When did mainstream country music become so bad? When did it turn from icons like Cash, Jones, Strait and Ledoux to the likes of Florida-Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan? I think we can all agree that the latest batch of Nashville cronies is leading the vote for the Worst Shit Ever.
To openly dismiss an entire genre of music as “Bad” or “worst shit ever” isn’t usually a constructive mindset, for any music listener. Doing that, as a listener or critic or even as someone just vaguely interested, you immediately shut out every opportunity that genre or style has to prove you wrong. Once you’ve decided that country or rap or EDM or whatever “all sucks,” its a uphill climb you’re most certainly going to face in search of musical redemption.
In the case of modern mainstream country music, the industry hasn’t exactly helped its dire situation. But history tells the truth: As country music rose in popularity from smokey honky-tonks and rural radio, the quality of what Nashville produced began to decline dramatically. The situation eventually became so bad that artists who were recording traditional country music ran off to join the ranks of folk, alt-country, Americana and, in some cases, indie rock. This exodus or “exile” has everything to do with the fact that music fans, by and large, view modern mainstream country as crap.
The most open-minded music fans would say that no music is “bad” music, that it’s all up to interpretation. You like what you like.
It seems in today’s world of pop-country, bro-country or however you choose to label it, there’s an element of lyrical and musical honesty that is sadly missing. Modern country seems hellbent on total artistic bankruptcy while it leans primarily on tired lyrical odes to trucks, tractors and other Southern redundancies.
But there is a bright light at the end of this tunnel. Artists such as Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton have gained tremendous ground the last few years, sparking somewhat of a renaissance of traditional country quality while revealing the potential of Nashville’s future. Somewhere in that future is a young man from Fayetteville, Arkansas, named Dylan Earl.
The last time we heard from Earl was 2016’s “Yee-Haw from Arkansas” EP, featuring a well-done cover of the 1993 Dwight Yoakam classic “1,000 Miles From Nowhere“; the template for what to expect from Earl is right out front. His latest album “New Country To Be” continues the same path as its predecessor: no bro-bullshit, just pure country, the way it used to be.
Produced by Will Eubanks between June ’16 and May ’17 at East Hall Recording in Fayetteville, the album kicks off with the desperation-filled “My Failing Life,” with straightforward lyrics filled with road-worn reflection that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The traditional slant keeps hold throughout the record: “Hard Time” sounds like an early ’90s Randy Travis tune while both “Cold As The Rockies” and standout track “Draw The Line” could have easily fit on one of Alan Jackson’s early albums.
The nostalgia this record evokes is pretty great. “Yesterdays” would be a radio hit if the calendar still read 1991, as could closing ballad “Gasoline,” with its simple piano and honest vocal delivery. This is the kind of record that makes you want to sit alone in a smokey bar with some whiskey and a lot of time for self-reflection. This is the sound that built Nashville. I can only hope for its continued return – and that Dylan Earl leads the way.
Pre-Order Dylan Earl “New Country To Be” on dylanearlmusic.com