I’ve noticed something kind of interesting. I’ll ask people what kind of music they like, and the majority of the time they’ll say something like “I listen to everything but country”. The small judgmental part of me whispers to myself that this means they like “everything” a certain radio station plays, be it pop or rock or alternative, and that they don’t really care enough about music to be open to new things. But I tell that part of me to be quiet, because the rest of me is pretty understanding. Then I say “what about Johnny Cash?” And they’ll almost always say something like “Well yeah, but that’s different”. I guess most people don’t realize the irony of this statement. But it’s understandable. The poppy crossover country music of today is vastly different than what the term originally connoted. But throughout the years country has had many different subgenres, from western swing to rockabilly to outlaw country and many others, and the modern pop country is just another offshoot. But there are still people who play more traditional country, and even those who play the “old-time” style, and that music still resonates with a lot of people. (Note the bluegrass revival that came in the wake of the Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou?)
One of the people making that type of throwback music is Nick 13, the lead singer/guitarist of pyschobilly band Tiger Army. (I’ll be getting to Tiger Army another time, don’t worry.) Nick recently released a solo country album that is miles away from almost anything you’ll hear on country radio stations today. The eponymous album hearkens back to the early days of country music, back when, as the great songwriter Harlan Howard (who wrote Patsy Cline’s I Fall To Pieces among many other hits) said, “Country music is three chords and the truth”. Is the album a bit twangy? Yes. Does it have fiddle and banjo and steel guitar? Indeed. And those are some of the reasons I love it. I can still remember how I felt when I first heard Johnny Cash. It was as if I was hearing something for the first time that I’d known all my life. There’s a truth and purity to the music, and to me that’s what real country music is. And that’s what Nick 13’s album is. I hope this album is successful enough that he’s able to keep making them, and I hope it reminds people that this type of music shouldn’t be forgotten.