Opinion Pieces

The glory that is Sasquatch


Currently thousands of good-time hungry people are assembling for the weekend that is Sasquatch, and I could not be any more bummed about it. For the first time in 5 years, I, sadly, am not among them.

It’s pretty difficult for me to write those words (especially because for the first time since I’ve been going, my boy Ty Segall will be there, sludging out with Fuzz), but work and financial obligations have left it impossible for me to join in on the fun this year. And by fun I mean MOST FUN THING THAT WILL HAPPEN IN 2015.

An exaggeration, you may think to yourself? Hardly. In fact, over the course of the last five phenomenally awesome Squatches, I’ve only found myself not having fun once, and that was because Mayer Hawthorne was on the stage, inappropriately acting like the most important guy in the world. And ya know, come to think of it, I was still definitely having a good time at that moment, despite his bro-iness. Because Sasquatch is a non-stop zone of euphoria. It’s nearly impossible to lose the smile from your face while you’re Gorge-side, from the second you join the miles-long car line into camping til the “it’s too damn bright outside!” morning you drag yourself out of George, WA, five days later.

And this year’s gonna be better than ever. With everyone from St. Vincent to Schoolboy Q to Robert flippin’ Plant showing up, fans are gonna get washed over with beautiful music from every genre out there. So why not savor what I’m missing out on by creating the playlist to end all playlists?!

Behold, samplings from every band I know I’d be jamming/freaking out to this weekend. It’s by far the longest musicboots playlist ever compiled, but that’s extremely fitting, considering the festival (and its enormous offering of delicious music) it’s based on.

Dig in.


Don’t worry: Music still means everything

I’m sure y’all have been extremely worried about the state of music, seeing as how I haven’t been updating you much lately, but never fear: music is still everything. I’ve just been super busy learning the ins and outs of website development, and it’s eating up almost every minute of my spare time. Of course, every other minute belongs to whiskey, and while I’ve wanted to share some of those whiskey-soaked ramblings via the blog, something in my subconscious said no. So my apologies for not publishing any blogs at all these past few weeks.

In hopes of making it up, here’s a rundown of all that’s mattering to me musically right now…

First off, there’s a ton of good albums that were recently dropped, and the three I haven’t been able to stop listening to are Will Butler’s Policy, Courtney Barnett’s official debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and Strangers to Ourselves, the awesome latest from Modest Mouse.


Butler’s was a decent surprise, especially since I’ve always assumed his brother Win, whom Will shares the stage with in Arcade Fire, was the more talented of the two. Little did I know Will collaborated with Owen Pallett on the Oscar-nominated score for Her last year, nor that he was cool enough to record the exceptional Policy in just one week at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios. Sure, it’s a short album, with just 8 tracks, but there’s plenty of deliciousness packed in there – consider it 27 minutes of smart and playful ventures into indie alt rock and dancing jazz.


As for Barnett, I can’t stress enough how badly you need to check out this chick’s vivacious music, which veers effortlessly from bouncy to solemn, all the while backed by her monotonous yet powerful vocals. She’s an outstanding songwriter, to boot, and when you’re not busy dancing around the kitchen to her mostly upbeat music you’re probably left standing there trying to wrap your brain around all the brilliance she spews with her lyrics.


Then there’s Modest Mouse’s newest masterpiece, an album that declares they still give zero fucks about what the rest of music is doing – they’re here to make what they think you should be listening to. Strangers to Ourselves has some rad Man Man-esque moments, not to mention impressive elaboration of the style they founded when they were born 20+ years ago. It seems every one of their albums does a mashup of sounds found on all previous recordings as well as an exploration of new sounds piquing their interest these days. It’s definitely an appropriately rockin’ release.

Another band with new music, but no set release date for their record, is the eternally cool Ratatat, the electronic dance duo near and dear to my heart. They floored me with their set at my second Sasquatch!, and I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to 2010’s LP4 a thousand times since. It seems ridiculous they haven’t released a proper full-length in five years, but word is they’re currently recording their next, and it’s of course tentatively titled LP5. They gave a taste of what’s to come during their set at last weekend’s Coachella, with “Cream on Chrome”, and it’s funky and tropical and heavy in all the right places. I love it to pieces. And cannot wait for this next record.

