Breakfast With Thomas: How Country Are Ya?

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

picard-facepalm

Note: Please think of me doing this the entire time I listened to the album.

What kind of fucking question is that? Seriously. What does that even mean?

Exploitation Country. That’s what a massive chunk of Texas Country/Red Dirt/Nashville Country artists should be called. Short and simple.

Earlier today on Twitter, I noticed Texas Exploitation country repeat offender Kevin Fowler had a new album out called How Country Are Ya?–mainly by his contemporaries who all tweet about how **awesome** of a record it is and how we all should buy it. I usually just skim over this kind of shit, but after a lengthy conversation with Kevin Russell of Shinyribs last week about the subject of what’s good in “country” music, I opted to give it a listen. 

I did. It was awful

Still, it’s going to sell more than others who released records today within the country community based primarily on two things: 1) name recognition, and 2) Because he used more buzz words than make large audiences think they’re more country than their friends. It’s cool to drink beer when you’re listening to someone talk about drinking beer and how they’re so good at drinking beer and why they need to drink beer because it somehow validates their countryness.

It’s really a stupid idea to believe in though. 

I’d argue that 1) No body really gives a shit about how “country” you are, 2) if you somehow were legitimately “country,” you wouldn’t care if anyone else thought you were country, and 3) The things Fowler and his contemporaries are talking about being country aren’t very fucking country in the first place. 

Last I checked, Billy Joe Shaver and Guy Clark were way more country than anyone else and doesn’t have to act like or sing about being a frat cowboy to do so. 

I’ve wasted an hour listened to Kevin Fowler’s record for the last hour and it’s really unsettling to think that there’s literally no artistic value within the realms of that record. That version of Texas needs to really burn. The caricature is a caricature is a parody is a shameful lie and ultimately a horrible, crying joke.

Just look at the titles. How Country Are Ya? Guitars and Guns. Before Somebody Gets Hurt. The Weekend. If I Could Make a Livin’ Drinkin’. Panhandle Poorboy. Borracho Grande. Love Song. Habit I Can’t Break. The Girls I Go With. Beer Me. Mousturdonus. Whiskey and I. Chicken Wing.

If someone was making fun of country music, those are the titles they’d use to make a mockery out of it. They don’t have to though. The industry is already doing a well enough job. 

And it’s not just Fowler. He’s just today’s shining, gilded example. Everyone likes to think that Texas has a better roster of “real country” singer–especially when compared to Nashville. But tell me, what’s really the difference between Kevin Fowler and Luke Bryan? Absolutely nothing. Nothing. 

Nothing. 

They both sing about how awesome it’d be to have sex in their trucks. If it’s on a dirt road and there’s a cooler of beer in the bed, bonus points. Can we go get some southern fried something or another after? More bonus points! Can I wear a dirty, old ball cap and talk about how awesome it was playing high school ball while doing it? More bonus points! Gun rack? You get the point. It’s all trivial and immature in nature. 

In a way, I can’t even fault Fowler, Bryan, Casey Donahew, etc (Side Note: The fact that I don’t rattle off a laundry list of artists that are the same way and you know exactly who I’m talking about, just shows how massive and legitimate the problem is) for doing what they do either. They’re making money–albeit if your fanbase is dominated by tweens, teenagers, frat cowboys, and their sorority girlfriends, how are you actually enjoying that? (I guess it technically still does spend.)

I really don’t know how exactly this–or what really–“fixes the problem.” Or at least shifts the conversation towards genuine songwriting, but I feel it starts with accountability and integrity–journalists, readers/listeners/fans, and most importantly, musicians and the artists themselves.

Talent aside, I’m assuming one of the reasons Willie, Waylon, and the boys were able to create great country music at one time was because they’d call each other out on something that was bullshit. 

I’m positive lots of musicians don’t want to blast their contemporaries because they don’t think it’s right to do so, but you can’t think of it that way. When you don’t call them out, you’re just giving them validation and a green light to shit on country music’s legacy. You really should be offended by the mess of it all.

It wasn’t but a couple of weeks back that singer-songwriter Chris Knight said in an interview with the Dallas Observer that he felt women singer-songwriters were more talented than the men. He said he didn’t know why that was, but I think I know why: It’s because female songwriters have to work harder than men to be heard. Men get a pass on being lazy songwriters where women don’t. Women don’t have the luxury of being able to sing an hour set about how they put a good dip in and drank away their sorrows and why they were so much more country than everyone else. 

