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Kickin' Up Dust

Thursday, July 31 2014

When the Man in Black Went to Bat for Native America

A recasting of Johnny Cash's most controversial album, Bitter Tears, raises questions about the inclusiveness of American music.


Wednesday, June 4 2014

David Dondero: A Poet of Vehicles

Living out of step fits right in with Dondero's songs of tough and kindhearted outcasts, eccentrics and survivors who live out of sight, but in plain sight.


Tuesday, April 29 2014

Our Jason Isbell, Ourselves

Jason Isbell delivered one of the strongest records in 2013, and in doing so, he helped redefine the parameters of Americana.


Wednesday, March 12 2014

On Country Music Outsiders… and Fakers

Let's compare Eric Church's macho, white-power Outsiders to some newly reissued country outsiders from the '70s, the out-gay-country group Lavender Country.


Thursday, January 30 2014

The Beautification of Country Stars

You can call 2013 the year that country-music album covers looked like advertisements torn from fashion and lifestyle magazines.


Monday, October 14 2013

Getting Gone: David Cantwell’s Take on the Iconic Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard's restlessness breaks him out of one prison and sends him towards another.


Sunday, August 11 2013

John Fogerty Is Still Square, But He’s Kinda Cool, Too

John Fogerty has teamed with a group of contemporary artists to deliver a celebration of his songs and of American music with Wrote a Song for Everyone. It couldn't be a more welcome celebration.


Sunday, June 30 2013

Country Music Ain’t Black & White: ‘Hidden in the Mix’

These explorations of the African-American presence in country music are welcome at a time when country music is treated, by insiders and outsiders, as a purely white genre, and exceptions to that are treated as aberrations, gimmicks or novelty songs.


Monday, June 3 2013

Wrote a Song for Everyone: Slim Dunlap’s Art/Roots Marriage

Former Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap's roots run deeper than punk rock, but he's got an arty flare you might not expect from a man who loves Hank Williams and Chuck Berry.


Sunday, May 5 2013

Same Old Song: Tributes to Kris Kristofferson

There are at least four various artists tribute albums to Kris Kristofferson, all released in the last 11 years. Why him? Is it about the songwriter or the songs? The musicians or the listeners? The present or the past? The albums themselves might provide the answers.


Tuesday, April 2 2013

Always It’s You: Why the Everly Brothers Still Matter

Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie “Prince” Billy pay tribute to the Everlys with What the Brothers Sang, and the Chapin Sisters with A Date With the Everly Brothers, in their new tribute albums.


Monday, February 18 2013

Jonathan Goes Country, Country Goes Jonathan

Revisiting Jonathan Richman’s brief “country moment” offers another window, through the eyes of an outsider into the genre.


Sunday, January 13 2013

Is Hero Worship All There Is to Country Music?

All of the albums that critics/fans who fancy themselves “pure” country defenders have praised as the best of 2012 carry a heavy aura of the past about them. But how much can country music progress if it’s spending all of its time looking back?


Sunday, October 21 2012

Is Taylor Swift Still Country? Do We Care?

It’s hard to determine anyone in the genre who has built up more of an aura of hype and expectation around each new release than Taylor Swift. Each album takes a different step outwards.


Monday, September 10 2012

In the Heart of Country Music in the Heart of the Country

How the Midwest remade country music in its own image -- and without even trying.


Thursday, August 9 2012

Bruce Springsteen, Country Music Idol?

Country singers of all stripes have covered or referenced Bruce Springsteen in their songs, yet the reasons they do so, and what they see in his songs, is not as easy to read as you might expect.


Monday, July 16 2012

What Nashville Might Learn from the Carolina Chocolate Drops

The Carolina Chocolate Drops show us why it's important that country music gets in touch with its real base: rural America and the many gifts that rural America offers.


Wednesday, May 23 2012

Confronting the Enemy: Rascal Flatts

I vigorously defend lots of country music that sends others running. Yet there is one band that drives me absolutely batty. I need to confront and dissect this visceral feeling that their music is the worst, ever. It's time to face my enemy: Rascal Flatts.


Monday, April 23 2012

Black Country Communion: Darius Rucker and Lionel Richie

Despite country's southern roots, there remains a dearth of black artists. Darius Rucker dipped his toes in those muddy waters in the past, but alas, Lionel Richie's new country album doesn't wade in much deeper.


Sunday, March 11 2012

Psycho Country: Your Favorite Singer is Out to Kill Me

The perfect smile of your favorite country star might be hiding something sinister. Country songs can get kinda crazy.


Wednesday, February 22 2012

Americana May Be Country, But Country Is Rarely Americana

Like punk rock and heavy metal, country music has a formula and violating that formula is a kind of betrayal, a heresy for which one may not be forgiven. In Americana, such betrayals and unexpected turns are often welcomed.


