My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

A lasting impression

jen2In country music today, a great deal of mediocrity has been allowed to slip into the genre – where at one time, only legends and great ones stood. Now that’s not to say that every new artist is recording interchangable and forgettable tunes. But it seems the ratio of disposable songs to standards has taken a drastic plunge in recent years.  Where are the legends of today?  

Artists like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain come to mind.  If only for their record-breaking sales numbers, both will still be talked about for years to come.  Besides their respective mega-hits – ‘Friends In Low Places’ and ‘You’re Still The One’, I don’t think many people will be able to name more than a couple songs from them.  But, people will still know their name.  

And then we have artists like George Strait and Reba McEntire who are still relevant into the third decade of their careers.  Surely, people will still talk about the careers of King George and Reba long after they’re gone.  For Strait, I’d say people will remember songs like ‘All My Ex’s Live In Texas’, ‘I Cross My Heart’, and ‘Carrying Your Love With Me’.  Nobody is going to forget ‘Fancy’, ‘For My Broken Heart’, or ‘Does He Love You’ anytime soon either.  But, both of them have been having hits longer than most artists even remain in the memory of the public at large.

Loretta Lynn was a trailblazer and truly an American poet.  Dolly Parton built her persona into the kind of world-wide popularity rivaled only by the Beatles and Elvis. Merle Haggard, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash all had their own image.  There was nobody else like them, and there never will be.  Patsy Cline is still talked about today, some 46 years after her death.  And it’s been 56 years since country music lost Hank Williams, but his name comes up as often as ever.

Who will still be talked about 40 years from now?  I’m sure that as far back as the hey-day of Hank Williams, country music saw disposable artists come and go.  It just seems there are so few original artists today, and the few that are walking their own path aren’t really paving the way because they just aren’t having much success.  The top of the charts finds one cookie-cutter artist after another.

My guess is that the music of Sugarland is here to stay – or at least the vocals of Jennifer Nettles.  I see ‘Stay’ as being remembered for decades. However, I don’t believe it’s the magnum opus of Sugarland’s career.  It certainly is up to this point. Still, I see so many more defining moments ahead for them – and I predict several will be even more powerful than ‘Stay’.  And I think we’ve only just begun to hear what Jennifer Nettles is capable of.  But that’s just my opinion.

What artists of today do you think will still be talked about in 40, 50 years?  Why?

Only the beginning …

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27 responses to “A lasting impression

  1. Razor X February 24, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Lee Ann Womack is the first name that comes to mind. I also think Martina McBride will be remembered for a long time, even though her music hasn’t been great lately.

    All in all, though, I think that country music in the first decade of the 21st century will be remembered for its mediocrity. I can’t think of a single brand new act that has got both the talent and the mainstream appeal to be remembered decades from now.

  2. Chris February 25, 2009 at 5:36 am

    I agree Razor. Those two are the only ones I can really think of too, and I agree with JR on Sugarland.

    But how about Trisha Yearwood? I certainly hope her music is still cared about years from now…

  3. Meg February 25, 2009 at 10:48 am

    In our instant and immediate culture, I think it’s hard for us to fathom that legends aren’t made over night. Like fine wine, it takes time. I don’t think you can tell right out of the gate who’s going to have staying power (no pun intended related to Sugarland’s ‘Stay’ — though that was a pretty fine pun)!

    I wonder about Miranda. She’s got some depth and certainly isn’t finished growing as an artist. And I agree — I hope Trisha’s still played years from now.

  4. J.R. Journey February 25, 2009 at 11:11 am

    You make a pretty good point, Meg. It is hard to tell which artists have staying power when they first come out. Certainly, nobody had Reba pegged as a 30 year artist in 1980. She was already 4 years into her recording career with only 1 top 10 hit.

    Same with Shania Twain – after her debut album, who’d have thought she would go on to become the best-selling female country artist of all time?

    And I am sure that back in 1989 when Garth Brooks hit the scene, he was seen as just another hat act and not the future ‘best-selling solo artist of all time’.