Basically, we need more Chris Knights and Shinyribs. You know, maybe just maybe, give a shit.

To knowingly take this William L. Garrison quote out of context (He was talking about slavery, I’m talking music) I’ll say “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation… am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard.”

UPDATE: Here are a couple of columns that were [semi]-sparked by this column. They’re an important and vital part of the conversation that’s happening.

Brad Beheler of Galleywinter
Hallie Bertrand of That Arrogant Texan

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19 responses to “Breakfast With Thomas: How Country Are Ya?

  1. I agree with the Kevin Fowler part, but don’t knock the whole red dirt music genre, there are still some good ones out there. I’m not sure why Kevin is even included in that genre though.

      • Sorry, you crap on the entire Texas Country and Red Dirt scene.

        “Exploitation Country. That’s what a massive chunk of Texas Country/Red Dirt/Nashville Country artists should be called. Short and simple.”

        A massive chunk. Seriously? I can partly agree with what you say towards Kevin Fowler. Although I think one difference is he has acknowledged that he is the “honky-tonk guy” (google honky tonk Kevin Fowler and read the Billboard article). No one goes to his shows expecting a performance that touches the soul.

        At least offer some additional alternatives as to what people should be listening too, and not just list the old timers from the 70s and Chris Knight.

      • It’s strange you say we’re shitting on the entire Texas Country and Red Dirt scene when no actual Texas Country or Red Dirt artists have complained that we are or have. It’s been the opposite actually.

        You’re taking not only that single sentence but this entire column out of context. Read the rest of our interviews, etc and you’d see that we’re far from crapping on an entire music scene.

      • “And it’s not just Fowler. He’s just today’s shining, gilded example. Everyone likes to think that Texas has a better roster of “real country” singer–especially when compared to Nashville. But tell me, what’s really the difference between Kevin Fowler and Luke Bryan? Absolutely nothing. Nothing.

        Nothing.”

        Stop taking music advice from whoever told you that Kevin Fowler was some deep and meaningful songwriter.

        “In a way, I can’t even fault Fowler, Bryan, Casey Donahew, etc (Side Note: The fact that I don’t rattle off a laundry list of artists that are the same way and you know exactly who I’m talking about, just shows how massive and legitimate the problem is.”

        Casey Donahew….. CASEY DONAHEW? The people who will tout that Texas has a better roster of “real country” singers aren’t going to put Casey Donahew anywhere on their recommended listening list. Brad Beheler of galleywinter.com has a 1,552 track playlist on Spotify – http://open.spotify.com/user/bradbeheler/playlist/2Lgm2AqjakdOeBp1bB3dcJ
        No Casey Donahew to be found and nothing from Kevin Fowler’s past 3 albums.

      • I’ll stop taking that music advice when you stop thinking Kevin Fowler is a “honky-tonk guy.”

        Seriously though, I don’t know what you’re actually arguing against if you agree with our anti-Kevin Fowler and the like sentiments. Note: We don’t want people to take just this individual column piece as our whole thoughts on music. Hopefully people understand that within the context of our blog. If you feel we’re bashing an entire music scene, it’ll probably be because you only read this piece and aren’t familiar with any of our column pieces, reviews, or interviews. You’ll know that’s far from what we’re doing.

        Hopefully you (and others) stick around and read some of our other things [Thumbs up].

      • I’m in the process of looking at some of the other articles.

        I can still support anyone who leaves Casey Donahew Band off of “The List” (the strike-through from the original article doesn’t copy over). So I’m not 100% against you 😉

  2. Man oh man did you hit the nail on the head!!! Guy Clark says more in one song than these frat boys say in a lifetime.
    Check out Ben Bullington: “Country Music I’m Talking to You”

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  5. I totally agree with the article, but I think the bridge between the commenter “85” and what Thomas has written is history. And this argument is as old as the music we love.

    The history we’re forgetting is that “honky tonk artists” founded this genre. I’m originally from South Texas, from the home of Schroeder Hall (yes that’s the 2nd oldest dancehall in Texas) and on any given Friday or Saturday night there were 11 dancehalls with everyone from local bands to Pat & Cory for us to choose from, and down there it’s been that way since our now heroes were doing their thing in the 70’s and my dad was going to the same dancehalls. Unfortunately in today’s world the balance has not continued as a skill needed to succeed, but a choice. Our artists are forced to choose between writing and singing cheesy bee-bop junk to drunken fans that grew up on machine stamped music, or being true to themselves and their influences, and hoping to find a following that appreciates them. Unfortunately, the former usually provides more quick success than the latter. But that success is fleeting, as those “major” artists from the early 2000s have found, if they have not found new opportunities in songwriting and grown their music with their audiences (like Wade Bowen, Mike ), they’ve seen a marked decline (like Roger Creager and Brandon Rhyder).

