Is Texas Country as Appalling as Nashville's Brand?

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'cause we really need to know...
If you grew up loving country music at all (like us), you may well have turned on a country station in the past year or two and been appalled. But between the rise of Taylor Swift, the collapse of rock radio, and the general dumbing down of our social-media-mad culture, country music has emerged as a peculiar lightning rod for a lively debate.

There's no debating, however, that country is facing a serious identity crisis. Last week Entertainment Weekly published an eye-opening timeline tracking the genre's past few months, leaving little encouragement for people who would be more comfortable if what we heard today at least paid lip service to the proud traditions of Hank, Merle, Willie and Waylon, Loretta, Dolly and King George Strait himself. But no such luck.

The whole thing started in January, with alpha douche Blake Shelton's comments calling traditional country fans "old farts" and "jackasses." From there we've seen a parade of asinine lyrics, including a real song called "Titty's Beer" and so many bad pickup-truck tunes that even young artists like Scotty McCreery have started writing backlash songs. Add to that Music Row's insidious partnerships with pop overlords like Dr. Luke and a supposed craze called "Country Dance Music" (see the darling Laura Bell Bundy video above). Indeed, ill-advised crossovers are the order of the day, be they Nelly closing out the CMT Awards with Florida Georgia Line -- sorry, we cannot get with that whole "Cruise" phenomenon -- or Lenny Kravitz(?!) flipping off the crowd at June's CMA Fest.

All of this has not gone unnoticed outside Nashville, leading to a host of criticism from the likes of New York Magazine, which labeled this phenomenon "bro country"; Alan Jackson, lamenting "there's no country country stuff left"; and Tom Petty, who said what he heard was just "bad rock with a fiddle."

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Meanwhile, more sensible artists like Kacey Musgraves have been left to shake their heads at the testosterone-choked genre -- exemplified by the "diamond-plate tailgates" of Luke Bryan's "My Kind of Night" -- and wonder where her six CMA nominations could have come from. (Actually, that's easy for anyone who has heard her stellar album Same Trailer, Different Park.)

Down here in Texas, of course, fans have a long tradition of disdain for whatever idiocy is going on in Nashville. Never forget we have developed our own style of country music with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, enthusiastic defenders and vicious critics. Indeed, traditionally the knock on Texas country is that it's just as homogeneous, cliched and backwards as its Nashville counterpart, if not moreso.

But could our brand possibly be as bad as what Nashville's "country music" has become? For the past few days Rocks Off has been analyzing the current Texas Music Chart's Top 15 songs to find out.


15. John Slaughter, "Hasn't Everyone"
Young stud announces his intention to "drive this truck 'til the wheels fall off" (sigh), but later goes into how much he misses his mama. We'll call this one a push, because it kinda rocks.


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14. Randy Rogers Band, "Speak of the Devil"
The RRB is one of Texas country's top acts, and one of its most hit-and-miss. They can crank out bracing Red Dirt rockers with sharp teeth like "This Time Around" or melodramatic power ballads such as this one, which is completely unremarkable.


13. Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Electric Bill"
Surely Merle Haggard (and maybe even Bob Wills) would recognize this as country music right away. It's almost as if Boland et al. are playing with a different set of tools than some of these others.


12. No Justice, "Song on the Radio"
If Texas country has a default cliche that rivals Nashville's over-reliance on pickup-truck songs, it's how that dang ol' touring keeps the artists away from the ones they love. No Justice doesn't reinvent the wheel here, but its pace mimics the rhythms a tour bus might make over a nice melody.


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11. Phil Hamilton, "Back of a '73"
That would be a '73 pickup truck (Chevy); mmhmmm. Other than that, this is a stiff little Cross Canadian Ragweed-style tune. Hamilton, who looks like a Civil War soldier (either side), would be a sight at Fan Fair, that's for sure.


10. Kevin Fowler, "How Country Are Ya?"
If anyone is too country for Nashville these days, it's this big-drawling big galoot. Fowler is a funny guy whose appetite for the ladies is almost as much as his hunger for grits and gravy; in this rocker he won't let a girl ride shotgun unless she owns one and can fry him up a chicken. Approved.