With that I’d like to thank Coachella, cuz while I’d never in a million years travel to Indio and rub shoulders with hipsters and rich kids, I really appreciate their willingness to stream sets from the festival. It was terrific to see Tame Impala’s set via the stream, because I’ve loved them for a long time, yet have never gotten a chance to see them live. If you know me, you’ve probably heard me complain at least 5 or 6 times about that year I was supposed to see them at Sasquatch! but they couldn’t make it due to baggage issues at London’s Heathrow Airport. Well, their set at Coachella looked and sounded fabulous, even though they didn’t play my favorite, “Half Full Glass of Wine”. Instead they crushed “Elephant”, which included an outrageously short but super rad drum solo, and encouraged the crowd to check out fellow Aussies AC/DC by playing a sweet riff from “Thunderstruck” and declaring “I’ve been waiting my whole fucking life to see AC/DC”. Adorable. Now I’ve gotta get to watching the stream from what I’ve heard was a badass performance from Azealia Banks, as well as that for Run the Jewels, because Run the Jewels.

And to wrap up, a bit of bad news: work responsibilities are likely gonna leave me unable to go to Sasquatch! this year. Now, while I’m overwhelmingly devastated about this, I’ve at least got a good bunch of friends that will be attending and can relay all the crazy awesomeness the 2015 Sasquatch! provided. So stay tuned next month for a breakdown on all the bands performing this year, and reasons why it’s gonna be jaw-dropping. I’m so very bummed I won’t be there for it, but *sigh* there’s always next year~

What Parks and Rec has done for music

Leslie Knope is my spirit animal. In truth, I’ve been in love with every single thing Amy Poehler’s done, but what she’s managed to do with her Parks and Recreation character has been absolutely fantastic. It only adds to the show’s awesome that she’s surrounded by truly unforgettable characters such as Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson, not to mention guest stars the likes of Swanson’s ex-wives Tammy 1 and Tammy 2.

Major kudos to all the superior acting done on Parks and Rec, as well as the hilarious writing – I’m sure I’ll be shedding gallons of happy tears this Tuesday as the series finale airs. It’s also been extremely sad to learn P&R writer/producer Harris Wittels passed away last week from a drug overdose. That guy was priceless in his portrayal of a stoner animal control staffer on the show, which made it even more heartbreaking to hear of his death. And so this is why I wanna focus on the cheerful stuff the show is made of, namely the way it’s brought music to the forefront in so many wonderful ways, especially by featuring terrific musicians.

Questlove himself was one of the first to note how important music was to the show – be sure to watch as he explained in 2010 that P&R is, without a doubt, the Wu-Tang of comedy. The Roots drummer also recently did an outstanding guest spot at Donna’s wedding as her estranged brother Lavondrius, but this portrayal was not to be outshone that episode, as Ginuwine also made a flawless return as her cousin. If for nothing else, please watch “Donna and Joe” just to hear April Ludgate scream at Ginuwine to “get it together”. Then dial back to the Season 6 finale to catch the R&B singer dedicate his hit single “Pony” to beloved Li’l Sebastian at the Pawnee/Eagleton Unity Concert, held in memoriam of the fallen mini-horse:

A good number of musicians were also in the spotlight during that finale, as Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Yo La Tengo, The Decemberists and Letters to Cleo showed up to perform and work to merge the two cities together. Tweedy had appeared on a previous episode of P&R, as Knope and Andy Dwyer work to convince his band Land Ho! to reunite for the concert, and it was sweet to see them do so in the finale, especially as Dwyer’s band Mouse Rat joined them for a song. Which reminds me not to forget the importance of Mouse Rat, who frequently provided the series impressive musical chops and highly entertaining lyricism.

It’s gonna be super tough to see Parks and Recreation and all its splendid musical reference come to an end next week, particularly in that we’re losing all this:

  • the witticism of Tom Haverford, also great at contributing musical references: “Whenever Leslie asks me for the Latin names of any of our plants, I just give her the names of rappers. Those are some Diddies. Those are some Bone Thugs-N-Harmoniums, right here. Those Ludacrises are coming in great.”
  • the snarkiness of April Ludgate, and her band-aid devotion towards Dwyer
  • the brazen manliness of Ron Swanson, flawless in his moonlighting as jazz saxophonist Duke Silver
  • the, ummm, ahhh…forget it. We won’t miss Garry/Barry/Larry/Gerry Gergich for anything. Instead, let’s quickly recall how fabulous Ann Perkins was before she left. 😉
  • Donna’s ability to effortlessly live life the way only she wished it to be lived – it’s definitely no surprise when her fiancée mentions in his vows that Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy was written about her
  • Ben Wyatt’s adorably nerdy ways and unquestioned loyalty towards Ms. Knope…
  • …and, of course, all that is Leslie Knope. She may not have supplied P&R with a ton of musical wonder, but her recreation of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” makes up for all that, and more

Thanks for everything, Parks and Recreation – you are, without a doubt, one of my top 5 favorite television shows of all time.

