Why do I love Country Music?

I have been wanting to write this for several months now. During that time I have been pondering what it is about country music that I identify and why it is that I keep coming back to country music as I explore other musical styles. I still don’t know if I will be capable of putting it into words but I’m going to have a bash anyway.

First some background, I grew up in a rural area of western Northern Ireland and spent a lot of time growing up on my grandfather/uncle’s farm. We have a great love of Irish traditional music around here, but we also have an affinity for country music. Artists like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson. George Strait and Randy Travis are very popular. I grew up in a household that was all about Irish trad (which we know was an influence on Appalachian music) and my extended family got me into country music, mostly American as I could never quite get into Irish country. I guess I took that enjoyment of country music into adulthood as I got older.

The first thing I noticed about a lot of country music was the heavy use of fiddle and banjo and steel guitar. Coming from an Irish trad house I grew up listening to a lot of fiddle and banjo, I even tried learning to play fiddle but it didn’t take, so I was accustomed to that sound which made it easy for me to get into country music. It truly saddens me that so much modern country music, at least in the mainstream, has eschewed fiddles for other instrumentation choices. Country music without fiddle just seems to be missing something to me. There is something about the sound of the bow across the strings and the twang of a steel guitar as featured on a Turnpike Troubadors album that sucks me in every time like thumb tacks to a magnet.

Thematically a good country song is universal to the human condition, and in my opinion no genre of music does it better. Lyrics about love, loss, family, God and working hard just to put a roof over your head and food on the table are emminently relatable to just about everyone on this planet we share. There is an old saying in song writing that the more specific the lyric imagery, the more universal the appeal and this is certainly the case in country music. A deft song writer can share little details about the tiny Texas town they grew up in and yet the song can be universally relateable; yet another song writer writes a generalised line about driving a pickup truck or tailgating at a game and it loses some of that universal appeal. This is actually quite a bug bear of mine about a lot of modern mainstream country music. Lyrics are so generalised in an effort to appeal to everyone, yet they appeal to no one, they mean something to no one.

A lot of music writers in recent years have spent a lot of time using many many words asking “what is country music?” to the point they have over analysed it and removed all enjoyment of the music for themselves. I believe that country music means different things to different people, and we all get something different from a song. Personally I revel in the sound of a fiddle and the very specific story telling I can only get from a good country song.

There is a line in the first song of the recently released Welcome to Countryland by Flatland Cavalry that probably sums this post up succinctly so I will leave you with this……

“Country is what country means to you” - Country Is… by Flatland Cavalry