Countdown continues on the next page.

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19 comments
amucomm
amucomm

@fieldcrow52 @WhiteLightning @BobDunn Y'all have very interesting points - and yes unfortunately I have to agree with Chris Gray's headline - what's offered these days as Texas Country or Red Dirt Music is as generic as the stuff coming out of Nashville. Another song about a dirt road, a pickup truck, a tailgate and a longneck in your hand is as boring as the fodder coming out of Nashvegas. 
Yes there are/were some notable exceptions in Texas Music, but most of the current artists have gone "mainstream" or the Garth Brooks Highway, with over simplified songs catering to the University Frat communities in Amphitheaters and other oversized venues. 
But if you look beyond the charts, you will discover that there is still a healthy scene of musicians making great, quality music. Check out Austin club "The White Horse" for instance or listen to the newly resurrected KOKE FM or any of the public radio stations (KDRP, KNON) that have a Texas music show.
Check out artists like Amber Digby, Jake Hooker, Bobby Flores, James Hand, Dale Watson, Roger Wallace, Amanda Cevallos, Shannon Lee Nelson, Bob Appel, Shad Blair, Bracken Hale, Leo Rondeau, Two Hoots & A Holler, Wink Keziah, Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay, the Band of Heathens and some of the already mentioned ones and you will discover originality (instead of copy-cats) and quality (instead of lowest common denominator) are still alive. 
And yes, do that with Nashville (or the US) as well, Jaida Dreyer, Kacey  Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Arty Hill, Amanda Shires and her hubby Jason Isbell, Amelia White, Patty Griffin and many others relase quality records after quality records - unfortunately too good for the radio. Skip commercial radio and start investigating. 
And as a tidbid of information - it was Bob Wills and his band who introduced drums into country music, being the first band to have drums at the Grand Ole Opry. 

leecrowell30
leecrowell30

Wrap yourself in the flag and drive your mama to church on a tractor while your girlfriend sits on the tailgate and you've got a hit. 

fieldcrow52
fieldcrow52

ha ha re: the gentleman's comments about you including Bob Wills in the Pantheon of Country titans seemed peevish, like how some Norwegians resent being lumped in with the Danes when discussing the Norse invasions of England. but I don't think the people who loved and still love Bob Wills would question its being called Country, and I see it as Country that is at an ensemble level of talent like Louis Armstrong at his peak in the previous few decades. Western Swing was definitely the last Bridge to Africa in mainstream Country Music I think.

fieldcrow52
fieldcrow52

nice article. spot on imo. I was hoping Texas Country radio would embrace the Texas singer-songwriters more as there are some great songs from artists of all ages & stylistic shadings in that pool. I was hoping it (Texas country radio) would be more artistic, like KOKE-FM in Austin was when I moved there in the mid 70's. Texas mainstream Country and Nashville mainstream Country have one thing in coming - square-ness.  none of the songs are any good if you like W. C. Handy, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Elvis, Waylon & Willie, Merle, Ray Price, Jerry Lee, Muddy & Howling, Slim Harpo, Dylan, Kristofferson, the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Satchmo, etc. None the of the new blah blah blahs has any real good ol' American yeoman - or Texican - or strident African American types of Personalitiy. It's over.

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning topcommenter

Let's simplify this: For all the shouting about Nashville, the Texas music that Best in Tx covers is exactly equal in its overall lameness. Get out on the highway and put on any of these so-called Texas music stations and you're usually in for a shite-fest that equals anything on a Clear Channel country station. Dreck is dreck.

BobDunn
BobDunn

"Surely Merle Haggard (and maybe even Bob Wills) would recognize this as country music right away."

Bob Wills hated country music, and so did his iconic guitar player Eldon Shamblin, who eventually joined admirer Merle Haggard's band for the steady paycheck.  Western Swing is not country music, and Bob Wills was not a country performer.

theonecalledjake
theonecalledjake

Reckless Kelly is one of the few country bands I'm truly interested in. Their newest album is kinda meh, but most of their material is pretty great to this mostly non-country fan.

