Sunday, November 21, 2010

an intro to country music

The other night I posted on my facebook page about Brad Paisley's new song "This is Country Music." That I would post about country music must be a little surprising to anyone who knew me as a wee tot; in my youth (and despite the fact that the mullet I proudly sported looked like something out of a Billy Ray Cyrus video) I was always decidedly a "rocker." I even went so far as to develop an alter ego in college when I DJ'd under the monicker Rockin' Juan. Trust me when I say that Hank Williams, Jr. never once made one of my broadcasts.

Yes, well times they have a-changed. Although I don't listen to country non-stop, I am a fan. The quality of music and lyrics (ESPECIALLY lyrics) are second to none in the current music industry. In fact, my only problem with country music is that you can't just listen to country radio for mindless entertainment because sometimes a song will hit you with a real emotional wallop. So while the radio may not be tuned country, there's always a CD at the ready.

The purpose for this post is the following: I was thinking about my transformation from dedicated glam-rocker/80s afficionado to someone who would feel truly comfortable at a Grand ol' Opry performance. The truth of the matter is that I got from there to here mostly because of the failures of current pop music. I grew tired of listening to the "current music" stations in the DC market--either the songs were awful or they were 10 years old! When I decided to try out something new, country was there. My first day of listening to country I choked up listening to "Jesus Take the Wheel" and Brooks and Dunn's "Believe". . .and I was done. Music had not affected me in that way since I first heard "The Best of Times" on a rainy day when I was 9, and I liked being engaged by the radio. To this day, I'll still get thrown for a loop by a country song--like Brad Paisley's "This is Country Music" did to me the night that I posted the facebook update.

Anyhow: my journey was fueled by the music that I heard. But don't get me wrong, not everything on country radio is the bestest music ever. Anyone else who's willing to give country a try may not be as lucky as I was on that first day. . .nor may they be as patient as new-country listeners needed to be in early '09 when the radio was too much Taylor Swift and not enough. . .real performance talent. So I wanted to give some markers to others who might be looking for something more from their music.

Below please find the songs that I think give a great intro to the current state of country music. I hope that listening to them may make your day and help make a few more country fans.

* It's tough to choose a starting point, but I gotta go with Brad Paisley's "This is Country Music" for a couple reasons: a) he's the biggest name in Nashville right now; b) he's the best guitarist in the business right now--and I don't mean just in Nashville. He works wonders on the 6-string; and c) the lyrics of this song foretell of the lyrics of the rest of the songs you're about to hear. Basically the song is about all other music's failure to talk about "real" things--a failure that country music as a whole does not suffer from. As I said, a good primer for what else you're about to hear. And don't limit yourself to just one Brad Paisley song once you get the itch for country--he writes the best lyrics in the business (see "Alcohol", "Ticks", and many many others)

* Pick-me-ups: the knock on country--one I used to perpetuate before I saw the light--was that it's all so depressing. Not true. If you're coming to country on a day when you'd like a little spring added to your step, give the following a try:
-- A Heart Don't Forget by Tim McGraw. A catchy song about the intoxicating nature of first love. . .and miniskirts.
-- Runaway by Love and Theft. My song of the year for 2010--not so much for the lyrics as much as for the driving beat. This song makes my long drive to work go quickly because I'll listen to it over and over again.
-- Nothin' Better to Do by Leann Rimes. My song of the year for 2009, and Leann shows some serious pipes on this song. Really catchy beat, too.
-- What Was I Thinking by Dierks Bentley. Would be more of a southern rock song than a country song were it not featuring a "Daddy from the slammer". Another adrenaline ride.
-- Front Porch Looking In by Lonestar. What's the best thing to see at the end of the day? This song answers that question--and I agree wholeheartedly! Lonestar is a country music institution, and I can't wait to get my hands on their greatest hits (I'm hoping that it has this song on it).
-- It Happens by Sugarland. It's hard to really limit my recommendations for Sugarland to one song, but I have to win you over before I tell you to go buy everything they have. Everyone can relate to this song, and it doesn't hurt that the lyrics are witty (featuring an appearance by Wally World!). Once you've opened yourself up to country, run (don't walk!) to get Twice the Speed of Life, Sugarland's first release. That album has it all: haunting powerhouses (Small Town Jericho, Hello), upbeat fun (Something More, Speed of Life, Time Time Time, Down in Mississippi), and an ode to the family (Baby Girl). I've worn this CD out from overplaying. . . and I still want more!
-- It's America by Rodney Atkins. It's also hard to choose just one song from Mr Atkins, who was the best new face in country about 3 years ago. This song is a piece of Americana--sounds like it could have been written by Bruce Springsteen circa 1976. Atkins also has some other great songs well-known for upbeat music and enjoyable lyrics: Watching You; These are My People; 15 Minutes; and Cleaning this Gun.

* Mid-streamers. These songs may not be boot-stomping fun, but they are high quality nonetheless.
-- Chicken Fried by Zac Brown Band. My song of the year for 2009. The glory of a simple life, plus I'm a sucker for patriotic-leaning songs!
-- This One's For the Girls by Martina McBride. I'm sorry, I can't help but love this song although I am clearly not the target audience. As a father of a young girl, I do approve of the messages sent to women of all ages in this song. It's pretty upbeat and catchy, too. And Martina can sing, although this song doesn't bring that out as much as others do.
-- Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off by Joe Nichols. Item #1entered as evidence that country is more than just songs about dead dogs and cheating lovers.
-- Bless the Broken Road by Rascal Flatts. What happens when first love doesn't work? Or second, or third? There may still be someone out there for you. This songs tells the story of two people who found their love on something other than their first trip on the ride. The ultimate song of hope for hurt lovers.

* Finale: God Bless the USA. I don't care that it's as old and overplayed as any song ever, this one still gets me in the ol' ticker.


Blogger Steve Ballmer said...

Just say cheat'n every other word!

10:03 PM  

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