Leave it to Jimmy Fallon to almost capture the cast’s amazingness at its all-time musical best (of course I say almost because this skit is a reference to another television show I cannot stand, and because P&R has done hundreds of equally rad other things):

Screw the Grammys

Got a lot on my mind with music right now, especially thanks to the recent acquisition of a ticket to my beloved Sasquatch! (Robert Plant! Fuzz! Tame Impala! Hot Chip! Run The Jewels! OHMYGOD I CAN’T LIST THEM ALL).

And then there was the recent broadcast of the yearly fiasco that is the Grammys. Year after year that damn awards show pisses me off, which is actually pretty dumb, considering how little I actually care about, or give credit to, the ceremony.

Last year was the first time since high school I decided to actually give the Grammys a chance, and it was only because QOTSA, NIN, Dave Grohl and Lindsey Buckingham had been announced as performers. And their sets were as badass as expected…until the goddam Grammys decided to end the show and start rolling credits right as QOTSA were playing “My God Is The Sun”. Such disrespect.

That’s why I’m not gonna get too in depth with my musings on this year’s shit show, especially since I obviously didn’t watch the Grammys this weekend. I’ve learned all I wanted to know and so much awful more from all the media outlets these past few days. So let’s just cut it down to this:

  • Kanye’s an idiot. Honestly, dude – I’ve stuck with you time and time again, but I do believe you’ve finally pushed me over the edge. Of all the people to steal the spotlight from, you choose Beck? Tacky as hell. At least it did leave us with this absolutely fabulous moment that declares Jay only supports ‘Ye when he knows the cameras are rollin’:
  • Obama is the opposite of Kanye. His PSA denouncing rape and domestic violence couldn’t have been broadcast at a better time…unless it would’ve been done during the Super Bowl. Which I didn’t get to watch. Someone please tell me this was broadcast then, too.
  • Taylor Swift needs to stop acting 16. Pharrell agrees, too.
  • Run the Jewels 2 was the best rap album of 2014. NOT Marshall Mathers 2.
  • Paramore is still a band? And worthy of a Grammy? What a great time to stop talking about this stupid goddam awards show…

On that note, let’s celebrate the return of Alabama Shakes! Such a supreme blues/punk/rock quintet…I’ve been lucky to see their awesome explode all over the tiny little stage at Doug Fir, as well as at Sasquatch! And once you’ve seen them close down a show with a Zeppelin cover, you’ll be hooked for life.

That’s why I’m super excited for their sophomore release, due out April 21, especially thanks to this delightful leak:

Mmm…Sound & Color is gonna be so bloody good. But enough of my ramblings…consider tonight’s ample post an apology for my recent lack of blogginess. Here forth, I promise to provide y’all with as much new blog material as I can muster. Cheers ’til then! 🙂 ❤

Celebrities sing-along to their favorites just as I do

As much as I respect Janet Weiss, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, I’ve never been as into Sleater-Kinney as I probably should be. I’m not even that versed with their musical output, which leaves me a little ashamed, but I at least recognize and applaud their punkish, riot grrl ways, wholeheartedly. And considering they’re practically my neighbors in this fair city of ours, I feel I should be showing them a bit more of my respect.

I’m a big fan of their latest video because it supports a fantastic new song for the trio, “No Cities To Love”, but also because many of the random famous people featured end up sounding just like me as I belt out a favorite song: off-tune and fabricating words as I pretend to know the lyrics. If you’ve never had the pleasure of road-tripping with me, and watching as I shamelessly belt out every song that comes on the radio, incorrectly, just watch for Andy Samberg’s face as he tries to mumble along to the lyrics. It’s a pretty accurate comparison to my own attempts at singing.

But there’s also J Mascis, Sarah Silverman and a bunch of other awesome celebs in the video, not to mention the one and only Daryl Dixon, so enjoy as they recreate Sleater-Kinney’s sweet new single for you:

Best of ’14

As we begin wrapping up this emotional and absurd year, it’s nice to turn your brain off from the news and wrap it around the amazing music 2014 created, instead.

