Country Music Should Be Better

I'm no country afficionado by any stretch of the imagination, despite being from Texas. Most of my experience comes from being exposed (by my sister) to Alan Jackson, Sawyer Brown, Garth Brooks, and various other artists popular in the early to mid 90s. In the late 90s, the genre had mainstream pop success thanks to Shania Twain and Faith Hill. From that point, the genre became more image conscious and hipper, although musically the I-got-a-bbq-stain-on-my-white-t-shirt mentality never really left.

So I've been listening to Neko Case quite a bit over the last few months (227 plays and counting according to last.fm), and while she's typically categorized as "alt country", her early albums have a strong throwback country sound to them (see "Whip The Blankets" from Furnace Room Lullaby). The first time I heard one of her songs ("Twist The Knife"), my initial thought was, "This is country". Her sound is more true to the legends of country than probably anything you'd hear on country radio these days. And while she's moved away from those strong country sounds on her 2 most recent albums, I listen to them and think that this is what country music should have evolved into rather than what is out there now. Maybe I don't know enough about the progression of country music from Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash to Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood, but it just seems like something went wrong along the way. I don't mean to say current country music is bad, it's probably not any worse than anything else these days, I just think the quality level could be much higher. Country music used to be a well respected genre with legendary voices who wrote classic songs. Now that's all but disappeared. In many ways it reminds me of what has happened with rap the last 20 years, going from urban poetry about life in the inner city to all about bitches and bling and no actual substance or quality. So maybe it's just the way that the music industry as a whole has evolved. But as I listen to Neko Case I can't help but think that this is what all country music should've sounded like in 2009.