Is the movement of “country” music to actual country music real? If anybody is wondering why I bring up this question now, it is because Chris Stapleton won best new artist and other awards at the most recent Country Music Awards. But sadly, this is much less of a movement than people think it is. After listening to Stapleton’s album, I heard of the same tired riffs of the guitar and vocal quality. “Turn my life into this country song” is also an example of the lyrical quality of this album. I was very surprised when I saw so many excited people on my Facebook page saying that Chris Stapleton symbolizes real country music showing up on a national scale. I see Chris Stapelton taking his talents and re-marketing them to a bigger market that churns out music that is spoon fed to masses in the form of Ford Commercials. What would have shown a change in the country music structure would be seeing the SteelDrivers playing with him instead of Justin Timberlake. While I am a fan of Justin Timberlake, he does not symbolize a change away from pop music. Chris Stapleton has gone the way of many others before him, but he has succeeded in getting award recognition.
Chris Stapleton’s male vocalist award is especially confusing. While I think he is a great singer, I do not see him being similar to any of the greats like Ernest Tubb or George Jones. His vocal style is very soulful and decorative which again is much more common in popular music like Michael Jackson or Aretha Franklin.
Stapleton’s album, “Traveler” does not do enough to establish himself as an old school country artist like many proclaim. Songs like “Outlaw State of Mind” sound like something you would hear in a Nashville bar today, not quality wise, but the style decision of heavy drums and bluesy electric guitar riff is something that was not a go-to when country music was country music. To extend my point, the song is over five minutes long because of an unnecessary space jam/ guitar solo. These types of decisions show much more listening to rock bands than country bands. A song like “Sometimes I Cry” is a country ballad that changes textures constantly. While it is a good song, it does not present an ode to country greats. Instead it reminds me of somebody like James Brown belting out to a slow blues song.
Now I know that if Chris Stapleton was part of the SteelDrivers, and that should give them some credibility, but let’s remember who the SteelDrivers were. The SteelDrivers relied on energy and power much more than traditional bluegrass bands like Danny Paisley, who chooses to sit down during his performances. If the SteelDrivers had electric instruments, like what were used on Stapleton’s album, they would be a pretty good rock band. If you gave the Paisley’s electric instruments… oh man.. Never mind.
Now let me close by saying that this album is much better than anything else being churned out by the country music industry. But this album was churned just the same. It was put out by a major country label just like every other nominated country musician, and a lot of artistic decision making, I assume, was done by the producers and not by Stapleton himself. It is great when we see one of our own gaining success and notoriety, but let’s not act like he or any other individual is really going to change the climate of country music. The goal of country music is to sell records, and infusing pop and rock is the easy way to do that. There is no reason for country music to change, so it will continue to make its albums and every once in a while we will see one that fits enough of our fancy that we forget how bad the rest of them are in relation.