Randy Travis Sets Alan Jackson Straight About Today’s Country

For years, any time a country music artist lashed out about the direction of country music or the quality of its current stars, they received pretty loud applause for their bravery and leadership from the true country music community. That’s still the case for many, and most certainly what is going on in the mainstream of country remains a cause for concern. But things are changing as well.

Ahead of Alan Jackson’s new album Where Have You Gone whose title track is a lament on how so many of the sounds and sentiments vital to country music can no longer be heard, the Country Music Hall of Famer was pretty outspoken about how he feels about today’s country music.

When speaking with Holly Gleason of HITS Daily Double, Alan Jackson said, “Country music is gone—and it’s not coming back. It’s like the 1980s again. I’m 62 years old; I’m not some 30-year-old stud. It’s not the same, but somebody has to bring it back, because it’s not just people in their 50s, it’s people in their 20s, too. All the kids and young people around my house? The older they’ve got, the more hardcore and traditional what they’ve leaned into has become.”

Alan Jackson continued, “It’s not old-school, it’s the real school. And I’m kinda pissed off like you are about what’s happened to the format, or whatever they wanna call it.”

Loretta Lynn—who helped induct Alan Jackson to the Country Music Hall of Fame a few years ago—also shared similar sentiments in 2020, saying in part, “They’ve already let it [die]. I think it’s dead. I think it’s a shame. I think it’s a shame to let a type of music die. I don’t care what any kind of music it is. Rock, country, whatever. I think it’s a shame to let it die, and I’m here to start feeding it.”

But where most true country fans usually cheer these sentiments, now some are starting to push back. Sure, when talking about country music on corporate radio, or many of the new artists on major labels, these arguments are correct. But now more than ever, a vibrant scene of independent and authentic country artists are challenging the monopoly of mainstream radio and major labels, and finding major success without their assistance.

At this point, if you think real country music is “gone,” or “dead,” it’s because you’re looking in the wrong places. Tyler Childers and Cody Jinks have now minted RIAA Certified Gold and Platinum singles and albums without the assistance of radio, and are selling out large venues. Artists like Blackberry Smoke, Aaron Watson, and Sturgill Simpson are scoring #1 records on the Billboard charts. Big festivals transpire without a single mainstream name. Now with streaming, blogs and podcasts, and social media, fans are finding their way to the country music that actually sounds country, and supporting it in unprecedented numbers.

But even within the mainstream, it’s fair to say there’s been some improvement in recent years from the time when artists such as Sam Hunt and Florida Georgia Line were dominating the airwaves. They may not be your style, but it’s pretty easy to say that artists like Luke Combs and reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year Eric Church are much better alternatives.

Interestingly, after Alan Jackson’s comments about country music being “gone” went viral, the Twitter account of Randy Travis piped up in reaction to a headline about them, saying “There’s still some doing it like we did my friend … Drew Parker, Luke Combs, Riley Green, Alexandra Kay, and more. Ashley McBryde, Eric Church, Cody Johnson, the list goes on!”

And the Randy Travis camp would know. Randy regularly appears at the concerts of artists who are helping to save country music in the present day. He once appeared at a Cody Jinks concert, and Randy mentioned Cody in his autobiography. A while back Randy Travis appeared at a Josh Abbott Band show. Even with his aphasia, Randy Travis has been using his platform to try and point people in the right direction to country music that matters.

Nonetheless, there are still many people out there—perhaps Alan Jackson and Loretta Lynn included—who still use the radio as their primary gauge of who’s hot, and who’s not. It’s not necessarily their fault. Since the beginning, country has always been synonymous with the radio. But things are changing, both with the rise of independent artists challenging the mainstream, and the mainstream being forced to meet those rising challenges and recognize artists more similar to the country music of old.

Alan Jackson said in his recent comments, “It’s like the 1980s again.” Well if that’s true, then there’s nothing stopping us from having another major neotraditional resurgence in country like the one that was sparked off by Randy Travis in the mid/late 80’s, and then hit hyper drive with Alan Jackson and the others in the “Class of ’89” and put country music back where it needed to be.

Country music isn’t dead. In fact it might be in better shape now than any other time since the explosion of Bro-Country. And though holding the mainstream accountable and calling it out is still important, so is recognizing and shining a spotlight on the artists that are upholding the standards and values set by Alan Jackson, Loretta Lynn, and Randy Travis.

© 2021 Saving Country Music
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