Willie Nelson is an ever evolving animal. Outlaw, to crossover musician and actor, to an unsavory era where it seemed he was palling around with whoever he could to stay “relevant.” Now maybe he has made it full circle, or he’s moved into uncharted territory. Either way, he’s making good music again, deeply entrenched in the traditions of country music, and is prolific as ever, maybe even to a fault.
Willie’s jabs at the country music oligarchy were always subtle and creative, maybe making them more powerful than overt statements. I always considered his song Sad Songs & Waltzes to be the first anti-Nashville protest song. Now he has a new album out, simply entitled Country Music, with traditional country songs with traditional country arrangements. The first thing I wondered when I saw this stark, obvious title is could he be saying, “No, THIS is country music, and that other stuff their calling ‘country music’ isn’t.”
I don’t know if that was Willie’s intention, but when TIME Magazine allowed readers to send Willie questions, he answered the question, “Is there a point where country becomes so pop that it stops being country music?” by saying:
“Sure. In my opinion, it’s a little watered down now. The mainstream country music that I hear–to me, it’s not really country, and it’s not really anything. So it may be pleasing to the ear, and that’s great, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s not country music.”
Once again this is a country music legend, possibly the biggest living country legend, bashing pop country in a publication that reaches beyond the eyes of hardcore country music nerds. I just can’t imagine how Music Row’s short-sighted direction can be sustainable.