Clint Black Sees Signs of Improvement in Country Music
“It’s always going to evolve, but it seems to return to its roots, and I think that’s what’s happening now.”
This was the assessment of country legend and “Class of ’89” member Clint Black during a recent appearance on Tracy Lawrence’s “Honky Tonkin’” radio show when he was asked about the current state of country music. It’s hard to argue with Clint Black’s conclusion, and it’s also cool that a man of his stature in country music would come to it. It really speaks to how far country music has come over the last few years.
Though the 2010s will go down as a pretty terrible time for country music with the rise of Bro-Country, the emergence of artists like Sam Hunt, the virtual exclusion of women and traditionalists from the format, among other ills, country music is unquestionably starting to turn around in the mainstream. Sure, there’s still some bad artists and songs that make their way to the top, but so does some of the better stuff that used to be excluded, and it all seems to be trending in the right direction overall, and it’s being led by the songs.
“The songwriting is evolving back around to where it’s getting a little bit more traditional, getting the really good hook lines, the crafy lyrics,” Tracy Lawrence said to Clint Black during the interview.
“That is what I was worried about the most because the lyrics have always been the primary attraction in country music,” Clint Black responds. “It’s the common man’s poetry. My dad always said, ‘It has to be able to be understood by a 3rd grader.’ I always thought ‘Yeah, that’s true.’ But there has to be layers that you can discover and go ‘Ah!’ So you have all of this depth in the song, but you don’t have to go deep or be a professor to understand it.”
What’s also interesting about Clint Black’s and Tracy Lawrence’s assessment is that it comes with the built-in conclusion that in previous years, country music was not serving the public with songs of depth, and was clearly pointed in the wrong direction. But things have since turned around, and a resurgence of interest in 90s country like the stuff from Clint Black and Tracy Lawrence is helping to drive that.
“There’s a lot of it that I like, there’s a lot of it that I don’t really understand. Some of it kind of bores me,” Tracey Lawrence says about today’s country, without naming any names. “But I really think it’s all starting to line back up. People are starting to get really passionate. And you’re touring again, and out on the road, I’m seeing a lot of young people gravitate back to our music from the early 90s and everything. It seems like we’re having a huge resurgence right now.”
“I usually take for granted that my audience is my age, but country audiences have always been from the time you’re born until you die, and we always kept them,” Clint Black responds. “For a while there, it was leaving some of them disenfranchised. I know this, just how they feel, because of what I read on my Facebook page. If everything you hear on the radio is about the party crowd, eventually you go, ‘Well, the appetizer was good, but where’s the entree?’ … And it think we’re starting to see more of the meat back on the bone now. And as that happens, and I hear some of the younger artists mention me, which is always thrilling to hear that somebody coming up singing to the new generations was into my music in the way I would point to Haggard and Willie and Waylon. When they point to us, some of the kids are going to say, ‘Who?’ and maybe they’ll check it out.”
And that appears to be what’s happening. Along with mainstream country improving in the near term, fans are also turning more and more to back catalog recordings for their country fix, especially from 90s artists, while independent country artists not supported by mainstream radio are connecting with more fans who end up expecting more substance and more twang from their mainstream counterparts, challening major label artists and songwriters to step up their game.
Clint Black could very easily play the role of a bitter, 60-year-old performer who hasn’t had a Top 10 hit in 22 years, and say all the new stuff has lost its soul and shouldn’t be on the radio. But the assessment from both Black and Tracy Lawrence really helps underscore that stuff really is really changing.
Granted, in the interview, the performers Clint Black first cites as the signs of improvement are Luke Combs, Chris Janson, and Morgan Wallen, which some older and more independent fans may scoff at. Black also slips in Cody Jinks at the end. But he’s even right on that point when you compare those names with with Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, and Dan + Shay. Also worth mentioning are Carly Pearce, Ashley McBryde, and Lainey Wilson, who’ve all found success with deeper, and more country-sounding songs recently, including #1’s on country radio.
