Bobby Pinson's Man Like Me album opens with a bluesy acoustic slide as greasy as a Louisiana roadside diner. Two electric guitars slam in with a buzz-saw tone closer in feel to Linkin Park than Lynyrd Skynyrd, right before a drummer adds a vicious beat and Pinson shouts a rowdy "Come on!" It's not until his thick Texas drawl, sounding as hoarse as a whiskey hangover on three hours' sleep, tells of a junior-high kid standing up to the class bully that the song, "I'm Fine Either Way," reveals much country influence.
Pinson's sound is not a fluke, it's a trend. On Music Row, country rock is the new country pop. Cranked-up guitars and arena-rock beats have replaced lush strings and sweet synthesizer washes; the Faith/Shania clones and pretty young boys have been replaced by rough-edged songwriters who stomp and spit out songs rather than soar and croon.
Nashville has finally figured out that soccer moms like to party, too, and the best way to bring together the college-fraternity and blue-collar crowd is to give them something that encourages them to raise a beer, pump a fist and shout like they just don't care. Pinson's far from alone in leading the charge. Shelly Fairchild is a hip-shaking, hair-tossing dramatist from Mississippi who opens her debut, Ride, with a lusty come-on called "Kiss Me" that channels Steven Tyler, or at least Joss Stone, rather than Sara Evans or Patsy Cline.
As with Pinson's Man Like Me, Fairchild's Ride kicks off with a swampy slide guitar, over which Fairchild introduces herself with a husky, steamy purr that doesn't bother with coyness or innuendo. Instead, the song portrays a woman who's telling her man straight-up how she wants to spend a hot Memphis afternoon sweating inside rather than outside. Explaining to her man that she's yearning to "start loving up on you," her voice slowly builds in passion, spelling out that she "wants him in every way" in the morning, in the evening, "and all the time in-between-ing." By time Fairchild gets to the chorus, she's exploding with passion, screaming "Kiss me, I just want to be together," making it a demand rather than an invitation. She may say "kiss"this is PG-rated country music, after allbut even the censors will know what she really means.
Nearly every other big-ticket 2005 country debut busts out with similar forcefulness. The list includes Keith Anderson, Hanna-McEuen and the bands Hot Apple Pie and Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand, all of whom follow mainstream pop's recent move toward harder edges rather than sweeter sounds.
The question isn't why country suddenly has made such an abrupt turnaround, it's why it took so long to do it. Most of the biggest country concert tours in recent years have been loud, rocking affairs, whether it's the Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn, Shania Twain or Toby Keith. Then last year, Big & Rich's multi-platinum debut, which incorporated hard rock and hip-hop into country music, drew enormous attention without any Top 10 singlesnearly unheard of in country circles, especially for a new act.
Over the last decade, thanks partly to radio consolidation and its need to divide audiences into specific demographic groups, country music determined that its audience was primarily working middle-class mothers. So the labels produced a slew of soft-focused, sentimental songs about happy families and sick children, with sippee cups and hospital prayers replacing longnecks and good timespushing the blue-collar guys, and a fair representation of moms, to the classic-rock stations.
While any parent can be touched by a heart-pulling story of love and personal strife, Nashville forgot that moms and dads grew up rocking out, too, and that once they drop the kids off at school and close the minivan's doors, they often want to crank up something raucous and fun rather than something sweet or sad. Apparently, all those screaming arenas packed by Chesney and, before that, the Dixie Chicks, finally made their point.
Pinson's among the best of the new lot because his songs resonate on so many levels. He's still rough as a live performera recent Nashville nightclub showcase suggested that he isn't yet as good at getting his sharply detailed songs across live as he is on record. But Man Like Me competes with Shooter Jennings' Put the O Back in Country as this year's best debut because of how convincingly he portrays the tensions of small-town life and the travails of hardworking guys who are equally familiar with Saturday-night last calls and Sunday-morning altar calls. Pinson fills his tales with clever twists and believable drama, whether it's the single "Don't Ask Me How I Know," about how he learned firsthand the consequences of living recklessly, or "Nothing Happens in This Town," which contradicts the title by listing all the wild things that occur regularly in rural America.
Writing about real-life scenarios will give Nashville's country-rock move some meat; there's a reason Lynyrd Skynyrd songs still wear well long after those of lesser Southern rockers have faded away. If other acts can give punchy songs such grit and truth, then this newfound yee-haw rockfest can become more than a passing trend.
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Mr. Pink- I'm added that to my netflix right now.
Wonderful! We're hoping Knoxville puts something like this together, too. It's a fantastic concept!!