    We’ve all watched this genre change and morph from its Outlaw Country roots, to the inevitable intermingling with Red Dirt, to what appears to be a time that is splitting the genre completely.
    We’re seeing a rebirth of the songwriter, where guys like Guy Clark are seeing renewed respect, Wade Bowen is finding writing inroads into bigger streams, and the genre is embracing and adopting those it may not have before for not being “country enough” (Jason Isbell, JTNL, American Aquarium, Uncle Lucius, etc.). I’m also seeing a complete and total watering down and financial raping of this formerly regional industry. We are inundated with the newest “brand” of the same old thing everytime we turn on the radio. The Mark McKinney’s sound like a bad Nashville act and the one hit wonders of Casey Donahew are acting like they’re not in the Honeybrowne cycle. Artists are selling themselves to the highest bidder and selling out to corporate venues and their own festivals. I’m not saying money is a bad thing, but “every man for himself” is a mantra that will destroy music faster than a JABFest fills with pastel-colored shorts.

    The ultimate lesson is that “fame” and success are always fleeting in music. So if you don’t diversify and show off real talent in performance and song writing, the tall boot girls and stonewashed jeans guys will find someone else to get drunk to and when they grow up, they’ve outgrown you and you’ve lost the next class of kids coming too. I agree that artists need to demand more “art” and less homeboy-hookup-pocket-filling-dancehall-tunes-mini-tour tunes. But so do fans, and so does the generation that grew up on the trailblazers of this genre, teach your kids how to appreciate the good stuff, it’s not so bad to get drunk to either.

    “How Country Are You” kind of mindsets respond to what fans want, so want better, demand and expect better, and support better in your town, on Twitter, and on iTunes.

    • Keith, that was great. I’m also from South Texas. Runge, Texas. And I know exactly where you’re coming from.

      Thomas, thanks for stirring the conversation about this. Well said.

    • Maybe I have just accepted Kevin Fowler for what he is a while a go and don’t see him as even a representative of what is bad with country right now. He did have a song called “knocked up”. Who wants to listen to that song while sitting at their work desk? That is why I agreed with him being a honky-tonk guy. He puts on a more energetic show than most guys out there. Kevin Fowler isn’t claiming to be this amazing song writer or thinks country music is screwed if one of his songs doesn’t win a Grammy. I probably have contradicted myself, but that’s why I don’t write professionally 🙂

      I still need to read some of the other articles, but I would be interested to see who you would put on your list with Fowler, Bryan, and Donahew (Texas country guys, not other Nashville guys).

      • Established performers on that list (in part): Kevin Fowler, Casey Donahew, Josh Abbott, Kyle Park, Randy Rogers (at least that turd of a most recent album, he needs to get back to covering Gary Stewart), Bart Crow, Eli Young Band, No Justice.

        Flash in the pan that won’t go away: Granger Smith, Mark McKinney, JB and the Moonshine Band. Rich O’Toole, Curtis Grimes (Really? Swampy Tonkin’?), Johnny Cooper (does he even count anymore?),

        Every performer has their “fun” song, their party tunes, etc. But if you can be compared to a major Nashville act by sound or songwriting more than 10% of the time, I’m really not interested. And I don’t always need Isbell, Chris Knight, Will Hoge or John Moreland moving my soul, but I do expect quality. Give me some Sean McConnell or Dirty River Boys, you can jam, drink and party, drop into a soul crusher and party again after and still make awesome music for me to enjoy, feel and appreciate.

      • I can agree with 98% of that. I’m a RRB fanboy, but I can see why people didn’t like the new album. Rich O’Toole… if you never saw this – http://www.rawhideandvelvet.com/if-youre-gonna-play-in-texas-youd-better-hope-the-band-knows-your-name/

        I’m glad you brought up the point about not needing Isbell, Knight, etc. It seems like there are people who crap on anything that is polished. I think Randy Rogers would need to start smoking again so his voice got grungy and even crappier again for some people to praise anything new the band puts out.

      • Yes everyone saw Rich make an ass of himself – again.

