This week's Scene cover story is the Country Music Critics Poll, now in its 9th year. Geoffrey Himes picked the brains of 74 music writers from across North America (including one from Pitchfork, you hipsters), asking them to weigh in on the year's best in country music. There was a bit of hemming and hawing again this year about what, exactly or inexactly, constitutes "country music."
Dave Heaton answers the question with a question: "Why would any genre reject the ridiculous amount of hooks in 'Love Story' or Taylor Swift's youth and charm?" In his essay, Geoffrey Himes counters with this:
Swift has far more in common with the rock 'n' roll tradition of Lesley Gore, Laura Nyro and Jenny Lewis--pop-operatic chroniclers of teenage angst.
Do these distinctions really matter? I think they do. Suburban teenagers need their own bards who can work the established themes and techniques of pop-rock into something new. But small-town, divorced, blue-collar wastrels also deserve their own bards who can draw from a hillbilly history of song-making. All music grows out of the past, and if we refuse to distinguish one lineage from another, the discussion of new music becomes hopelessly muddied. Swift is a great artist, but it's not clear that she's a great country artist. And how can we fully appreciate her achievement if we can't recognize her true musical context?
(Spoiler alert: Jamey Johnson pretty much won everything. Except maybe the chart war.)
On a side and somewhat random note: I hung out with Sugarland's tour keyboard player over the holidays. He got offered a job in Morissey's backing band, and was really upset that he had to turn it down. So, he's cool like that.