When music critics and artists outside Nashville blast country music, they usually direct their sharpest barbs at the menand, yes, they are still almost entirely malebehind the curtain.
Yes, the producers. Critics howl about uniformity, slickness and gloss. Artists gripe about the creative shackles and about being forced to conform to certain formulas and sounds. When Willie Nelson moaned that Nashville was the roughest in the autobiographical “Me & Paul,” what was he talking about? The producers.
Some of this criticism has been warranted. It certainly was for Nelson and for Waylon Jennings when they fought for creative freedom, and it’s been true at times during the ensuing 30 years. Perhaps most famously, Shelby Lynne needed to break out of the Nashville production cycle to find her artistic voice. Who knows how many other distinctive individualists get lost in the system?
On the other hand, listen to how urgently the rocking guitars, the roadhouse backbeat, the steel guitars and the saxophones merge then separate in Brooks & Dunn’s “You Can’t Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl.” Listen to how intimate Joe Nichols sounds in the sly barroom plaint, “She Only Smokes When She Drinks.” Listen to Martina McBride ramp up her voice as the music kicks in behind her on “This One’s for the Girls,” or how the strings swell and Jo Dee Messina’s voice soars in “Bring on the Rain.”
The list could go on and on, and it underlines a rarely trumpeted truth: Nashville records, for the most part, sound great. Yes, they’re made for the radiothat’s the goal. Yes, they’re packed with multiple, densely stacked tracks that create a wall of seamless soundthat’s what radio wants.
The producers are doing their job, and right now they’re doing it better and more consistently than they have in years. Hits like “I Love This Bar,” “Celebrity,” “She’s My Kind of Rain” and “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” are state-of-the-art popular music. They sound great on the radio and on the home stereoat least until they get so overplayed that people tire of hearing them.
When lists of the top producers in America are made today, the credit typically goes to the likes of Pharrell Williams, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Dr. Dre or the Matrix team. Almost never mentioned are Nashville veterans Mark Wright, James Stroud, Byron Gallimore, Paul Worley and Keith Stegall, even though all are doing some of the best work of their careersindeed, some of the best work anywhere. And that’s to say nothing of up-and-coming producers like Brent Rowan, Frank Rogers and Frank Liddell, all of whom are doing distinctive work that challenges their mentors to keep up.
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…
So long Don. Your creative energy and encouragement were inspirational to me.
It was so great being one of those kids in Dayton.
I miss Iodine.
^ It's nice to see an official acknowledgement by management. Kristen Mcarther Miles (the girl…
How ironic that "Vandy radio" gets resurrected as a fictional station?! I was just glad…