Country: File under 'Martina' or file under 'Trisha'?
A good friend of mine attended the CMA awards in New York last year and very kindly brought back a bunch of CDs which he thought may sit well in the 'shelves' of our Americana online music store.
Finally managed to get around to listening to the collection of fairly well known, and some not so well known names during some long drives this last weekend.
The prospects looked good – an open road, no deadlines to meet and looking forward to unearthing some hidden gems and the buzz that you get when you get to put a new name in the racks and wait for the reactions to your 'find'.
So, track one of the first CD and … nothing - not literally you understand, there wasn't anything wrong with the CD player - but nothing … no emotion, no tingle down the spine, not even an instrument to speak of, just that anonymous ensemble of strings, keyboards and mid-eighties sustain guitar that identifies much of the country-pop sound.
Tried a couple more tracks, shrugged shoulders and mentally filed under 'Faith soundalike'.
Next up, a similar tale. Listened through a couple of tracks and mentally filed under 'Martina'.
And so it went on, and by the end of the first hour or so I found I had a set of three 'Faiths' two each of 'Martina' and 'Trisha', a dubious early nineties 'Shania' and even a 'Sara' !
My heart lifted once as a fiddle and dobro laden 'Alison' chimed in with a promising start, but track two and beyond saw a return to the ubiquitous swirling strings and the inevitable guitar solos, with the acoustic instruments confined to their place at the back of the mix.
Now you won't find me criticising Faith, Martina, Trisha, Shania, or any of the trailblazing 'New Country' stars. They have brought many, many new fans to Country Music and their legacy is instilled in today's Americana women singers – my gripe is only with lack of originality in the new generation of artists.
Why, ten or twelve years on, are labels content to produce bland, formula-driven music, a pale imitation of what has gone before, made even more asinine by the instrumentation and effects layered over the songs like so much cake icing?
Okay, this is beginning to turn into a rant, and let's be honest, it is always very easy to criticize.
Instead let's note that none of the artists in my clutch of CDs got filed under 'Lee Ann soundalike'. Ms. Womack is beyond reproach in the humble opinion of this writer in managing to retain the accessibility and innocence of the first wave of New Country, and combine it with true Country Music values without having to resort to token gestures of throwing traditional instruments into the mix just to dress it up and try to appeal to the traditionalists.
None of my collection of wannabees even attempted to try to reach the standard set by 'There's More Where That Came From'. Interesting, but that surely speaks volumes.
While we're showering praise, honourable mentions please to Miranda Lambert and Julie Roberts for being new artists that do actually bring something fresh and worthwhile to the table, and let's hope Gretchen Wilson manages to stick to her principles. Oh, and let's take the chance to celebrate Kelly Willis for still being Kelly Willis - standing her ground, and still making exceptional music in that wonderfully creative Texan environment.
Shame about my friend and his kind gesture, I hope if he's reading this he isn't offended, but Americana Music has to mean something, it has to feel as though it was produced because the artist just had to make the record or (s)he would burst.
I'm looking for Something to file under 'H' for Heart'n'Soul
This article was posted on April 05, 2007