My Kind of Country

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

Unexpected places

Les Rochers de Naye, SwitzerlandA week ago I was on top of a mountain in Switzerland. I was startled when in the cafe the music playing in the background turned to Lady Antebellum’s ‘Need You Now’. I was in fact vaguely aware that the single had been released to pop radio in Europe as part of a serious attempt to break the group outside North America, following in the footsteps of Taylor Swift’s international assault on the ears of the tone-deaf. It was still a surprise for me to hear it. On investigation, I find the song is currently rising up the Swiss charts. Many country artists try to break Europe, some with more commitment than others, and success rates vary, but it seems to be working for Lady A, with their AC/melodious pop-influenced sound. The more solidly country rooted Brad Paisley was touring in Europe the same week and actually sold out his first London show before ticket sales were formally announced – I missed out on that due to having already planned the vacation time.

It reminded me of the most unexpected place I ever came across country music (also on vacation). That was in the lovely medieval city of Bruges in Belgium, which I visited a few years ago (probably around 2002 or 2003). On my way to a bus stop I came across a little shop selling country and blues CDs. It was closed at that time, but I took note of the opening hours and returned later, to find it had a pretty left field selection, including some really obscure independent releases. I ended up spending most of my souvenir budget for that trip on a selection of albums, most bought unheard, although in some cases they were ones I had read reviews of previously.

One I remember buying was Real Thing, a 2001 album by songwriter Monty Holmes under the joky band name Monty And The Pythons, for which I had been looking unsuccessfully for some time, having enjoyed Monty’s previous album All I Ever Wanted, released under his own name a few years earlier. It turned out not to be quite as good, but still worth having. I also picked up Rodney Hayden’s debut, coincidentally also entitled The Real Thing (both albums included covers of Chip Taylor’s song of that title), and No Regrets, an early release by the Texan Jamie Richards, whose most recent effort I reviewed recently. These two are both great records I still listen to quite often, and would recommend to anyone who likes real country music.

Others well worth the purchase included Shawn Camp’s Lucky Silver Dollar, and Jason Allen’s Something I Dreamed, plus a highly entertaining, mostly up-tempo album by a young man named Elbert West. From female artists there was a pretty good record by a Hispanic singer named Lydia Miller including early versions of ‘Singing To The Scarecrow’ (later cut by Sara Evans) and ‘Man With A Memory, Woman With A Past’ (subsequently recorded by Joe Nichols), Lisa O’Kane’s rather good, slightly jazzy-country ‘Am I Too Blue’, and a fine record from Leslie Satcher, one of the best songwriters in Nashville showing she has a lovely voice as well.

Although it isn’t one of my favorites from this haul, recent events have led me to return to Living In Your World, an uncompromisingly hard country/Bakersfield style CD by a then-unknown Arizona singer-songwriter named Troy Olsen which was produced in California by James Intveld, and featuring Jay Dee Maness (late of the Desert Rose Band) on steel. This showed some promise, but I didn’t hear of him again until recently; he’s spent a number of years honing his craft and eventually got signed to a major label deal with EMI. His debut single for the label, ‘Summer Thing’, is a generic and frankly boring summertime-themed number, and to be honest it would probably have passed me by altogether if I hadn’t recognised his name. Based on that early record, acquired by chance, I do at least feel confident that here is an artist who is genuinely a country singer rather than a pop singer in a cowboy hat, albeit one without the most distinctive of voices, and hope that the material improves – and that he hasn’t had to make too many compromises for the sake of a major label deal.

Where have you been most surprised to hear a country song played in public, or found a country record on sale?

12 responses to “Unexpected places

  1. DoggiNo July 6, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Hold on ! Bruges, Belgium, a little shop selling country … do you remember more ? That might be worth a day trip to Bruges if the shop is still there.
    It really isn’t easy to find country music over here.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Occasional Hope July 6, 2010 at 1:24 pm

      I think it was somewhere near Genthof street and Jan Van Eyck Plaats, a little way west of the historic centre, and just round the corner from a bus stop. I can’t guarantee it’s still there, though 😉

  2. bob July 6, 2010 at 9:32 am

    A few years before 9/11 as I came thru the turnstile at one of the WTC subway stations on my way to catch the LIRR at Penn Station, I was surprised to see a young black man with a guitar singing “Blame It On Your Heart”, the Harlan Howard – Kostas song made famous of course by Patty Loveless. The kid was very good.

  3. badrockandroll July 6, 2010 at 11:00 am

    A few years ago, I was surprised to find a classic country radio station in Sri Lanka of all places. The music was a wonderful soundtrack as I toured the beautiful mountains and lush greenery – I guess hillbilly music thrives above sea level, any sea … even the Indian ocean . I did wonder though why I couldn’t find such a great radio station in my own city!

  4. SamB July 6, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    I’m in Europe (UK), and am very happy you heard Lady Antebellum in Switzerland, they have indeed being doing well in Europe. My Israeli friend even knew Need You Now.

    I was at that Brad Paisley gig, and there was a great atmosphere. Country music isn’t big here, but there’s a small scene of dedicated followers, and that makes it great. I wish more acts would tour over here.

  5. badrockandroll July 6, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    No, my city is Toronto: there are very faint signals for an out of town new country station. No word of a lie, every time I’ve turned it on in the past few weeks, they are in the middle of playing “Water”. Such a shallow playlist would drive me mad,so I’m glad that it’s a weak signal. I am definitely glad for the internet and for satelite radio. Love the youtube links and history lessons on this site!

    Old school country is also relatively easy to find in Thailand, perhaps because so many Vietnam vets settled there – no explanations for Lanka, but then I also have no explanation as to why I love it, given its scarceness around my home town!

  6. Ben Foster July 7, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    I can see someone in Switzerland liking “Need You Now.” Even though it is marketed as country, and the song’s theme is typically associated with country, there’s really nothing in the pop-heavy instrumentation that signifies country.

    Last December, I took a trip to South Africa, and I heard the music of Shania Twain and Taylor swift playing in the lobby of my hotel in Johannesburg. The popularity of country music is low in Africa, so I was a bit surprised at first. Then again, songs like “You’re Still the One” and “Love Story” are pretty pop-friendly, and both have enjoyed crossover success. I might have been hearing the pop remixes, but I’m not quite sure. If they had been playing Loretta Lynn or Johnny Cash, I would have peeked out the window to watch for flying pigs.

  7. Tom July 11, 2010 at 10:27 am

    @ occasional hope

    …indeed, lady a’s “need you now” is climbing fast on the swiss single charts. this week’s no. 19 (up from 26 last week). no wonder you’d hear it around here, even on a mountain top. i hope, you a had good time in switzerland.

    with the right kind of promotion there’d be quite a few of this year’s pop-country songs finding their way into the charts in quite unexpected places, but the album market is just too small to warrant big promo efforts, at least over here. however, single-downloads may change the ballgame significantly in the future.

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