  5. Razor X February 25, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    I think Trisha Yearwood’s legacy is secure. And good points, Meg and J.R. — when I first heard Garth, I thought he was good but it never crossed my mind that he’d have the kind of success he went on to have.

    I suppose time will tell, but out of the current generation of country singers, I can’t think of anyone, with the exception of Sugarland that is of the same caliber as the other artists that have been mentioned.

  6. Occasional Hope February 25, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Part of the problem at the moment is that mediocrity is positively rewarded because bland and forgettable seems to be what radio wants. So those aiming at commercial success are releasing unambitious records, picking the least interesting cuts as singles, etc. I might put in a bid for Jamey Johnson, who I think is a genuine artist who has managed some radio success with a worthwhile song, but it’s very early days. Lasting careers are much harder to build nowadays because the labels are demanding instant success or they abandon the artist without ceremony, but it takes longer to push any one single than it did in the past, so a bad choice wastes a lot of potential marketing time. Reba, for instance, was not only several years into her career before she really broke, she had released a number of full-length albums and singles. A lot of artists these days seem to get dropped after their debut single doesn’t do as well as the label hoped.

  7. Blake Boldt February 25, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Spent the last couple wks on some “lists” as I’d mentioned last wk at CU in the Greatest Songs discussion. It’s interesting how the current acts fall in line with the trailblazers in the genre. It depends on the definition of “today” when determining who will stand the test of time. In terms of acts that have broken through this decade (2000s), I suppose Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Sugarland, Miranda Lambert, Ashton Shepherd and Jamey Johnson have really good shots of being “remembered.” Hard to make those judgment calls until ten or so years down the line, and all those artists have a lot of work to do to reach that realm.

    The Hall of Fame, even with a handful of questionable decisions, is still the ultimate measuring stick when I consider an artist’s legacy. “Does Artist X deserve induction?” helps separate the wheat from the chaff. To me, Yearwood’s a lock. McBride and Womack are just below the cut right now, but are obviously young enough to build their legacies.

  8. Leeann Ward February 25, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    As Razor X said about Garth, I never thought Chesney or Rascal Flatts would gain the fame that they have today when I first heard them. I can’t speak to Garth, however, because he was already a superstar by the time I got into Country music in early ’94. I don’t know that either Chesney or RF will become legends though. I wonder if they’ll even really be remembered. My dislike for their music makes it hard for me to know.

  9. Ronda February 25, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    The one glaring omission would be Randy Travis.

  10. J.R. Journey February 25, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    You’re exactly right, Ronda. But Randy Travis kind of falls into the George Strait/Reba category because he’s been around since the mid 1980s. Still, I agree that he’ll probably be rememered for the decades to come (along with Ricky Skaggs) as the biggest force behind the new traditionalist movement. It was the new traditionalist movement that really broke Strait and Reba at radio and with sales anyway.

  11. Razor X February 25, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Leann, I agree with you re: Chesney and RF. When Chesney got started, I saw him as a mediocre singer with a couple of good songs. I figured he’d have a few radio hits and then disappear. Ironically, he was doing better music then than he is now. Guess I got that one wrong, though! ;)

    As for RF, I can’t even remember when I first heard them. I never even viewed them as worthy of my attention.

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  13. Michael February 26, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Definitely Trisha Yearwood (such a powerful voice)and, if she continues to crank out a few more exceptional albums, Lee Ann Womack. Martina is going to have to resist the temptation for the bland and take a few more (successful) risks to be remembered 40 years from now.

  14. Dan Milliken February 26, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    “In country music today, a great deal of mediocrity has been allowed to slip into the genre – where at one time, only legends and great ones stood.”

    There has always been mediocrity in popular music. You just don’t hear about it when people talk about bygone eras, the same way you probably won’t hear people talking about most-to-all of this week’s Top Ten. As this post itself implies, a lot of it will fall through the cracks. But that’s not unique to today; it’s happened throughout history.

