It’s a bit embarrassing, but I’ve recently got more and more into country music. If truth be told, I’ve had some Randy Travis records hidden away as a guilty secret for decades, but just lately, I’ve been getting more into the off-the-beaten track guys and gals who describe themselves or are described as “Country”.
Now I’m aware that “country music” covers a multitude of sins. (And some of them really are sins.) I might as well tell you I like pop music or jazz, for all that its helpful. Maybe I should say what I don’t like? I have nothing against Shania Twain as a musician, infact I think she’s pretty damn cool. But I couldn’t eat a whole one, if you know what I mean. LeAnn Rimes et al make me a little bit sick. I mean, not them personally, just that is not the “country” I’m talking about. I probably could sit through Dixie Chicks for half an hour or so, but I’d want to leave before the line dancing got going.
On the other hand, while Willie Nelson has a mile high stack of cheese in his back catalogue, his voice is (still) sublime. Johnny Cash had, long before his death, reached that point of cool, you know, where all the young dudes could say, “I hate country, but aw man that Johnny Cash, he’s cool, he transcends country.” Well, no, he doesn’t really. He’s just the end of country that you like. And I like too. Dolly Parton of course had a bit of Glastonbury Cool rub off on her a few years ago, but I’ve been loving her since 1980. (9 to 5: gotta love that film! My somewhat older boyfriend-of-the-time had a crush on Jane Fonda and took me to see it. Ignored him, crushed on Tomlin, Parton, Fonda myself, what a team. Sorry, I digress.)
I’ve made a playlist of some country type stuff I’m listening to at the moment. Probably some of it would be better described as alt country, or indie folk or something like that, but it all has a country heart to my ears.
There’s some newcomers I’ve been listening to a lot lately: Delaney Davidson and Marlon Williams, both New Zealanders. The former I came across slightly geekily, by googling the soundtrack for NZ crime drama Brokenwood (yeah, crime dramas – another guilty not-so-secret secret). The latter of course appeared on Later…With Jools Holland. Can’t get enough of them. Weepy and dirty, (in a muddy way, though there’s probably some smut too, I’m just not very good at listening to lyrics). And Sarah Shook and the Disarmers. I have no idea how I came across her. Maybe through the consistently wonderful She Shreds magazine/blog.
There’s the music that doesn’t quite fit, and yet it does. I was listening to Richard Hawley’s 2015 album, Hollow Meadows this morning and thought, you know, I have no idea how he would describe it, but there’s some stuff on there that definitely screams country to me. Back in the 1980s Elvis Costello was slammed for his more country than country Almost Blue, but you know what I’ve always loved that album. (I love most everything he did in the 1980s and 90s tbh.) Where does Bluegrass sit? I’m throwing it into the mix anyway with Cahalen Morrison and Eli West.
Also JJ Cale. No excuses for including two from him.