Whittling what I considered the top albums of the year down to 10 wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, especially after Run the Jewels dropped their phenom of a sophomore LP in October. Some of the albums, like Lost in the Dream and Sunbathing Animal, were surprise additions, especially since I couldn’t get fully into the former until about a month ago, but it just reminds me every recording needs at least a handful of listens before they’re written off.

But here they are – the albums and musicians who settled themselves into my mind the best this year. Be sure to let me know what you think! There’s clearly nothing I like more than hearing what everyone else has been listening to. 🙂

10. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream


Definitely the road trip record of the year, Lost in the Dream does a great job of pushing you forward. There’s plenty of steady, uptempo beats in there to keep you going, and it’s lush with savory rhythm. But these instrumentals, combined with frontman Adam Granduciel’s everyman vocals, also inspire you to take pause and really invest yourself in the songs. So keep your eyes on the road and just let this lovely album complement everything you’re passing by.

9. Amen Dunes – Love


This terrific LP is equal parts airy/solid as a rock. Damon McMahon brought in collaborators on piano, guitar and drums to craft a truly pretty album that is gorgeous without the lipstick and hairspray and high heels. Rather, it’s an au naturel work that flourishes where it should and is the essential soundtrack to a rainy Sunday afternoon.

8. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal


These Brooklyn boys just landed themselves the title of SPIN’s Band of the Year, and after seeing their electric, smart and energetic set at last spring’s Sasquatch!, it makes plenty of sense. They did release another album, Content Nausea, just six months after Sunbathing Animal, but it’s their first of 2014 that really established the group for me. It’s one that mirrors early Magazine or Talking Heads, with a polished yet slightly more rockin’ edge.

7. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste


Oh sweet Azealia, how we’ve missed you so. Her firecracker attitude meshes just fine with her darling vocals and lightning fast delivery on this long-awaited debut, and she’s got it all backed with lusciously danceable beats. She had me at “212”, of course, and did a fantastic job of building around that song with plenty of tracks that rival it.

6. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music


While my thoughts on modern country music remain the same, I was still FLOORED when I learned of Sturgill Simpson and his old school country ways. The man embodies outlaw country much as Waylon, Merle, Kris and Johnny did back in the ’70s, and he clearly does it without effort. It’s refreshing as hell to hear someone bringing back the original meaning of country music to the genre.

5. St. Vincent – St. Vincent


St. Vincent may have merely remained on the outskirts of my radar with her first four albums, even though one of these was with mastermind David Byrne, but there was no way to deny her my time once she released this self-titled gem. Rightfully quirky and captivating, St. Vincent is a marvel of a record that challenges all musicians to step up their game and embrace sounds of the future.

4. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker


Talk about an introduction. On his self-titled debut, Benjamin Booker paid no apology to anyone and just went about creating an explosive album all his own. Dripping with beautiful punk and blues and soul, this LP told tales of sadness and reinvention. A truly impressive piece of work sung through Booker’s appealing yet scraggly vocals.

3. TV on the Radio – Seeds


Never has TV on the Radio done me wrong with an album, and it’s remarkable they remain as innovative from each one to the next as they have, time and again. Seeds is just as uniquely catchy as anything TVOTR has ever done, but it’s got heart, and reads like the mindset of any driven human being out there. In essence, this album leaves you feeling it was written as the score for your every day, and won’t stop from you bursting out of your chair and launching into dance whenever the music so inspires you.

2. Ty Segall – Manipulator


No surprise Ty made the list, and not just because I love him so. Manipulator is the garage rock virtuoso’s most refined to date, and is chock full of delicious reworks of all kinds of ’70s rock. Segall shines best on this release as he reinvents glam, melding it nicely with the kind of sounds invented by The Kinks.

1. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2


Allow me to be so bold as to say RTJ2 is the definition of rap. Not of the many variations today’s rap holds, nor of yesterday’s and all its innovation, but of where the genre should be, following decades of development. Killer Mike and El-P cover all the bases with this intelligent record, delivering their rhymes with genius consideration and propping them up with style of every flavor. Their collaborations were jaw-dropping (Zack de la Rocha, Travis Barker, etc.), and the inclusion of extreme talent such as Gangsta Boo was brilliant. I applaud these guys for just about every second this album is made of.