Meanwhile Clint Black is getting ready to play some shows with Cody Jinks this summer. The two will pair up on shows at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, MS on August 11th, the Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Birmingham, AL on August 12th, and at the Ameris Amphitheatre in Atlanta, GA on August 13th. He’s also playing KOKEFest near Austin the first weekend of August where he’ll get to see new country traditionalists such as Randall King and Triston Marez that he very much helped inspire.
We can continue to complain that all mainstream country radio is terrible, and how it’s a shame they won’t play artists like Clint Black anymore. But even Clint Black is seeing significant signs of improvement, and fans are finding their back way to his music anyway, including younger fans. Of course there is still much more room for improvement, but we shouldn’t overlook how far we have come in the last few years.
June 5, 2022 @ 10:59 am
Liked that Black specifically mentioned “good hook lines and crafty lyrics”. I’ll always be in awe of what he did with “Killin’ Time”. Dude really made an up-tempo song about drinking yourself to death, cut a jovial dance hall video to go along with it, and made it a smash hit on the radio.
That’s high art if I’ve ever seen it.
June 5, 2022 @ 1:13 pm
I was thinking something really similar while reading this. Good for him! I’m glad that he and other artists from that era are getting to see things turning around a bit
June 5, 2022 @ 12:00 pm
Mike Harmeier from the Moonpies mentioned in an interview somewhere this past year that Black’s Killin’ Time album was a major influence on their most recent album One To Grow On – my favorite of 2021.
So, first time ever, I took a deep dive into Black’s early catalogue and have been hooked on Clint Black for months now. Supplementing that with early George Strait and now I’m so spoiled by that stuff I’m having trouble enjoying almost any new country this year.
June 6, 2022 @ 10:24 am
I enjoy both styles old and new. There’s room for all of it
June 6, 2022 @ 1:31 pm
I do too. My launch point(s) with country music were Simpson and Stapleton, but I’m talking about new artists and albums this year specifically. My point is, nothing so far this year is standing out all that much for me, especially in comparison to older stuff I’ve been spending time with like Clint Black and George Strait. Just sayin’.
June 6, 2022 @ 2:05 pm
I reckon old style artist need to get cracking then!
August 1, 2022 @ 11:02 pm
Mr Black does great on Talking in Circles I dont know him He probably does good a most all he tries I dont know BUT There is a lawyer Mr Bobby Taylor @BobbyTaylorlaw who is a lookalike to Mr Black and WOULD BE A GREAT GUEST ON TALKING IN CIRCLES I texted Mr Taylor to write a country song Anyway Please pass the word
June 5, 2022 @ 1:10 pm
I am a big fan of Clint, and hope he keeps on singing, would love some more new music someday.
June 5, 2022 @ 1:16 pm
Pretty cool song & video from Chelsea Bain.
June 5, 2022 @ 2:06 pm
Clint Black’s daughter.
Especially on vid. Shot Of Whiskey.
June 5, 2022 @ 6:06 pm
It’d be silly to argue he’s not right, as it’s pretty obvious that there’s been some improvement. Hopefully it’s not a temporary phenomenon. Taking it a little past that surface level observation though, I wonder if part of the reason is, parallel to other cultural pushback we’re starting to see out there, people have grown tired of the idea that rural sounds and culture are something to be ashamed of. Especially when the alternative presented, and pushed for dubious reasons, was such hot garbage.
June 9, 2022 @ 10:18 am
Respectfully, I disagree with your statement that “people have grown tired of the idea that rural sounds and culture are something to be ashamed of.” And would argue that the opposite is true—being “country” or “southern” is essentially a marketing tactic these days. I am a millennial southerner who has never resided outside their home state. I come from a devoutly rural area but have lived years in the 2 most populous cities in the state. In my lifetime, I have undoubtedly noticed an explosion in the number of brands/foods/corporations trumpeting their product as “southern”. This is just an anecdotal example but hell, when I was a kid, I didn’t even know Belk was a regional chain, but by the time I was in college 6-7 years ago watching the Belk Bowl, nearly every single Belk commercial that airs has to mention the word southern somewhere.
