Lonesome Onry and Mean: John Conquest Turns Both Barrels on Country-Music Poll
"Every year, I get invited to participate in Nashville Scene's annual Country Critics Poll, and every year I send in my ballot, and every year absolutely nobody I voted for makes the cut. However, this time round, while turning over in my mind such names as Arty Hill, The Starline Rhythm Boys, Miss Leslie, Eilen Jewell, James Hand, Teri Joyce, Mike Stinson and Phil Lee, out of idle curiosity I dialed up last year's poll results and decided I wanted no part of it anymore.
"Geoff Himes' ambition 'in an era when so many country awards are popularity contests that do little more than echo the verdict of Soundscan' is to 'create a poll that will distinguish quality from quantity (though, of course, they often overlap)... We want a Critics Poll that carries the same weight as the Village Voice poll does in pop and the Downbeat poll does in jazz.' "To be fair, the results he gets are very different from, say, the CMA awards. In 2008, Jamey Johnson, whom I simply don't get at all but at least doesn't make me want to puke, won Album, Male Vocalist, Songwriter and Artist of the Year, while Taylor Swift only managed No. Album, No. 6 Female Vocalist and No. 6 Songwriter. "Even so, right there you may be able to see my problem with this deal - according to the collective wisdom of America's country-music critics, there are only five people in the entire country who are better at writing and singing country songs than Taylor Swift. Which is fucking ridiculous. "However, pace Damon Runyon, who said, 'The race is not always to the swift, but that's the way the smart money bets,' I figure she's an odds on favorite for the 2009 go-round, and, as Himes lists the participants in his poll feature, I'm fixing to be a no-show so no one can suspect me of voting for her. "I have no quarrel with commercial country radio, as long as I don't have to listen to it, because it depends on advertising, which, in turn, depends on listenership, which, again, depends on playing what's popular even if, or so I hope, the DJs have to hold their noses while they spin that crapola. "However, I hold no such brief for the cheerleaders who call themselves country music critics, but vote for Swift or Lady Antebellum (2008's No. 2 New Act, God help us). It's not just that they can't separate sheep from goats, they can't even tell ovines from bovines. "Last month, I mentioned that even the great Bill C. Malone accepted as country anything that was marketed as such, which is quite obviously a snare and a delusion, compounded by the fact that country has become a monolithic term. This was not always the case, in her marvelous You're So Cold I'm Turnin' Blue (Viking/Penguin, 1982), Martha Hume identified no less than 23 country subgenres. "Writers in other fields still have such toolkits; even the most unreliable metal critic can triangulate a new release with pinpoint accuracy, even the flakiest jazz critic wouldn't label an acid-jazz album as bebop, but country writers can't make any meaningful distinction between the work of Toby Keith and that of Arty Hill - it's all 'country.' "For some years, I've been using the term 'Real Country' to distinguish My People from commercial country, but that still implies a connection between the two, so I'm abandoning it. 'Hillbilly' went out of fashion in the '50s because it was considered offensive and derogatory, but, for my money, 'country' is now far more offensive and derogatory, so from now on, if you see me describe an album as Hillbilly, that's a Good Thing. "Country? They can keep it."