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The different sounds of country music

Country Standard Time Editorial, June 2005

Alan Jackson has released a video of "The Talkin' Song Repair Blues," Dennis Linde's song taken from his latest album about hiring song fixers to do touch up and make it sound like something Nashville and radio would eat up. In the hands of Jackson, one of the finest purveyors of country music there is, of course, it's poking fun.

The song also makes a listener wonder about trends in country music. Country music certainly has gone through a number of phases in the past decade or so. After the new traditional movement of Randy Travis and company, country went for a bigger sound with Garth Brooks, far less traditional and much more of an event with pop, rock, and other forms thrown into the mix. The scene was characterized by hat acts, who in many cases did not have a lot of sizzle and were rather interchangeable.

That gave way to country pop music, which still exists today in the hands of folks like Rascal Flatts, Lonestar and Shania Twain. It's country, but with a definite pop sheen to the sound. In fact, go back and listen to Brooks from 10 years ago, and you could hear quite a difference between his music and what's out today.

Now, the latest trend is rock and the more niche genre of southern rock and, if Cowboy Troy is lucky, hick hop may not be far behind.

All of a sudden, the sound purveyed by Travis Tritt (though he was far more country than the current crop) and Montgomery Gentry (more rock than country) seems to have gone full tilt towards southern rock. Prime among the recent acts is Van Zant, which lays a mighty claim to the Southern rock format of Lynyrd Skynyrd et al instead of country. But somehow, a look at the charts places this squarely in the country format.

While opting for more of a rock bent than southern rock, Keith Anderson also is part of the recent spate of releases with the aptly titled "Three Chord Country and American Rock and Roll" where the emphasis is really on rock.

Cowboy Troy, who follows in the footsteps of his backers Big & Rich, certainly can be entertaining, but a tinge of country instrumentation doesn't exactly make this dyed-in-the-wool country music (though give Cowboy Troy a lot of credit for breaking down racial barriers with his very good song, "I Play Chicken With the Train").

Of course, it all depends upon one's ears and where they are coming from. A few years ago, a country pop fan, for example, may not have liked the alt.-country sounds of Son Volt, for example, and vice versa, but does either group have any more ownership of the genre then as fans of Van Zant or Jackson do now?

The point is that what used to be country not too long ago has far expanded for better or worse well beyond its roots.

Good thing folks like purveyors of that sound of yesteryear, like Alan Jackson, are still around to point out quite clearly where they are coming instead of being part of the latest trend.