Monday, December 21, 2009

An Eye-Opening Lesson in Country Music

When I realized Wilco's "Summerteeth" album came up as Country on iTunes, I almost had a heart attack. Heresy! Certainly no album that I had listened to countless times was Country in disguise. It was as if broken-down pickup trucks, countless bottles of Jim Beam and throngs of buxom blondes in denim jackets were hiding behind the captivating melodies of my favorite songs.

But I really liked the album. Hence my dire, internal struggle.

Up to that point, I had associated Country music with what I heard when I flipped past Moose 96 on the radio. It all sounded the same (inconceivably drippy), and I came to assume that all Country music was worthy of detesting.

If Wilco was considered country, either Apple's system of musical classification was faulty or I would have to attempt to be a little more open-minded about particular genres.

My biggest mistake in this Country music debacle was with what I classified in the genre. As it turns out, Bluegrass is Country's father - far more traditional, upright and wise. He's also pretty disappointed in how sappy and flavorless his son turned out. Bluegrass leans heavily on fiddle, banjo and mandolin, whereas Country tends to rely solely on a guitar. Now you know.

Although I'd pick bluegrass every time, it's still impossible to completely write off country. It represents a huge historical element of American music history. You can't say no to a genre that claims Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Like any genre, this one has its ups and its downs, its classic can't-say-no artists and it's embarrassing cookie-cutter talking (or singing) heads. And, like any genre, the crappy stuff is played on the radio.

Even after serious investigation and a new musical outlook, I still think it's fair to separate "Pop Country" from the rest of the genre. (You're cute, Taylor Swift, but it doesn't work for me.) I will also assert that iTunes does not know its folk from its country from its bluegrass.

But it's okay. I'll take another round through "Via Chicago." You can call it what you like.

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