Country music gets a bad rap, and it is not hard to see why with a lot of the work that has dominated the mainstream in recent years.
Those songs can be repetitive and shallow, filled with throwaway lines about beer, trucks and other stereotypically “country” themes.
While they are still a part of country music, being a genre with many diverse subgenres, many listeners who have only heard and disliked this style have their view of the genre as a whole marred.
However, country music both new and old is full of insightful lyrics and artistic merit and has long been representative of issues facing the rural working class.
George Strait, Merle Haggard and other artists even before them have lamented the conditions faced by laborers. Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” is a well-known classic that covers this exact theme.
Moving into more modern artists, the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers and The Steeldrivers have helped bring about a revival of old-school country. Simpson’s style changes with every album he releases, ranging from rock to bluegrass to folk, with all calling to country roots.
The ability of modern artists to blend genres while operating under the broad umbrella of country shows the versatility of the style and the creators.
Tyler Childers is arguably the main catalyst of the revival of country music at its finest. His song “Feathered Indians” is a moving piece with tender lyrics and a blend of string instruments.
It has over 160 million plays on Spotify, lending mainstream appeal to a song that truly feels country.
Childers lends his talents to social issues as well, demonstrating the impact of the genre on society.
In the wake of the protests during the summer of 2020, Childers recorded a mostly instrumental album called “Long Violent History.”
The title song from the album urges a largely white audience to understand the racial injustice in the country. Childers was vocally in support of Black Lives Matter.
The album serves both as a public statement and a vehicle for good with Childers pledging all of the net proceeds to his Hickman Holler fund for underserved Appalachian communities.
Country music can be a vessel for a broad array of change. Storytelling is integral to the genre and connects millions to issues that may otherwise be ignored. The themes are varied though, and the stories detail love, pain, happiness and more with grace and intensity. The parts of the vessel, each of the many instruments used in different songs, add their own unique touch to the art.
From fast-paced ditties to mournful laments, the music has a strong ability to evoke the intended emotions. Happy songs have a vibrancy to them that is rarely replicated, and a sad country song is sure to connect the listener to the artist’s pain.
The magic in this comes again from the storytelling, but is also due in large part to the instrumental components of the song.
While country is not defined by a single style, the blend of a few certain instruments can make a song dynamic and moving.
Fiddles and mandolins back many of the genre’s best pieces, while the use of a bass guitar drives the beat as much as the drums in many songs. The distinctive sound of steel guitars is prevalent, and a driving banjo brings bluegrass elements to the best works.
The varied voices of country music lend their own spin to different songs, from Colter Wall’s deep bass to Childers’ almost haunting wail.
The twang present in many artists’ sound and the cracks in the voices of some vocalists help country stand out and lend the lyrics different depth. The sum of the musical elements in country done well creates masterpieces worth listening to.
None of this is to say that people should not enjoy mainstream pop country. For the many who find themselves disliking that brand though, there is far more to the genre than some may see.
Taking a deeper dive into the music and enjoying works on the folk, bluegrass or americana side of things can open the door to country that may have been closed by an incomplete perception of the style.