29 September 2009

Who's gonna fill their shoes?

Country music has become as organic as a Fruit Roll-Up but the slide has been especially severe in recent years.

Decades ago George Jones asked 'Who's gonna fill their shoes?' in reference to the departed and aging greats such as Hank Williams, Roy Acuff. Surely we can put the Old Possum in that august group in 2009.

This isn't just a 'Hot New Country is horrible' rant (although HNC is quite horrible along with the hackneyed videos that accompany it) - it's an actual note of panic over the state of America's homegrown music, more specifically vocal talent. Virtuoso instrumentalists are everywhere these days although the Brent Masons and Brad Paisleys will always stand apart. But where are the unique voices? Take away Dolly Parton's over-the-top glamour and she still has an unmistakable sound. Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Tammy Wynette (RIP), and of course Miss Loretta Lynn.

Who are we left with? LeAnn Rimes? Certainly a talent but apparently more interested in getting her kit off rather than singing now that she's shed the baby fat. Taylor Swift? How long have you got? Could anyone take her out of her record production and/or stage show and pick her voice out of a lineup of generic local talent-show aspirants? What about her male counterpart Toby Keith? It didn't seem possible to make three-chord country any more generic and repetitive but against all the odds Keith has done it along with his unremarkable trucker-on-the-toilet grunting. Kenny Chesney? There was some substance there once but Chesney's voice has been harmonized/compressed into an unrecognizable form and has disappeared along with his hair. "This is our moment/this is our time" - hmm sounds like a recent political campaign and it's just as meaningless. Chesney's campaign to capture the Buffett beach crowd now that JB is getting on is incredibly cynical even for a Nashville type like him.

Can anyone imagine George Jones, Johnny Cash or Tanya Tucker attempting to get a record deal nowadays? If the 'looks police' didn't throw them out on the street first the record company types would most likely claim that they didn't have the country sound. The mind boggles.

So what are we left with? One 'hat act' after another on the male side and musically interchangeable blond sexpots on the female? How long can an audience eat fast food before it ceases to have any taste at all? It appears we are about to find out to our detriment.