Sunday, January 29 2012

The Mythical Country

Where are these towns and neighborhoods that Montgomery Gentry sing about? The Mythical Country; the country that exists in the collective imagination of Nashville songwriters and singers, and that of the audience.


Sunday, January 8 2012

Queer Country: Chely Wright’s Coming Out

The upcoming documentary, Wish Me Away, centered on country singer Chely Wright chronicles the pains of coming out in Nashville and raises questions about why more country musicians haven’t come out.


Sunday, November 20 2011

When Indie Musicians “Go Country”

A lot of these indie musicians who wouldn’t call themselves "country" sound more country to me than Rascal Flatts or, for that matter, than Fleet Foxes, who are described as “alt-country”.


Sunday, October 16 2011

Old Country Comfort: How the British Might Save American Music (Again)

The British saved rock 'n' roll, reignited the blues, and may just make country music more American.


Wednesday, October 5 2011

Country Music’s Me-First Jesus

These days, a country singer will bow down to Jesus at least once by the end of his album, even if he spent the rest of it cheatin’, mistreatin’ and fightin’. Jesus is that reliable way to feel good even if you’ve been acting bad.


Tuesday, July 19 2011

Is Country Music Treading Water in 2011?

It's been a dead enough year in country music to make fans wonder what's going on. Is the genre taking a year off, or just jogging in place for a while?


Sunday, May 15 2011

Martina McBride’s Songs Inspire a New Generation of Country Singers

In one fell, sweet-voiced swoop, Martina McBride gives voice to the struggles of women in contemporary times.


Friday, April 22 2011

Fit to Be Tied: Country’s Angry Women

Modern country music is in love with a new trend: women inflicting violence on men, when the men deserve it... and even when they don't.


Tuesday, March 15 2011

What’s Real About Country Music?

The implication of "Real" and "This Is Country Music" is that some forms of entertainment are more real than others, and country music is the most real. Yet what does it mean for a song to be real? What’s real about music, anyway?


Tuesday, January 25 2011

The Past Is Never Past: How Country Music Remembers

Each year brings a slew of rock 'n' roll reissues or tributes, celebrating the anniversary of landmark albums from the past. Country music, however, tends to view its past differently.


Monday, November 8 2010

A Mexico State of Mind

Songs about Mexico run rampant through the commercial country landscape, but which Mexico are they singing about?


Monday, September 13 2010

Six Packs Ain’t Nothing More Than EPs With a Working-Class Name

EP sounds like an academic term. “Six pack” makes people think of beer, of a tough-guy’s abs, or Six Pack, the 1982 race-car comedy starring Kenny Rogers.


Tuesday, August 17 2010

Sam Bush: Still Rockin’ That Bluegrass Train

In the pantheon of bluegrass pickers, Sam Bush is the default leader. Still, Bush remembers playing onstage with Bill Monroe in the early '70s, and after he showcased his kinetic picking technique on the mandolin, Monroe leaned over and told him to “stick to the fiddle”.


Monday, July 19 2010

The World According to Country Radio: It’s Pretty Basic, Baby

Country is a genre with its own sense of time. New songs on country radio aren't necessarily new. The songs aren't interested in capturing a point in time, instead, they're all about depicting the essentials of life.


Sunday, June 13 2010

The Importance of Being Ernest: Easton Corbin and the Country Boy Hemingway Code

Easton Corbin's debut reads like a 'Farewell to Arms' for the truck-pull set and lays out a hero's code for existentialist country boys everywhere; that is, the practical application of action over thought.


Sunday, May 9 2010

So, Taylor Swift, How Far Do You Wanna Go?

Taylor Swift’s Fearless tour in Kansas City saw her go so far as to perform a mid-song hug-a-thon with her audience -- rather like a presidential candidate working the crowd -- except, as my brother said, “I went to a John Kerry rally, and he didn’t hug anybody.”


Wednesday, April 14 2010

Pour Some Sugarland on Me: Why Country Music Is the New Classic Rock

Question: Since everyone seems to love the big arena-rock of the '80s, why don't they make records like that anymore? Answer: They do. It's called country music, now.


Sunday, February 28 2010

The Arrogance of Toby Keith

Arrogance is central to Toby Keith's music. Yet it's an arrogance tied to the notion that human beings are essentially deluded. Everyone thinks they're absolutely right, and everyone is usually wrong.


Sunday, February 7 2010

Willie Nelson in the Twilight Glow

At 77, Willie's hair is now down to his tailbone, and you can see his trademark red locks fade to gray about midway up his back -- it's like examining the rings of a tree.


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