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.

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