All last year (2013) there were jibes and full-blown articles griping at the poor quality and limited scope of modern country music. And, all last year I was happily immersed in the local and emerging music scenes where country music is still quite good. Defining what we mean by ‘Country’ is problematic, of course, since many of the artists now considered country would have been played on MTV as pop in the 80′s, so this week’s playlist includes some music that is on the fringe of the genre by some standards.
That said, here are 20 songs I might play if I had a country music radio show. This playlist is not dominated by trucks, girls in painted on jeans, beer, or even country dirt roads- I really have to wonder whether the trends in current country music are a result of fans’ limited imaginations or misguided attempts at guiding the genre from the corporate offices of ‘Big Music’. One of my resolutions for 2014 is to delve into country music and showcase more of the good stuff that I am certain is still out there despite all the inane songs about trucks that get all the airplay.
1. The Everly Brothers (Walk Right Back: The Everly Brothers On Warner Bros.- 1960-1969)- ”TV and Radio” – This song is not exactly country, but since the Everly Brothers had a huge influence on many genres, including country, and Phil Everly just recently died, it seems fitting to start the list, and thus the year, with an Everly Brothers song. I love that this song praises rather than demonizing television.
2. Matt Skinner Band (Native Stranger, Pt.1- Fandango)- “Don’t Want to Fall In Love” - Here’s a song from one of my favorite local country stars, Matt Skinner, who we’ve borrowed/stolen/lured away from Nashville to our nicer, friendlier music scene. I love his voice, and every time I hear his music I wonder how long we’ll get to keep him before someone in L.A., New York or Nashville ‘discovers’ him and lures him away with a lucrative recording contract. At the moment though, I’m pretty sure he’s one of the musicians involved with Darren Raddach’s Stout Studios, a fledgling local recording company that has a very impressive suite of performers to its name already.
3. Trace Adkins (Dangerous Man)- “Swing” - This one is very mainstream, but I never said I dislike mainstream, just that I want there to be more options, and more supports for all the excellent music that is outside the mainstream. This is still one of my favorite modern country songs. It’s cute.
4. Little Big Town (The Reason Why)- “The Reason Why” – This is one of my favorite mainstream country bands, and one that to me sounds like more of a pop act most of the time, or maybe folk or folk-rock. They’ve been embraced by the country world, though, so I guess that makes them country.
5. Dierks Bentley (Long Trip Alone)- “Band of Brothers” - And here’s one of my favorite country solo artists. There aren’t very many mainstream artists I follow closely enough to actually listen to their new albums the week they arrive on spotify. Actually I haven’t heard all of Dierks’ newest album yet, cause I always come across it while making these playlists, and never remember to go back later to play it, but I’ll get to it, maybe even tonight (along with the albums of David Francey, Thea Gilmore and the Everly Brothers.)
6. Sugarland (Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan…)- “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” - I love these tribute albums because they give artists excuses to play music outside the mainstream trends and outside the images the various contributing artists have adopted for themselves. So, when looking for songs for this list that have enough twanginess or rootedness, or whatever it is that makes songs fit into the broad country spectrum, I browsed a lot of tribute albums.
10. Brad Paisley (She Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool)- “In Times Like These”
11. Gillian Welch (The Harrow & the Harvest)- “Tennessee” – A friend of mine was trying to learn this song for a bluegrass jam a few months ago, so I added it to this list, finally. I don’t know if she is still fixated on it, but it is a cool song, and a bit trickier to sing than one might expect at first.
12. George Jones (The Unbroken Circle- The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family)- “Worried Man Blues” - This song crops up at bluegrass jams here occasionally.
15. Crystal Gayle (Unsung Hero: A Tribute to the Music of Ron Davies)- “True Lovers and Friends” - I hated country music when I was little,but Crystal Gayle was an exception, I think because I loved her hair- mine was almost as long, proportionally anyway, and I hoped to have hair as long as hers all my life. (Then I grew up and had to buy my own shampoo and conditioner.)
16. Kim Richey (A Case for Case: A Tribute to the Songs of Peter Case)- “First Light” - Kim Richey has been on past playlists, as someone I came across on spotify randomly, so I was pleased to come across a nice cover by her on one of the tribute albums I collected for this week’s list.
17. Ari Hest (Someone to Tell)- “Monsters” – It is with these solo guy-with-guitar acts that defining genres gets awkward for me, because they fit in on the fringes of several genres all at once. But, in the context of this assortment of songs, as a playlist on a country radio station, I think I could make a case for Ari Hest belonging on the show. I really like this song, and there are several ‘country’ artists who could easily cover this one without stepping outside their respective images.
19. Railroad Earth (Amen Corner)- “Been Down This Road” - Bluegrass is a genre/subgenre that was always a specialty category on country radio when I was a kid, but in the Colorado Front Range area bluegrass claims its own genre status as one of the dominant music styles in our region. Still, it intersects very strongly with country, and the bluegrassy songs on this list are definitely not strictly bluegrass, but bluegrass-influenced pop/folk/country.
20. Carrie Rodriguez (We Still Love Our Country)- “You’re Still On My Mind” – I haven’t had the stomach yet to spend much time listening to current country radio, knowing what everyone is saying about the quality of the current top 40, so the one thing this list is admittedly short on is recent modern country. Not being a current mainstream country radio listener (I was back in 2007-2011, before discovering local music) I have no idea where this lovely lady falls in the country charts, but she is one I would expect to be very successful. If she isn’t, I am a bit concerned about the state of the genre.