Country Confusion

I have a very hard time understanding the appeal of mainstream country music.  More so than the most over-produced pop or R&B track, mainstream country is the sound of plastic.  You can break it down as much as you want, but you’ll dig a good long while before you find something organic at its core.  This isn’t at all to say that I don’t like country music – it just means I’m hard-pressed to hear the music I like on my local radio station.  And for the very best in country radio, nothing short of WDVX will do. 

With these thoughts firmly in mind, I was, therefore, incredibly surprised when I heard Sugarland’s performance of “Stay” at Sunday’s Grammys.  The first puzzle was how I’d managed to wander this long without ever crossing them before.  Their Grammys appearance was joined with an abbreviated rendition of Adele’s “Chasing Pavements.”  I’ve been so smitten with Adele’s voice and music ever since I heard her live on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.  Her voice is the fully mature woman next to Duffy’s flirty little girl.  I was really looking forward to letting her impress me and find new fans with the Grammys showcase opportunity, but it was, instead, Jennifer Nettles who grabbed me by the ear and made me sit a little straighter. 

“Stay” is a fairly generic [country] song: wronged woman, cheatin’ man.  It’s a story that’s been told a million times and this storyteller is no Hank Williams.  But this singer is onto something. It’s not too often that I find reason to love a mediocre song, but I was so struck by this singer’s voice. Joy Lynn White – that Nashville spitfire – is probably the last artist to make such an impression on me.  Jennifer Nettles has such an astonishing voice that  I completely forgot I was just waiting for Adele to appear and I was even a little disappointed when she finally did.

I’m not sure what it is I heard in Nettles’ voice during that performance.  I’ve been listening to the song on constant rotation since I bought it, but the sound is canned – it’s nothing but the ghost of that heartache that is the live version.  This is probably the reason why the performance had me so excited.  Regardless of the abundant drudge that is being recorded, there are some truly talented artists succeeding in mainstream country.  It’s gratifying to find that you can, occasionally, turn on network television to wonder at their gifts.


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