    And of course, it is very hard to tell who will be remembered and who won’t. I think Keith Urban and Sugarland have more or less sealed their places in history as pop-country pioneers; they’ll be looked on well. Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift will be remembered, but it’s still too soon to say exactly how and to what extent. Kenny Chesney and Rascal Flatts will be interesting cases to watch – I don’t think most of their music has lasting appeal, but their numbers are good enough that they may still leave legacies of some sort. I definitely think Miranda Lambert is someone to watch – she’s already become a very popular “model” of the modern-girl country singer, if the girls at Belmont are any indication. Jamey Johnson and Ashton Shepherd and Little Big Town have chops, but it’s way too soon to tell for any of them. They could just as well end up flashes in the pan like Gretchen Wilson pretty much has.

  15. Leeann Ward February 26, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Ultimately, I agree with all of Dan’s points.

  16. Jordan Stacey February 26, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    As has been said Trisha, Lee Ann And Martina all have a good shot at it.

    just looking at those who began in this decade (2000′s) there’s very few. I’d say Sugarland is a strong possibility, Blake Shelton if his current success keeps up, Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood though they could go either way at this point, Dierks may do it unless he keeps going more mainstream, And two long shots Josh Turner and Jamey Johnson.

  17. Drew February 26, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Guys like Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, etc… of course. Brad Paisley I’d have to guess too, with his success combined with relative respect among the traditional country stronghold, as opposed to other successful artists like Chesney and Flatts. I also think Carrie Underwood will be successful for a long time, and her overall exposure in the musical world what with her Idol past will help her too.

  18. J.R. Journey February 26, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    @ Dan: I’m aware that historically, there have always been artists that fall through the cracks so to speak and are forgotten. And I even said so above. My main point though was that the mediocre just seems to be in larger numbers per capita than it used to be.

    Great points though. But I think Chesney and Rascal Flatts will be remembered pretty much they way they are critically received today – if that makes sense.

  19. Dan Milliken February 26, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Whoops, missed that bit. But you did contradict yourself with that “only legends and great ones” business! Sorry, just giving you a hard time. :) I think this is a really insightful post.

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  21. Vicki February 26, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    The one thing I’ve noticed are some aren’t out for world domination as others are. Sugarland and Taylor Swift are both touring in Europ this year. Other bigger names, just never saw the need. So I don’t know how that will play in popular longevity.

  22. Michael February 26, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    I think a lot of artists are remembered for shaking things up. Trailblazers (think Waylon and the outlaw movement, Randy Travis, George Strait, Reba, Ricky Skaggs and the neo traditionalists of the 80s, Garth and the class of 89, Shania and the country pop divas of the 90s), when looking back, are generally more revered than those that followed trends. So which of today’s artists are truly ushering in a new movement that, in retrospect, will be important?

  23. J.R. Journey February 26, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Yeah, I guess I was being a bit melodramatic with that line, Dan. I deserved it …

  24. Lynn February 27, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    “There has always been mediocrity in popular music. You just don’t hear about it when people talk about bygone eras, the same way you probably won’t hear people talking about most-to-all of this week’s Top Ten.”

    This is slightly off topic, but Dan’s comment reminded me of something I realized the other day. I was a devout “oldies radio” fan growing up and I have an extensive catalog of old songs. However, I always find it surprising when looking through my iPod how few of the artists I recognize. The songs have endured, but the artists haven’t. I wonder if for artists like Sugarland, if “Stay” will endure, much the same way “Strawberry Wine” will endure for Deanna Carter, but the artists themselves won’t. Sugarland isn’t by any means a one-hit wonder, but I don’t know if the rest of their work (up to this point) will be talked about in 40-50 years. Just a thought. :)

  25. Razor X February 27, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    We tend to look at older music with rose colored-glasses ( or the auditory equivalent); it almost always trumps current music because only the great music stands the test of time. Every era has its share of mediocre and bad music, but it’s not remembered once those records drop off the charts. That being said, I can’t remember a time during the past 30 years where the overwhelming majority of the music being made fell into the mediocre-to-bad category, as is the case today.

    I think Sugarland will be remembered well into the future. Songs like “Stay” will be played for years to come, while songs like “All I Want To Do” will not. The rest of their catalog, so far, falls somewhere in between. I really don’t know which ones will become classics. I have my personal favorites, but there are a lot of old songs that I like that are generallly not well remembered.

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