Honorable Mention: The Growlers – Chinese Fountain; Woods – With Light and With Love

End o’ the Year Playlist

It’s gotten to the point where my temptation for end of the year lists almost outweighs my longing for Christmas. Not because I ever agree with those of major publications (really, Rolling Stone? U2 and their invasive album is the best of the year?), but because these lists ramp up my argumentative nature and prepare me for the “no, this album’s better!” battles I’m sure to be having with friends and family this time of year.

That’s why I’m ecstatic to be releasing my very own Best Albums of 2014 list later this week, as well as today’s playlist, which features all the songs I couldn’t shake this year.

The irony is that a few of these songs were widely popular, and played almost to death on the radio. Usually that kind of music turns me off instantaneously, but the indie connotations and creativity of songs like Vance Joy’s “Riptide” and Milky Chance’s “Stolen Dance” made their popularity very okay by my standards.

There was also the impressive solo debut from Hamilton Leithauser, former frontman for The Walkmen, who showed with songs such as “Alexandra” his unique vocals will always sell albums, be they backed by a band or not.

A ton of good rap came out this year, and while nothing from Run The Jewels made my fave songs list (Spoiler alert! You’ll see them in my Best Of albums list later this week, of course.), some excellent others did. The combination of Future, Pusha T, Casino and Pharrell Williams (who is nicely out of his element on this track – this ain’t no Robin Thicke jam) for “Move That Dope” is genius, leaning heavy on old school formula with the injection of just the right amount of modernized beats.

DJ Snake and Lil Jon also crushed it with “Turn Down for What”, as did Big Sean and E-40 for “I Don’t Fuck With You”. The latter just makes me laugh, and I don’t see it as offensive, it’s just a guy stating his fed up feelings for his needy ex, loud and clear.

Maybe my #1 for the year was Angel Olsen’s “High Five”, though – girl released a terrific solo full-length debut with Burn Your Fire for No Witness, and don’t be surprised if she ends up here to stay.

There were also a slew of top drawer videos this year, but major props belong to Queen Bey and her fantastic linked-to-the-lyrics choreography of “7/11”. Enjoy:

So with that, congrats, 2014 – you left a lot of good tunes ringing in my ear. What did I forget, though? What other songs rocked your year, sweet blog followers?

Love/hate relationships with musicians

Following the release of the much awaited full-length debut from Azealia Banks a few weeks ago, it felt as if 2 hours passed before she was mouthing off again. This wasn’t entirely surprising, as she’d practically written herself out of a career with her often racist and homophobic Twitter rants against fellow collaborators Pharrell, Disclosure and more, as well media icons such as Perez Hilton.

Thanks to her disparaging remarks, and lack of new material following her smash single “212” in 2012, it was easy to give up on her. It also didn’t help she didn’t even show up for the concert I hoped to see her in a couple years ago, at Sasquatch!, an absence she never explained.


Banks’ debut was supposed to be released later that year, but conflicts with Interscope Records led to her being dropped from the label. She got lucky, though, as the label dismissed her from the contract and still let her maintain rights over the songs she’d put together thus far.

And that’s what helped Broke With Expensive Taste, a truly remarkable and brazen piece of work, come to be. So far I’ve been in true love with this album, and I’ve been overly impressed with Banks’ skills every time I listen to it.

That’s why it was deflating and extremely disappointing to hear Banks get right back to her unnecessarily catty ways almost the minute the album dropped. In an interview with The Guardian Banks rehashed her anger with Disclosure, going so far as this:

I want to punch one of them in the face – the little one [possibly Guy Lawrence]. The ugly one. I want to hit him so bad. I saw him at the airport in Australia and I came over to him and I was like: ‘Hello? Like, what are we going to do with this song?’ And he was just being a dickhead. I started crying, I was so angry. I wanted to hit him. I cannot stand that little boy with all those pimples around his mouth. I love their music, though.

Anyone with a clear head can see the confusion, uncertainty and desire to be audacious in this statement, but that doesn’t forgive Banks for her hateful remarks. Yet, as much as we may disagree with her social behavior and commentary, does it make it okay to still like her music?

I’ve thought a lot about that lately, because Banks isn’t exactly the only musician I both love to hate, and hate to love. There’s Kanye, of course, as well as everyone from Jack White to Odd Future. Each of these artists do a terrific job at cultivating attitudes and personalities I loathe, yet create undeniably talented and appealing music that’s generally impossible to resist. They go about this in different ways, but it still leaves me appreciating the music over anything else. Sure, the mere thought of who Kanye married and impregnated (no need to bring up her name, that’s done enough in the media) is enough to make one sick, but that doesn’t distract from the genius he possesses in creating innovative and unique new music. And Jack White’s just an asshole who not so secretly feels he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, yet I crank the radio every time anything from Elephant comes on the air.

