Tammy Wynette.  They actually seemed to care about the songs they wrote and sang.  There was feeling in every chord.  Calling the modern bastardization of the genre “country music” really is an insult to the authentic, roots-related music that was produced way back when.

Fortunately, “modern country” is so generic that it’s like elevator music — easy to tune out.  I read my book, ate my steak, and pretty much ignored the twangy sameness.  You wouldn’t have been able to say that about the country stars and songs of the past.

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Classic Country

I love almost every form of live music, but I’ve got an especially soft spot in my heart for classic country.  These guys performed at a conference I’m attending, and they were terrific.  Give me a banjo, and a fiddle, and some tunes by Hank Williams or Johnny Cash or the Stanley Brothers and I’m a happy camper.  I’ll get out on the dance floor and show my appreciation, too.

You can argue about the best decade of rock ‘n roll, or whether Bach or Mozart or Beethoven was the greatest genius, but one musical point is indisputable:  modern country sucks and isn’t a patch off the George Jones/Merle Haggard/Patsy Cline/Tammy Wynette era.  Why did “country music” become some crappy form of pop music lite?  It was great to hear these guys play the vintage stuff, and in vintage style, too.

Country Music, The Merle Haggard Way

I love country music.

I’m not talking about the modern stuff that sounds like pop music, even though its sung by some poser wearing a cowboy hat and boots.  No, I’m talking about the country music of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, when singers like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and Merle Haggard ruled the airwaves.  I’m talking about the music that had that undefinable, unapologetic twang to it, with steel guitars and songs about getting dumped and drinking your troubles away, sung by honest, unsynthesized voices.

One of Merle Haggard’s great songs, Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down, is a good example of what I would consider to be a true country song, sung by one of country’s greatest voices (even though the rendition on this You Tube video includes an uncommon horn section).  How can anyone not like this kind of American music — as authentic and deeply rooted in our culture as jazz and blues?