In Which I Gain Insight into Country Music

Just about the only radio stations you can get for vast distances once you’re out of Tennessee are country radio stations. I haven’t listened to eight or nine hours of country radio at a stretch in ages. But I have a good sixteen hours under my belt now.

Did you know Sheryl Crow is attempting to have a country career? Just imagine all the women in country music who are her age, who have been devoted to the genre from the start of their careers and she’s getting the push? I mean, I heard the start of her song at least ten times. (Once you’ve heard the song twice, the start is all you need.) And let’s not forget that this isn’t just “the” push. This is yet another push, in another genre. Does she really sell that well or does she have blackmail photos?

Every era of country music is filled with people saying “This is the worst era in country music, ever.” But I have diagnosed a slightly different problem with country music right now.  The good stuff is as good as it ever was–even if it’s not to everyone’s taste. I listened to a country station that played Darius Rucker after, oh fuck, i can’t think of their names because my brain has blocked them because I loathe them. Rascal Flatts. That’s them. And they were after Garth Brooks and though none of those songs made me stop dead in my tracks and go “Wow, I have to hear that again,” they all seemed both of a sort and uniquely their own things. Though there’s not a “something” there I respond to, there is an appreciable “something” there.

And I feel like I’ve lived through times when the good stuff wasn’t very good. That also seems to be a way music goes. Things get stagnant and it opens the way for someone who sounds really different to come along and do something interesting.

I don’t recall a time when the not-as-good stuff was so terrible. If I’m going to keep up with the wrestling metaphor, country music isn’t lacking for plausible headliners, but they’ve got a shocking lack of midcard male talent. Not that they don’t have a bunch of men on the middle of the card, but wow, they suck. People joke about all the songs about how we do it in the country, but I know I listened to a handful of fifteen minute blocks where those songs just blended into each other, one after another, nothing setting them apart from the next. It’s as if they hope you will mistake their song for that slightly better song about how we do it in the country, but there is no slightly better song.

And it’s really noticeable when you’re listening along and it’s one terrible, uninteresting song after another, and then the new Toby Keith song comes on. And in my heart, I know this is Toby Keith not even trying. You can hear it in his voice that he may have rolled out of bed, onto the floor of his bedroom, called into the studio on his phone, and recorded that song without the lyrics in front of him while one of his eyes was still glued shut with sleep. If you compared it to every other Toby Keith song, it’d for sure just be in the middle of the pack.

In a sea of “this is how we do things in the country” songs? It sounds like fresh water tastes.

Seriously, by the time I was back in Kentucky, I was starting to wonder if this was some big conspiracy, where some artists pay, not for airtime, but to be sandwiched between this terrible music so that they don’t have to try very hard and still sound good.

But it does make me think that there’s no appropriate male mid-card artist to push to headliner right now. None of them stand out as good enough. Which is a shame for them.

Things I was most surprised by: Hearing Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round” on a regular old country station along with “Two Black Cadillacs” on another. And about how there’s some what I would call Top 40 country radio, but by and large, when you go up the dial on my drive, you hear a lot of stations bragging about playing the best country regardless of decades. And Illinois/Indiana even has a Country Station that seemed to be all 60s-80s country.