When you pair this along with the Yellowstone effect that has been apparent in pop culture, I just don’t see any way of inferring that people are being told by society (or brands) that being country or rural is something to be ashamed of. They are actively trying to sell us shit simply by claiming it’s country or southern. At least it seems that way from my perspective.
June 5, 2022 @ 6:40 pm
Not trying to start a fight here, looking for feedback, but Black can’t really afford to be “a bitter, 60-year-old performer who hasn’t had a Top 10 hit in 22 years” if he wants to be in the HOF someday. I think he’s worthy but if he bitches too much he’ll be overlooked year after year. While some current performers do cite him as an influence, I don’t think his stats alone will get him in the HOF. He needs to be a team player like Gatlin or Stuart so the committee has a good impression of him when considering a nomination.
June 5, 2022 @ 7:19 pm
Not a bad point. Hard to trust what anyone says when they have a lot to lose by saying the wrong thing.
June 5, 2022 @ 7:32 pm
I’m not really sure how much the Country Music Hall of Fame is on Clint Black’s radar. Some artists obsess over it. Others let the game come to them. Hank Jr. and Alan Jackson got in after pretty actively criticizing a lot of today’s country and specific institutions. Jerry Lee Lewis pissed off the Opry pretty hard and he still got in. I’ve just never thought of Clint Black as a firebrand individual. I think he just goes with the flow. But even he could recognize come about 2015 that country music had gone off the rails.
June 5, 2022 @ 8:17 pm
I think he’s a shoe-in in the next few years as a modern inductee. He has his show, Talking in Circles, on The Circle Network, so he’s staying in that Opry/CMA mix. Between 1989 and 1999, he released 31 singles, 28 of which went top 10. 26 of those went top 5, and he had 13 #1s. Those numbers are better and more consistent than recent nominees Keith Whitley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Keith started out slow and gradually built up 5 number ones leading up to his death. Clint had 4 number ones right out of the gate and built that consistent streak of top 10, top 5, and number one hits over a decade. He may not be as influential a vocalist and performer as Keith Whitley, or as iconic as Jerry Lee, but he had a consistent string of hits and is still in the public eye, especially in Nashville. I don’t think he’ll be waiting long.
June 5, 2022 @ 7:48 pm
Morgan Wallen? Really?
How about Jon Pardi, Carly Pearce, and Midland?
June 5, 2022 @ 8:22 pm
Yes, Morgan Wallen.
June 6, 2022 @ 2:35 pm
I just wonder what people see in him. His music is just boring bro-country leftovers from 2014, and he looks like he just crawled up from out of the sewer.
June 7, 2022 @ 7:22 pm
Taylor, it is not what we see in him but hear. Like it or not, he has some good songs with good lyrics. HEAR HIM, NOT SEE HIM.
June 6, 2022 @ 5:00 am
While country music may be drifting back to more traditional sounds, will country radio follow or will they continue to play and promote the bro-country artists?
I stopped listening to country radio about 20 years ago, I don’t see me going back any time soon.
June 6, 2022 @ 5:30 am
I agree 100%. Spotify is how I listen to country music today. I’ve found a lot of good honky tonk artists that way.
June 6, 2022 @ 5:33 am
I remember “Killin’ Time” came out around the time I married my third (now-ex) wife. Good times!
June 6, 2022 @ 5:36 am
We are seeing occasional, perhaps brief, revivals of 70’s and 80’s rock mainstays (think Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac) thanks to TikTok and clever TV/movie placements. Can you imagine that happening to any country classics from that era? Johnny Cash maybe, or Reba M.?
June 6, 2022 @ 8:53 am
Outside of Taylor Sheridan’s projects (think Hell or High Water and Yellowstone) and other neo-western stuff that appeals primarily to older conservative viewers, you’re not going to hear much country music in TV and movies. Maybe some John Prine (recently featured in a key scene in Netflix’s Ozark), Johnny Cash, or Dolly Parton, stuff that leans singer-songwriter/folk or pop-crossover.
