No wonder Don Henley’s new album Cass County is so damn good.
Though some are still holding out, beholden to the idea that any music emanating from anyone involved in The Eagles must be immediately labeled pure dreck according to the book of Jeff Lebowski and countless other music elites who consider the troupe from California the quintessential vanilla pudding of American music, the simple truth is Don Henley’s Cass County might be one of the best country albums released in all of 2015. And fans sure thought so, sending the record to #1 upon its debut.
Even better, Henley’s been out there outwardly criticizing the state of country music and the state of music in general, though doing so with a lot more of a thoughtful and informed tone than many others, including tracing the problem back to the disappearance of the agrarian way of life that was once prevalent throughout America, and now finds itself quickly receding.
This was one of many salient points Henley made in a recent interview with Colorado’s Hey Reverb ahead of an appearance at the Bellco Theatre in Denver on October 13th, including saying,
“It’s becoming less and less rural and more suburban and urban, but that doesn’t mean that the pillars, the foundations of real country music have to be watered down and turned into formulaic pop music that spouts faux country clichÃ©s about pickup trucks, dirt roads and beer. I spent my entire adolescence driving trucks (and tractors) on dirt roads and drinking beer. That ain’t new; that was everyday life. There’s a deeper well to draw from than that and some of these young songwriters ought to be dipping that bucket a lot further down into that well than they are today.”
But that’s not the most astounding revelation from Henley. Along with citing country greats like “Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Dottie West, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and others,” as examples of country artists who made music with authenticity, quality, and integrity, check out the other names Don Henley drops as far as who he thinks is keeping the true spirit of country music alive today.
“There are young people out there—some of them still relatively obscure—who are making thoughtful, authentic music,” Henley says. “Jason Isbell, Jeffrey Foucault, Ashley Monroe, Jamey Johnson, J.P. Harris & the Tough Choices, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Sturgill Simpson, Andrew Combs, Cale Tyson, Kelsey Waldon, the duos Striking Matches, The Milk Carton Kids, Shovels & Rope and others. Of course, they’ll not all enter “the mainstream,” but they will provide important standards that always need to be there to remind both the artist community and the industry that promotes it what quality and authenticity are. Otherwise, music spirals into a down cycle.”
I don’t know if Don Henley has been talking to Jed Hilly over at the Americana Music Association, has someone feeding him lists of cool bands in an earpiece, or truly is listening to a lot of the bands being championed on stupid little blogs such as this one. But either way, when we see one of the most recognized and successful music artists of all time touting such worthy independent country and roots talent like this, it can only be taken as yet another positive sign of the shifting paradigm that is putting independent roots on an equal playing field as the mainstream.
Things are changing, and Don Henley, however unlikely, is emerging as a voice of reason and empowerment, at least in the short term.