Rap collective Odd Future, on the other hand, is made up a bunch of likable guys who write lyrics all women should hate and be offended by – yet a large number of females, such as myself, remain entranced with their music. Fader just wrote a great article about what keeps women fans in love with the group, and the interesting reason nearly everyone interviewed gave was: Odd Future don’t give a fuck about what people think about them. So even when they’re being blatantly misogynistic with what they’re saying, and rapping stories of rape and murder…it’s okay because the group doesn’t what care what people think? Somehow, yes. Odd Future, especially founder Tyler, The Creator, have done well at balancing their offensive lyrics and stage presence with equal parts love and respect for the fans, making it almost clear they don’t mean what they say with their music. Just as with Banks, this in no way forgives them, but it does somehow allow their music and/or social commentary to be offensive yet admired.


Now, as much as I hate to bring Taylor Swift into this conversation, a musician I in no way love, nor like the music she creates, I will commend her for the narrative she’s given in regards to Spotify lately. While Swift’s career has already left her reeking of money for the rest of her life, she remains against free and streaming services like Spotify because she feels “there should be an inherent value placed on art”, and such services don’t do that for her. And it’s that sentiment which helps somewhat explain my consent and adoration toward musicians I can’t stand for one reason or the other.

A piece of art, an album, a song – the higher the value and quality, the easier it is to separate it from the maker and he or she’s negative attributes. I will admit, sometimes it gets tough to like something designed by someone so obviously awful…yes, I will forever cherish “Toxic” but will never in my life say one nice thing about Britney Spears…but if something’s good, why deny it? This could lead to a broad conversation about my ethics, and questionably forgiving people for their wrongs, but this article isn’t about me. It’s about praising the value of art and music for what it is, not for who made it.


And on a closing note, while an artist may immensely increase the likability of a piece by being a nice guy or gal, such behavior also has the potential of lessening the edge to their work and leaving their character uninteresting to fans. It’s almost a double-edged sword for musicians, which in a bizarre way lends more support towards allowing them to be whoever the hell they want to be. Which I firmly believe anyone, musical or not, has the right to do. So keep on with your crazy ways, Azealia. Because at this point, your musical output still manages to speak more than your insensitive social output does.

Whatever happened to good ole country music?

I don’t like Taylor Swift. Never have, probably never will. I’m not about to get into all the reasons why, but I’ve found one of the biggest reasons helps explain my motivation to rant about the continuing decline of country music.

Because it is in my opinion the launch of Swift’s career was yet another nail in the coffin of traditional country music, and it was almost the one that sealed it away. What does “traditional” mean for this genre, though? There are obviously countless beliefs on that, but I like to think mine’s fairly valid. Mainly because my formative years of age 0 to 11 were spent listening to almost nothing but the country music that had been created between 1940-1993.


The legends of this half century are names almost anyone can identify, whether they listen to this style of music or not: Hank Williams, Sr., Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Waylon and Willie, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, etc. And what does the music of these artists have in common? Simple yet mesmerizing lyrics, backed by chord progressions and rhythms both powerful and unforgettable. Whether it be a slow movin’ love song or honky tonkin’, havin’ a good time tune, these musicians and their songwriters knew how to connect the words to the music in a way that was emphatically country. There was always a steel guitar in there, or just enough twang, plus a defiant or all-knowing personality that told you how things were with their harmonizing vocals.

Each tune had a topic of interest their fans could easily relate to, and they were generally stories centered around rural living. George Strait and Chris LeDoux were terrific at honoring the cowboy lifestyle with their lyrics, and Loretta Lynn would sing of the trials and tribulations of growing up in Kentucky’s “Butcher Holler”, or lend strength to women with songs such as “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”. Lynn wasn’t the only one offering support to the ladies, though – the female singers of country music have long been advocates of women empowerment, and standing up to wrongdoin’ men. And they always did it in either a playful or serious way, both of which were highly effective at getting their point across. 

