Here comes the New American Music, and damned if it ain’t the same as the old American music. Kenny Mathieson considers the current vogue for country as the New American Music Tour 95 hits Scodand.

ention that you like jazz in polite musical circles. and you might be made to feel a little eccentric. Confess to a fondness for country. though. and there is a fair chance that you will suddenly feel as if you just walked into a Bateman ‘The Man Who . . .’ cartoon.

Country music, the quintessential sound of the God-fearin’. hard-livin‘. redneck American South, has not often enjoyed much street cred. In general, country fans. who tend to be both clannish and exclusionist. don’t give a damn about that, and actually resent attempts to open out their music to wider scrutiny.

It is difficult. too. to generalise about a music which ranges from Jimmie Rodgers’s wild. blues-drenched yodelling (the connections between country and black music forms are deeper and more pervasive than many people think) to Daniel O’Donnell’s neatly pressed country-pop. and takes in a whole lot of diverse music in between.

Country has its lame easy listening side, for sure. but it also has its dark. dangerous underbelly. and more than its fair share of great singers and instrumental virtuosity.

Right now. country is on an upbeat. Even Harpers and Queen, the doyen of British

ong of the

fashion mags. felt compelled to acknowledge that ‘Nashville isn‘t Naffville anymore‘. while Elle found room for country in its Top 100 smart things to be into.

The music is accustomed to ebb and flow in its fortunes. but the current sales figures being racked up by the likes ofGarth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus in the US are something else again. Brooks has made three of the four best-selling records of the 90s (each tipping over the ten million mark). while the fourth is the soundtrack to The Bodyguard. sold on the back of Whitney

Mary Chapin Carpenter: new country with a side order of folk roots

Houston’s version of a Dolly Parton song.

UK figures are nowhere near that league. but the record companies report accelerating sales over here as well. with an overall increase of 73 per cent in 1994. Country is now making inroads into the rock and pop market with a vengeance. and more and more artists are gearing tip to follow Garth into rock-style stage spectacles.

While that broadening out has undoubted merits. there is also the accompanying danger that the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. As country expands its audience base. the

I Country Originally known as hillbilly music. country grew out of the old-time mountain music of the south-eastern states (with its strong Scottish and Irish influences). and adOpted its evocative ‘high. lonesome’ sound. mixed in with a liberal sprinkling of blues and gospel. Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family were the first big country stars in the late 20$. followed by Roy Acuff in the 305.

I And Western The western influence developed in the southwestern states. Principal

A Beginners Guide to


sources were Hollywood’s singing cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rodgers. who greatly influenced dress as well as musical styles. and the very different.jazz-derived Western Swing of Bob Wills. a legacy now carried forward by Asleep At The Wheel.

I Bluegrass The string-driven instrumental line—up and high- register vocal style of old—time mountain string bands provided the '1 base for Bluegrass in the 40s. Bill



directions by the likes of Ricky Skaggs and New Grass Revival. I Honky Tonk Arguably the central country vocal style, and equally arguably not really a style at all. It grew up in the roadside bars or honky tonks of the east Texas oilfields from the 30s onwards. and offered an earthier and more aggressive alternative to the mountain sound. Pioneers included Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb. but Hank Williams was the king. and George Jones his heir. I Rockabilly A potent collision of country. jumpjazz and rhythm and blues. rockabilly launched the rock and roll era. lts original creators Bill Haley. Carl Perkins. Elvis Presley. Jerry Lee Lewis. Johnny Cash came from strong country backgrounds. and most of them later returned to

#2 Monroe. Lester Flatt and Earl those roots. Scruggs are the godfathers. and the I Nashwlle Nashville became the music has been developed in new "3'" Stuart "ka "0MP institutional focus for the country

18 The List 7-20 Apr 1995