That all important Twang

Well, would you believe it, pop pickers, we’ve reached F already in my iTunes list. Bowling along nicely, I’d say.

And first for a f-f-flick over with the feather duster are the two albums I have by the glamorous country singer Faith Hill – Breathe (1999) and Faith (1998).

So, what exactly is country music these days? Mr Tracks and I watched a very interesting documentary recently called The Joy of Country which was examining the roots of country, the lives of country music’s megastars, and it’s current position in society today. The programme’s premise was that country music was originally borne out of the struggle of the poorest Americans in society. Singers like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline etc all came from these poor backgrounds and could therefore write songs about these harsh times and sing them from the heart. This, the programme argued, was the essence of country music. As time has gone by and living standards in American have in general improved, more modern country singers have not had these experiences on which to draw and it was argued that the future of country music may therefore be in doubt.

This is a rather narrowly focused thesis, it seems to me. It suggests that country music as a genre is wholly static and tied only to a single aspect of life. And it ignores the fact that music, like all the arts, is instead fluid and moves with the times. It also ignores the fact that we, the audience, are capable of moving on too. Take jazz, for example. Do we have a problem with white affluent jazz performers now, even though this is music which was developed by working class black societies? No of course not.

So back to Ms Hill. What is her music like and how do we know that it is country music? She delivers high quality, polished vocals on songs about time-honoured subjects – love, loss, and life. She is accompanied by clearly talented musicians with a slickly produced finish. This could be a description of Kylie Minogue’s music, for example. But there is a clear difference in sound, which means that Hill’s music is clearly not ‘pop’. It’s subtle, but she has a well placed violin, zither, steel guitar or southern wobble in her voice which gives the music that distinctive country ‘twang’. It’s not ‘in your face’ country, but it’s definitely there.

Singers these days don’t have to sing about wanting to shoot themselves, or whatever other cliche you might want to use to describe country music. Dolly Parton certainly doesn’t do this. They do sing about enduring themes relevant to all of us – but then, doesn’t everyone? They just give it a good twang and we all know where we are.

Country music, like all types of music, has moved with the times. I don’t have any problem with modern singers producing modern-sounding music, and Faith Hill is as good example of the crop as any. As for the more traditional country sound? Well, we’ve still a long way to go before we get to J for Johnny and even longer before W for Willie!

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