Monday, September 5th, 2011

Brantley Gilbert – Country Must Be Country Wide

Well, it was either that or more Drake.


Edward Okulicz: Sounds like Jon Bon Jovi’s immortal “Blaze Of Glory,” only, surprisingly, less country. The riff is epic and the band is tight, but I only felt the chorus ’til the titular line revealed the whole thing as a bit flimsy. But the riff, children, the riff…

Alfred Soto: The co-writer of “Dirt Road Anthem” writes his own, and it’s a pity its guitar crunch serves a voice that’s equal parts Jon Bon Jovi and Patterson Hood. The song isn’t as good as Big & Rich and Brad Paisley’s recent contributions to this-is-country-music.

Brad Shoup: Gilbert’s one of those ecumenical men in the vein of the MuzikMafia crew, only way less obnoxious, his Eric Churchlike “amen” at the end notwithstanding. His songwriting output has included forays into modern rock and hip-hop, and this tune was written with occasional partner Colt Ford, who has his own crossover record. It’s a nice gesture towards inclusiveness, if a little unnecessary. Guitars snarl and low in Snuffy Walden mode, a drum machine patters in the verses’ background and the steel is buried under the overdrive. Of course there’s gonna be a part where listening to country and being a polite citizen are conflated. It’s a little megalomanical to proclaim a nation of millions, all dipping and dancing and deferring to elders, but it’s the country coating on his Kid Rock pill. I dunno exactly when country got so nervous about its Silent Majority, but here’s a prime example of the tension.

Anthony Easton: It amuses me how butch country has gotten this year, as if trying not only to work out issues of masculinity but taking pleasure in pure, almost jingoistic surety of their own swagger. This one makes its heritage explicit — but those Gilbert mentions, Bocephus, Waylon, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, had a wide streak of sentimentality and an ability to express a huge emotional range. Country in the ’70s was wide, and it seems to be getting a little bit wider, but I await the day where country is as explicitly multiphasic as it used to be — although maybe this is my kind of nostalgia working against me. That said, the last few seconds have some absolutely gorgeous guitar work. 

Jonathan Bradley: Country’s rediscovery of Hank Williams Jr.’s “A Country Boy Can Survive” has had varying results, from the good (Jamey Johnson’s “Poor Man Blues,” which re-imagines regional discord as class conflict) to the turgid (Aaron Lewis’s “Country Boy“). Brantley Gilbert’s “Country Must Be Country Wide” references Hank specifically but ditches his resentment. That could be cause for relief, since that same resentment is often used as a vessel for smuggling rather noxious political beliefs, but it dilutes the song’s verve. Williams used to sing about a friend in New York City: “He never called me by my name, just ‘hillbilly'” — and despite the slight, Hank still managed to work himself up into a Willie Horton-esque lather when his big-city pal becomes a victim of big-city crime. Gilbert begins his song in character as a threatening yokel; when an out-of-state car pulls up at his Dixie gas station, he sneers “Oh good lord, he’s lost.” The bait-and-switch is that this Northern newcomer, unlike Hank’s Yankee acquaintance, is as country as anyone else, leading to a rather Sesame Street lesson about how everyone should just get along. Which is nice and all, but given Gilbert maintains the ornery guitar churn he started the tune with, the result sounds less inclusive and more defanged. If everyone is country, is anyone?

Erick Bieritz: I would be curious to know if actual country people are wary of this sort of big-tent approach to the genre’s identity. It’s tough for an outsider to gauge a genre that combines potent regional pride with the unifying force of Nashville’s sound as sold by ubiquitous Wal-Mart.

Katherine St Asaph: The funny thing is, country is countrywide, but it’s newcomers like Taylor Swift and Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert who deserve the credit, not Hank or Waylon. (Genre police: also countrywide.) So maybe it’s attitude; the YouTube comments should’ve been the first indication. Shame that they’re endlessly fascinating in the precise way Gilbert’s song isn’t.

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