Anse
Anse

It's sad to think that if Red Headed Stranger were released today, it would be almost completely ignored, and that album is more or less what opened the door for everything called "Texas Country" today.

Anse
Anse

@fieldcrow52 I think the indie rock hipsters have a better appreciation for country music than a lot of the so-called country acts played on radio today. I knew things had changed when Merle and Loretta Lynn had to go to punk rock and indie rock labels to release new material. I've played the Gourds for the "Texas Country" fan-bros back in my hometown and they look at me like they don't know what in the heck they're listening to. And of course they don't.

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning topcommenter

@fieldcrow52 AMEN Mr. Crow! The total Republican whiteness of the Texas country thing = (as you noted) squareness. Too much of that, not enough Sam Baker, John Fullbright, Mike Stinson, Shinyribs, Joe Ely, Gourds, Churchwood, Texmaniacs, Bombasta, Pinata Protest, etc etc. Songs with any meat or with playing that is outside the tiny box scares those Texas radio folks. 


WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning topcommenter

@BobDunn You're probably splitting the hair a bit too finely. Your point is taken, but you still find Bob Wills (and Bob Dunn) in the Encyclopedia of Country Music etc. My mom loved Bob, but believe me she considered it country music.

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning topcommenter

@Anse The radio pikers of today wouldn't have a clue about what to do with Red Headed Stranger.

fieldcrow52
fieldcrow52

@Anse @fieldcrow52 It's true, it's true. Yet they are connoisseurs of so many things. But 'they' rightly see it as 'art', which it is, but I don't think 'they' would be caught dead in Branson at the Moe Bandy theatre - it's closed I know having read this paper's story on him - They don't really go for the kind of middle-aged, middle-of-the-road, songs for working class Cgristians to sin to ha ha. The indy-hipsters that I know have never mentioned Easy Lovin' or Farewell Party ha ha. Bit I don't know that many any more. New Roots hipsters, I'm not sure what they like either. Never heard any of them mention Slim Harpo. I remember playing the Flaming Groovies or Wynonie Harris for peer coeds who would rather have been hearing Rumours or Fogelberg.

fieldcrow52
fieldcrow52

@WhiteLightning @fieldcrow52 then surely there must be a good ol' fucker Texican radio insurgency in the works that is both wide-ranging and discriminating. Surely some swells in Houston have the money for this. You must lead this crusade. Just blame it on Dallas and sally forth. please.

BobDunn
BobDunn

@WhiteLightning @BobDunn 

No doubt that country music embraced him (eventually, and it took many years) and his influence on country is powerful (Merle Haggard for instance); but it's not splitting hairs to say that he hated country music, did not consider himself a country artist, and was very outspoken in that attitude.  Western Swing is a branch of jazz, not country, and this is a viewpoint almost universally shared by the musicians who created and popularized the style.

That being said, I am a huge Country fan as well as a Western Swing fan so I am not judging the quality of the music.  There is as much a distinction between the styles as there is between Bluegrass and Country, another example of two very different art forms frequently confused with each other.  But they're all rich and fascinating in their own ways.

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning topcommenter

@BobDunn @WhiteLightning Got you. Bob had his music store not far from where I live today. Influenced an amazing number of steel players via lessons at his store.


BobDunn
BobDunn

@WhiteLightning @BobDunn 

Yes, country (not Country) people loved Bob Wills and Western Swing in general from the beginning.

Unfortunately, no relation here to the real Bob Dunn.  I am just a Milton Brown fan who considers Bob Dunn to be one of a handful of the most exciting musicians of the 20th century.

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning topcommenter

@BobDunn @WhiteLightning Agreed, no quarrel with any of this. Had a long talk with Herb R. about all this six months back. But let's face one fact: It wasn't jazz listeners who crowded the dance floor at Bob Wills shows. It was country folks, even if they lived in the city.

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