        Let’s not twist words. I didn’t say I donn’t need them, I do need them in my life, they are the kind of artist that enunciate the hopes, joys, pains and sorrows of our souls. I meant, I don’t need every artist to be in that mode all the time. I don’t have anything against “polish” if that means having your stuff together. I used to love RRB, great shows, high energy, and still writing with some content and throwing in some throwback now and then. But now I mean Fuzzy, awful.

        The point isn’t about vocal quality or polish though, the point is quality of music in general. Are you writing, producing and playing on a template or are you making music. Real, from the heart, your style/brand of music. Randy has one of the best pure chops fiddle players in the genre and he’s making him play Fuzzy, it’s sad really.

        Three litmus tests: When I hear you can I identify who you are or is it just a plug and play? Do you sound like someone else that I already don’t like? Do you sound damn good live? Just because you can throw a party doesn’t make you worth seeing. If you’re going to be a party act I expect a party and some great music and great musicians making it happen. Otherwise, see my previous comments re: JABFest.

  6. First, a side note. Mr. 85, Kevin Fowler isn’t “honky tonk”. Honky tonk my friend is a Dale Watson. Honky Tonk would be a Jason Eady shuffle. Honky Tonk is Dwight Yoakam burning up the stage with his nasally vocals and Pete Anderson’s telecaster twanging off to the side. Honky Tonk is Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and some Chris King. It’s steel guitar and fiddle, with Matt “The Cat” Hillyer singing a country tune. To even call Kevin Fowler “Honky Tonk” is spitting on a really great sub-genre of country. Fowler circa 1999 was pretty good. Beating out some Western swing. Who didn’t like dancing to “Butterbean” or letting “If These Old Walls Could Talk” rip your heart out? Fowler ain’t making that kind of stuff no more. He’s parotting Luke Bryan, and jumping on the gravy train.

    I don’t think anyone is asking for every single song to be some soul stirring, rip your heart out, “make you think” tune. What we are asking for is authenticity. Brad Beheler mentioned over on Galleywinter that we are seeing a split in Texas Music so to speak. A “Texas Country” side, and then you have the “Americana, roots rock, folky, soul stuff”. I don’t think it’s quite that simple. I think Boland and Eleven Hondo fit squarely into the Country aspect. What’s sad is that they are played side by side on radio right next to Fowler or Donahew, or in the case of KOKE FM…..gulp….Eric Church (as an aside…c’mon KOKE. You are suppposed to be Austin’s “Country Music Alternative”…so many talented Texas artists in this great state just dying to be heard on radio, and you play ERIC FREAKING CHURCH!??!”)

    I love drinking in the back yard, tossing washers with my brother, and listening to Gary P. Nunn sing about Texas nights and Lone Star Beer as much as the next guy. But you know what? Gary P isn’t singing over a canned and cheesy soundtrack. He’s got Herb Steiner on the peddle steel guitar ripping shit up. He’s being authentic. The music is good! The musicians are talented. It goes great with a starry Texas sky and washers clanging on a plywood box. And you know what else? I love some soul stirring music by Sean McConnell as well. Once again…authenticity. Sometimes I feel like crunchy guitars and horns blaring out a rock opera via Uncle Lucius. Authenticity.

    I saw Mrs. Shannon Canada say over on Galleywtiner that she and her husband Cody promote guys like Kevin Fowler because they are friends. Mrs. Canada….you seem like a sweet woman, and your husband is a freaking pioneer of this music scene. A God send that has influenced my taste in music over the past 11 or 12 years. I love your husband as a musician and songwriter. He’s a bad ass. But damn….I love my friends too, and if one of them opens up a shitty burger joint I’m not going to shout to the heavens and tell everyone else to go eat a burger at his joint! A. I’m not being honest to other people. B. I’m not being honest with myself and C. Those same people would then trust my word and then waste their hard earned money on a shitty product. WTF? Sometimes the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We can’t just promote and support our friends’ products whenever those products belong in a trash can. In the end we ruin our own credibility, and we aren’t doing our friends’ any favors either.

    All in all…we can sit here and say, “just listen to what you dig and move on”. Bullshit. I say fight for what we dig and believe in. It’s not just on the backs of the fans either. Artists, if you love this scene then you need to fight as well. Radio that is geared toward Texas Music and Red DIrt…..you are somehwat gatekeepers in all this as well. You play a major role. Look towards New Braunfels. Emulate Mattson Rainer and KNBT 92.1. He’s doing it the right way. Just embrace authentic music.

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