Followers of Saving Country Music know that for a while now, I have been calling out the current crop of “new Outlaws” in country music. Nearly 1 1/2 years ago I said:
Since Hollywood has gone country, Nashville has gone Outlaw. Unfortunately the music hasn’t followed suit, it’s only the Nashville suits throwing around music terms to try to move more “units”. Instead of fighting against the REAL country music insurgency, Music Row is trying to incorporate it, assimilate it…
One of their tools to do so is “laundry list” or “calling card” songs. You know the songs I’m talking about, the ones that name off dirt roads, ice cold beers, pickup trucks by the lake, etc. etc. These songs have been a staple of the Music Row hit making machine for the last few years, usually comprising one or two of the songs on a a mainstream Nashville record, especially by male performers.
When self-titled “new Outlaw” Justin Moore released his latest album Outlaws Like Me, I proclaimed it “…the worst country music album I have ever heard, EVER.” And specifically about the laundry list songs, “Usually there will be 1 or 2 of these songs on any given Music Row-produced country album. But Justin Moore has the audacity, the boldness to make an entire record of them, and even worse, make them the most stultifying, stereotyping, unapologetically formulaic songs that have ever been published for mass consumption.
Of course I and Saving Country Music can be written off as polarizing, opinionated, arrogant hardliners, (or maybe should get credit for being over a year ahead of everyone else), but now the mainstream country media is coming out swinging against these calling card songs, and the new Outlaws that perpetuate them.
The first was Chet Flippo, legendary country music writer who covered the original country music Outlaws for Rolling Stone Magazine along with many other beats, and wrote the introduction to the albums Wanted: The Outlaws and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. He had some choice words for Justin Moore’s decision to brand himself an Outlaw . From his Nashville Skyline article:
Nowadays, country music seems to have recently gotten outlaws again. Gotten outlaws in the same way that some people have gotten ants or bedbugs or cockroaches. We have a new infestation. To be sure, they’re small outlaws, but they are insistent that they are here.
Justin is a fine new artist, but if he’s a true outlaw, then Miss Piggy is Dolly Parton. How is Moore an outlaw? Well, he’s from a small town — which is very chic in faux-Outlaw circles. Some of the songs on his new album are about rednecks and dirt roads and the like. All those are very essential elements in the faux-Outlaw trend.
Now Peter Cooper, maybe even more influential these days in the world of country music journalism as the Senior Music Writer and Columnist for Nashville’s major newspaper The Tennessean said in a recent column:
All day, you’ve been singing rock songs to me about how country you are. And even country songs about how country you are. It’s been “dirt road” this and “back road” that, and “party in the woods” this and “redneck, hillbilly” that. Then there’s been some stuff about fishing with cane poles, and skinny-dipping in the lake with some two-named girl…And I don’t believe you were on the dirt road to the barn party with your redneck, hillbilly friends. I don’t believe the story about the lake.
I’d rather be hit by a can of your favorite domestic beer than hear you name-check that beer one more time when you’re singing about the party in the woods that you know darn well the three people who wrote the song in a metropolitan Nashville office absolutely, for sure, did not attend.
There is little question now that Justin Moore and his album Outlaws Like Me is where the new Outlaw movement and the laundry list country song went too far. They jumped the shark.
But critics and fans do not always see eye to eye, as can be illustrated by another country music writer, CMT’s Allison Bonaguro. The perennial cheerleader for pop country picked up her pom pom’s and defended this culture of living a country lifestyle vicariously through corporate country music. As maddening as it might be, Allison has a good point, that however or fake or worn out as calling card songs might be, if that’s what the public wants, that’s what the public will get. From CMT:
I agree that maybe there are too many of the same old clichÃ©s living inside the lyrics, but I’m not sure what the alternative is. I was not raised with a cane pole near a fishing hole or with country boys and girls getting down on the farm. I drank no jugs of sweet tea or moonshine. There were no buckets of fried chicken or haylofts. I was raised in the suburbs, in a station wagon, going to tennis lessons. I went to parties in other suburban houses. I drank Tab when I was a teenager, Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers when I got to college. I worked at the Limited in a mall. Now, who the hell wants to hear a song about all that? I’d much rather hear the clichÃ©s. So go ahead, country singers, lie to me until you figure something else out.
I have no doubt that the country calling card/laundry list songs perpetuated by the new Outlaw movement will go down in infamy like the hair metal phase of rock. It will be shunned and mocked by future generations as an embarrassment. The critics and writers are wise to it now. Only question left is, when will the public be?
And how did we get here? When Taylor Swift won the CMA for Entertainer of the Year, we thought it couldn’t get any worse, and some surmised this would be pop country’s Waterloo, as some will call this the new Outlaw Waterloo. Now with the infiltration of country rap and the rise of the new Outlaws, pop country acts like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood almost look like a safe haven in a dark era. I wonder if Taylor Swift’s CMA win wasn’t the impetus for this boomerang back to these overly-countrified songs in an attempt to counter-balance Taylor’s virtual country-less approach?
I don’t proclaim to know where country music will go from here, but what I do know is that Justin Moore and Outlaws Like Me has solidified its place in country music history as one of the big bullet points on the timeline that denotes a major event. And that the event it denotes is not a positive one.
And that’s not just my opinion.