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"I'm A Little Bit Country..."

What happened to country music? Somewhere along the way it detoured off the road Hank Williams Sr. built, veering onto a crooked path mainly mapped out by James Taylor and the Eagles. In other words, country music got nice. What was once a musical haven for poor white trash, Okie bikers, and shit-kicker cowboys is now a place safe enough for big city yuppies, twelve-year-old girls and (shudder) mainstream America.

This is all the fault of John Travolta. The movie Urban Cowboy was the beginning of the end of dangerous country music. Exactly one minute after the movie was released, half of America bought Stetsons, and learned to line dance. Radio stations around the country began to go to all country formats. (Anyone out there remember Casper's KAWY?) The problem with those formats was that back then there still wasn't much in the way of safe country. Still too many records out by Willie Nelson (hippie), Waylon Jennings (drug fiend), and Johnny Cash (convicted felon).

Never one to miss a bandwagon, the recording industry began to build radio- and photo-friendly country artists. Which leads us to the state country music is in today. A place where Garth Brooks has more in common with Dan Fogelberg than with Hank Thompson. Where Shania Twain is famous because she fills out a pair of jeans better than any woman alive. Put a cowboy hat on them, a twang in their voice, a pedal steel guitar solo on a song, and even KISS could have a hit on country radio. (When Garth Brooks was a kid, KISS was his favorite band. How country is that?)

Old Hank Williams must be rolling in his grave. But all is not lost. There is a group of mostly kids out there who are bringing back the true ideals of the kind of country Hank Williams pioneered. Hard-drinking, hard-living, country punk. And I don't mean punk rock, but punk as a reaction to the bland vanilla music being spoon fed the public today. These New Country kids are pointing their Chevy trucks right down the highway built by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe and every other butt-ugly, drug-sucking, booze-hound hick who knew that true country music is punk.

There are a lot of names for this new country. Americana, No Depression, Country Punk, but they all come from the same place. A place where Jack Daniels is king, the bar never closes, and Garth is a wimp. A place where you wouldn't be caught dead wearing a shirt with no collar or skin tight Levis. Most of the music reviewed here has definite rock overtones. A lot of it is not country by any definition. But all of it is a logical extension of the genre. And if you are a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll, then these bands are for you.

Uncle Tupelo
Billy Bragg & Wilco
Robbie Fulks
Gram Parsons
Mandy Barnett
Old 97's
The Damnations TX
Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys
Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band
Lucinda Williams

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Tom South

Feature Articles by Tom South


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