Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Pop Gone Country

Justin Timberlake raised some eyebrows Monday after suggesting he would like to make country music. "[Those dreams are] still alive."

During an interview on satellite radio station The Highway, Timberlake discussed his single Drink You Away, which offers a distinct element of twang. "I still got my eyes on a 'Best Country Album," he said. "There's time for that."

That's a little presumptuous, but it's great to see singers from other genres recognizing country. I’ve often pointed out contemporary country's leanings to pop. But could other genres blend into country, too?

For example, Kelly Clarkson. While still pop, the original American Idol has been featured on a number of country duets, including Don’t You Wanna Stay with Jason Aldean, which peaked at number one on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.

And then there’s Sheryl Crow, who released her first country album this past September. Her single Easy broke the top 20, and she even sang with Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton at last year’s Academy of Country Music Awards.

Of course, Darius Rucker was lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish. But he was welcomed into country, and as a young listener, I would never have guessed he used to be part of a rock band. His number one cover of Wagon Wheel is about as traditional as you can get.

There are other examples – like Nelly joining Florida Georgia Line for a Cruise remix. They show that while country can adopt the best elements of other genres, it works both ways. Will Timberlake have a country hit anytime soon? I doubt it, but his comments reflect the fact that music genres are becoming more intertwined than ever.

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Tuesday, 12 November 2013


A country artist's first album often doesn't impress – but Thomas Rhett is an exception. The son of Rhett Akins, this singer seems to have inherited some serious songwriting skills too. 

According to his website, the younger Rhett looked at a number of other career paths before settling on music. In 2010, he signed a songwriting deal, and soon had huge co-written cuts by Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, and Lee Brice.

And that seemed to pave the way for a successful solo gig – two songs from his self-titled EP broke the top 30 of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. And just last month, he released It Goes Like This

Rhett seems like a classy, fun-loving guy who's up for anything. In Sorry For Partyin', he offers a sarcastic apology for disrupting the neighbourhood. "It started when a couple friends and some dude in a cardigan came rolling in at 3 a.m."

Something To Do With My Hands is super rock-driven and high-energy for country. Maybe that's explained by Rhett's drumming in a punk-rock band during junior high. "So maybe I could could stick 'em in your pockets/Run 'em through your hair and we can get to rockin'."

Rhett brings a hip-hop groove to the otherwise redneck Front Porch Junkies. The gang echoes and effects on Rhett's voice make this song truly original, and it'll be stuck in your head for the rest of the week. "We're just sippin' moonshine watchin' chicken fry/Making that swing swing side-to-side." It's hard to believe everything was recorded in a home studio basement.

If you listen to country radio, you've probably hear the title track – a great tune, to be sure. But even better is Take You Home, a cute rock ballad about Rhett picking up a girl whose boyfriend ignores her at a party. "I know he brought you here and he left you alone/But he ain't worth the time you're spending text him on the phone." And the synthesizer and steel guitar in the chorus don't even clash!

Still, my absolute favourite is Beer With Jesus. Rhett steps back from the romantic themes and asks some tough spiritual questions. "I'd tell everyone, but no one would believe it/If I could have a beer with Jesus." This one really hits me in the gut.

In many ways, Rhett is doing the same things right as Florida Georgia Line. First, the strong and interactive social media presence. He manages to mash country with his personal influences so seamlessly, it's just plain good music. As a country fan who enjoys other genres, I LOVE it.

Country Luke's Rating: 9/10
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Thursday, 7 November 2013

CMA Awards: Pinnacle Award

While I have yet to watch my tape of the CMA Awards from Wednesday, I've already heard about Taylor Swift's special moment on the show. The only listed awards she won were a result of being featured in Tim McGraw's Highway Don't Care, but she did receive the Pinnacle Award for giving country music an international stage.

The artists she opened for at the beginning of her career honoured her on behalf of the Country Music Association through a video highlighting her rise to stardom. Swift seemed to shed a few tears during her acceptance speech. "You've made me feel so special right now," she said. "Thank you."

You've got to wonder what was going on behind-the-scenees. In The New York Times, Jon Caramanica asks, "How many Nashville stalwarts does it take to keep Taylor Swift in country music?" It's true that despite her fame across the world, Swift has struggled to win CMA Awards over the past few years. 

The article by points out how some people criticized Swift for bringing a new sound to country music, but now want her to come back from the pop songs of Red.

The Pinnacle Award (given only once before) seemed like a political move, and one that worked. By using the prominence of the other artists on-stage, the Country Music Association proved it accepts Swift and values her contribution to the genre. It has likely always been that way, but now, the organization has removed any rumours of rifts between it and less-than-traditional artists.

For Swift, this was a chance to speak directly to country fans without straying from her pop image. While she didn't make reference to her commitment to the country music industry, her emotional speech won over the crowd and communicated deep respect for traditional artists like George Strait.  "[He] taught me to play the songs your fans want to hear." So while Swift is no longer a primarily country artist, she showed everyone that she still loves the music. And that seemed to be enough. Balance has been restored to the Force.   

Video from