I grew up listening to a good amount of country music, and have always had a soft spot in my heart for the style of music. Unfortunately for people like myself, country music has taken an odd turn in more recent years.
I hate sounding like an old grandpa yelling about how they don’t make ‘em like they used to, but Nashville’s priorities in the music they have been putting out are clearly different than more traditional styles of country. Historically, country music has been more focused on songwriting, using poetry and wordplay, along with minimal instrumentation to tell a story, lament a heartbreak, or even show love for a person or vice (normally beer or whiskey).
Even though the sound of this more traditional type of music has evolved throughout the years; examples being the addition of percussive sounds, electric guitars, or extra instruments; for a long time, country music was about telling a story of sorts with a focus on the lyricism itself.
The mainstream country sound from Nashville has drifted from this when the idea of “Bro-Country” was introduced, which focused more on the snap tracks and looped beats as opposed to songwriting. Many popular country songs currently only have lyrics that list off things that would make one “country.”
I saw the light in the sunrise
Sittin’ back in the 40 on the muddy riverside
Gettin’ baptized in holy water and shine
With the dogs runnin’
Saved by the sound of the been found
Dixie whistled in the wing, that’ll get you heaven boundBlake Shelton, “God’s Country”
However, all hope is not lost for those of us who prefer the style of country music more focused on lyricism. Country songwriters such as Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, and Luke Combs have gained commercial success and gathered a following outside of mainstream Nashville by making music without relying on the tropes that mainstream country relies on so heavily. However, one of these “anti-establishment” country musicians stands out among the rest in his ability to get his singles to the top of the charts: Eric Church.
Eric Church grew up in North Carolina and his first album, Sinners Like Me, was released in 2006 containing influence of Outlaw Country as well as rock and pop elements that allowed the song to do well on multiple charts. The album contained a few singles that played well on the radio.
However, one of the final tracks of the album, titled “Two Pink Lines,” a song about a pregnancy scare between two teenagers, was considered too controversial for country music as mainstream country radio stations refused to give it any airtime. This would not be the only time Eric would come under fire from the mainstream country crowd.
While his following albums always had “radio safe” singles, the rest of his albums were filled with tracks that not only contained clever songwriting and wordplay, but also stories that are more than just the country stereotype of loving God, beer, trucks, and women. These songs contained everything from getting stoned to forget his ex-girlfriend’s wedding day, all the way to lessons he has learned from his three-year-old child.
Yeah I know that it was over
When I heard those wedding bells
That preacher was my jailer
Now this bottle is my bail
So much for all that prayin’
Her I do would be I don’t
She got a rock
I’m gettin’ stonedEric Church, “I’m Gettin’ Stoned
I was foolish and wild, she was classic and regal
We were fresh out of school, both barely legal,
We were young and on fire, just couldn’t wait
Till six weeks in, she was three weeks lateEric Church, “Two Pink Lines”
Use every crayon color you got
A fishing pole sinks faster than a tackle box
Nothing turns the day around like licking a mixing bowl
I learned that from a three-year-oldEric Church, “Three-Year-Old”
Church is credited as a writer for every song on all of his albums. This is highly unusual since, in the country music industry, most mainstream country stars do not write their own songs. Even more of an outlier, Church tackles topics in his music that very few others in the industry dare touch. On his most recent album, Desperate Man, the single titled “The Snake” is one of these songs that does not follow the ideals of mainstream country.
On the surface, Church sings about a rattlesnake and copperhead snake having a conversation, eventually agreeing to team up and rule over all of the mice. However on closer observation, many have interpreted this song to be a metaphor for the two major American parties, and how they are both out to get us mice, the general population.
Copperhead said to the rattlesnake, if you ever wanna make it rain
We could team up, be twice as tough, fear could be our game
Rattlesnake said to the copperhead, we were the original sin
And I bet my rattle against your copper that the bitch takes the apple againEric Church, “The Snake”
Seem far fetched? Try watching the newly released video for the song. During the verses, images of snakes can be seen alongside the lyrics. However, once the chorus is reached, images of the American flag, House of Congress, and White House can clearly be seen.
As I said earlier, I hate feeling like an old man yelling at the clouds. But Church’s style of country music is vastly different than much of what we see on the country charts these days. A large reason that the overwhelming majority of people don’t enjoy country music is that Bro-country is taking away the one thing that made country music so popular in the first place: the writing and wordplay. If someone is ever looking to get into country music, don’t let them look at the Billboard charts.