Whether it be a male or female country musician, however, the songs were always compelling because the artists were such good storytellers. A lot of that had to do with their songwriters, as well, but those front men and women were so authentic with their delivery. It’s almost impossible to not get chills when you hear Cash sang “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”, because he has a way with that guitar and those words that just convinces you he’s telling the truth.


Fast forward 50 years or so from Cash and the like, and what have we got? In comparison with the founders and torch bearers of this genre, very little that could stand up as actual country music. Sure, every genre out there requires advancement and innovation, but that does not mean it should be reshaped and morphed into another, however, like country has done under the pop-driven influence of artists such as Swift. Or get whittled down to nothing more than redneck party music that features the same idea and tone, from song to song.

Swift, someone who now barely associates with the genre that founded her, obviously wasn’t the first country starlet to mix some pop into her music – it’s safe to say the ’90s were rife with such musicians, all yearning to have a bit of crossover success with their catchy tunes. No surprise, then, that I stopped listening to country music around that time. I will admit to having enjoyed songs like Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine”, or “Wide Open Spaces” by Dixie Chicks, but I was also a teenaged girl, and more or less felt those songs had been written for me.

As country music entered the 21st Century it was also devastating to see the way politics would come to heavily affect its brand. The carnage of 9/11 did implement a more patriotic spirit in most Americans, but it also riled up country singers like Toby Keith, and this left country radio heavily populated with songs about “the no good Middle East” and how we should rally to kick the Taliban’s ass. While the sentiment might have been one shared with many people at that time, the construction of such tunes felt tacky, and was veering away from what country music meant.

I’ll be honest in that I don’t know much about the vast landscape country music is potentially comprised of these days, but it’s because every time I’ve been subject to it in the past 15 years, it’s been the same song, slightly reworked from another. And it’s usually not very good, so I don’t listen further. That’s why it was great to see Entertainment Weekly writer Grady Smith publish this video last December, which correctly defines the state of country music today:

It’s tough to make it all the way through that video. Which is so sad for a genre that was once vibrant with entertaining lyrics and appealing music to back it. Here’s hoping the industry will somehow find its way back to its roots, and resurrect some of the respect it once held with fans. I feel we owe legends such as Hank Sr. that, and so much more. ‘Til we can be so lucky, click here for a reminder of what’s been lost.

10/21/14 Playlist

Y’all get a nice musical peek into my childhood with this week’s playlist. Being raised in a rural part of Nebraska by a father who was once a champion bull rider, and older siblings who were all involved in rodeo at some point or another, I was exposed to little more than country music until I was about 10. One of the first songs I can remember learning the lyrics to was George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live In Texas”, and my family can attest I sang it all the damn time.

My dad is also the reason I even love music as much as I do, and it’s because he would have the radio or cassette player going throughout much of his work day, and I could tell at an early age he held a high respect for quality musicians. This resonated for me later, as I began to explore music for myself, and still does today, as I appreciate the greats he introduced me to.

This of course includes Hank Sr., Loretta Lynn, and all the other legendary singers on this list, but it’s my brothers and sister who turned me on to everything from Reba McEntire to Nitty Ditty Gritty Dirt Band in the ’80s. There was also a period of time when I thought Kentucky Headhunters were just about the coolest thing out there, but I was also 8, and my “Dumas Walker” lovin’ brother had just graduated high school. It’s amazing how much influence an older sibling can have on you.

I more or less stopped listening to country music around the time Shania Twain entered the picture with her fantastic debut single, “What Made You Say That”, because not long after, country started turning pop and/or ridiculous. I can barely tell you a thing about country music today, because I’ve completely tuned it out of my life thanks to this kind of nonsense. Zac Brown Band and Kacey Musgraves (check out her great video for “Follow Your Arrow” here) randomly found their way in thanks to friends who still stand by the genre, and for that I’m thankful. Their music leaves a tiny bit of hope for the rest of those fools that have forgotten country music means more than just a song about a girl in tight blue jeans.

1993 was the last time I even purchased a country album, and it was In Pieces, by Garth Brooks. That man was an absolute genius, and I’m not ashamed to admit I still know most of the words to his songs. Brooks is one of the few remaining artists out there who refuse to stream via sites such as Spotify, but just last month he did launch GhostTunes, a service that allows users to purchase material and listen to it through any of their devices.

He’s also made it next to impossible to find footage of his music videos, or performances, online, so here’s the best I could do for you…enjoy as Reba introduces Garth in this absolutely hilarious rendition of “Friends In Low Places” from an early ’90s music awards show: