Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker and Thompson Square were in the Boston area on Saturday night for a sold-out show. While not able to make it to judge for myself, I found the review by Scott McLennan in the Boston Globe most enlightening.
McLennan makes the argument - it's not a difficult one to make obviously - that these acts are not all that country. What he means, of course, is that they don't hew very much to any sort of traditional country sound. Instead, they veer very much towards the pop country end of the spectrum.
That came as no surprise to me. I have always thought of Lady Antebellum as way more pop than country. "Own the Night' is far stronger album than "Need You Now," which broke the trio big time. But the former disc has so little country on it.
Rucker is more on the soulful side of country, of course, while the husband-wife duo of Thompson Square rock more.
What's most telling from the McLennan review were the covers. That's something that has struck me also about artists. If playing rock covers, that's a damn good indication of what they're really about musically. So many of today's artists do that, instead of perhaps an old country gem or covering folks like Haggard (he seems to be an artist that is covered by those who are looking for a country oldie). Somehow it seems enough to lyrically name check Haggard, Jones or Jennings to prove your country cred. (Erich Church goes a slightly different route by naming a song after Springsteen).
McLennan pulls no punches in assessing the three acts - " They also pose a serious threat to country music." He wrote of the concert, "it was easy to hear how watered down the country influence has become in the lucrative pop-country crossover sound. Aside from occasional decorative use of mandolins, banjos, and steel guitars, these acts drifted away from country's richest traditions of simple truths and gritty stories. Country music was never ashamed to be hokey, but it certainly never aimed for the level of schmaltz served up Saturday."
McLennan cited Lady A's covers - Honky Tonk Women (now if they played Country Tonk...), Midnight Rider from the Allmans with the help of Thompson Square and the Doobies' Black Water with Rucker.
McLennan indicated the results were not pretty: "in each case, the songs were gutted and served as arm-waving singalongs."
Rucker was not much different, covering Steve Miller and Prince in his segment. As for Thompson Square, Kiss and Led Zeppelin were reference points.
Obviously these acts and everyone else (that includes everyone from Garth Brooks, who sounds way way more traditional than most acts today, to Rascal Flatts to Tim McGraw) will sing and play whatever they want. It's just seems too bad that when they're getting more than happy to get played on country radio, they pay zero to their forebears, who helped put them where they are.