Country music is just way too niche, way too loaded a genre, and way too misunderstood. When a general TV or movie audience hears country music, they immediately think cowboys, rednecks, red-staters, racists etc.
Most TV and movies are not made by, nor made for, country fans who tend to be older, more conservative, and rural dwelling, and the people who pick and approve the music for TV and movies are not country fans – they’re college-radio/indie rock hipsters and “poptimists” (people who unironically regard top-40 pop as high-art).
Country music just isn’t going to catch any kind of big break with TV and movie placements, unless there’s some kind of massive cultural shift. I don’t see that happening in this political climate. Hollywood is firmly (I would say aggressively and adversarially) entrenched in elitist, leftist, coastal politics.
June 7, 2022 @ 4:00 pm
I don’t know what you watch but country music is definitely part of all the Danny McBride series, he named one Eastbound and Down after the Jerry Reed song. It has also been used in The Sopranos and The Wire, there are probably many many more, though I have been watching a few shows with not much background music besides the score. I highly recommend The Righteous Gemstones, its got great music!
Ann Rachelle Powell
June 6, 2022 @ 9:07 am
Exclusion Or music got made that a group found likeable? Saving country music my ass. Pffft. Yeah. As long as it fits what definition Clint? Yours? There’s room for all music. 2010 music…i love it. Traditional twangy ass country….i love it. Country rap….i love it. 70s rock….i love it. Who makes music mainstream? Your industry? Or the consumers?
June 6, 2022 @ 9:29 am
Your comment gave me clinical schizophrenia.
June 6, 2022 @ 10:07 am
Thanks for sharing
June 6, 2022 @ 9:34 am
Excluded or ppl heard new music they liked better than yours at the moment? Who makes music mainstream? Or country? Or not country enouff? I guess Clint does. Room enuff for all music. Old style country…love it..Country hip hop….love it. Old country twang…love it…70s rock….love it…jazzz…yep. Country rap…why not. Pop music…gotta have it. Disco….hilarious…love it. Heavy meta…no thanks. Oldies but goodies…of course.
June 6, 2022 @ 12:48 pm
I sure hope country music is moving back to better lyrics. On a side note – I was surprised to hear during the Lorrie Morgan episode that Tracy Lawrence is not a member of the Opry.
June 6, 2022 @ 1:08 pm
OK,Clint,I’m glad you like Country’s current direction,but how ’bout an album or two ,pardner ?
June 8, 2022 @ 6:32 am
He sooooo totally should. And . Stop picking on the music being made that he and the old guard think is NOT “country” according to what definition. Godd forbid if somebody interprets their “country, boondock way of living differently than his own and popular iN MORE THAN 1 GENRE of music. Traditional artist need to get crackin!!!!!!! They want to hear traditional. Make some then. If it’swhat the ppl wNt to hear, theyll listen.. Oh wait. Its been 2o years
June 7, 2022 @ 4:04 pm
Clint Black is a very good harmonica player as well as everything else he does. Not sure radio country is good enough to give it even 30 seconds of my time but maybe if this trend keeps up, in 30 years we may hear three good songs in a row!
June 12, 2022 @ 6:26 am
He is trash..With his rap and bass country…Garbage
June 13, 2022 @ 6:26 am
“Rap and bass Country?” Please explain,Mr.Magoo . (And let’s go,Brandon ?)
June 16, 2022 @ 5:16 am
I think it was Sturgil Simpson on the Joe Rogan podcast who said the all the people who turned rock bands into power-ballad hair bands in LA moved to Nashville after ruining Rock and Roll. If the pop-country cad where every song sounds exactly like the last one is ending, I wonder where these folks and their protégés will go next.
October 4, 2022 @ 5:47 pm
I commented Mr Black should have Attorney Jerry Taylor on his show Talking in circles This Attorney Mr Jerry Taylor is a TikTok regular