TER­RELL’S TUNE-UP

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - Steve Ter­rell

de­serve bet­ter than Tay­lor Swift dur­ing their morn­ing com­mute.”

So who are these “XXX” artists? Those listed on the web­site in­clude Hank Wil­liams III, South­ern Cul­ture on the Skids, Rev. Pey­ton’s Big Damn Band, and Rev. Hor­ton Heat. There are alt-coun­try ti­tans from the ’90s like Wilco and Whiskey­town; blues artists like T-Model Ford, Ten Foot Polecats, and Kenny Wayne Shep­herd; con­tem­po­rary honky-tonkers such as Wayne Han­cock and Dale Wat­son, psy­chobil­lies like Tiger Army; retro soul like Black Joe Lewis & The Honey­bears; psy­che­delic rangers like The Black An­gels; a smat­ter­ing of jam band fa­vorites in­clud­ing Gov’t Mule, Robert Ran­dolph, and Yon­der Moun­tain String Band; and Dixie-fried metal like Alabama Thun­der­pussy. Sev­eral acts I named on my 2010 Top 10 al­bum list are there: Nick Cur­ran & The Lowlifes, Le­gendary Shack Shak­ers, Drive-By Truck­ers, and Ray Wylie Hub­bard.

Ac­cord­ing to www.sav­ing­coun­try­mu­sic.com, a hand­ful of artists, be­sides Jen­nings, have en­dorsed the con­cept. These in­clude Mojo Nixon, Scott H. Bi­ram, Rhett Miller (of the Old 97s), Ja­son Is­bell (for­mer Drive-By Trucker), John Carter Cash (son of Johnny and June), and Riki Racht­man — yes, the for­mer host of MTV’s Head­banger’s Ball.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to not get be­hind some­thing that pro­motes so many mu­si­cians I like. Even so, I’ve got some quib­bles. One is a se­man­tic nit­pick. It doesn’t seem that Jen­nings and Sheets are cre­at­ing a new genre here. As one of the par­tic­i­pants at a re­cent “roundtable” pod­cast at Sav­ing Coun­try Mu­sic pointed out, T-Model Ford is still blues, and Wayne Han­cock is still coun­try. No­body’s go­ing to stop iden­ti­fy­ing them as such.

One roundtable par­tic­i­pant, re­call­ing the “grunge” genre, pointed out that Nir­vana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgar­den were all cat­e­go­rized as grunge but re­ally didn’t sound much alike. I’d point out that one thing they all had in com­mon was that none of them used the word grunge to de­scribe them­selves.

Maybe XXX could be­come a new ra­dio “for­mat.” But that’s pretty iffy, be­cause it would be tough get­ting com­mer­cial ra­dio sta­tions to go along. Sta­tion own­ers tend to be con­ser­va­tive, and this econ­omy isn’t con­ducive to ex­per­i­men­tal pro­gram­ming. Sorry to be so pes­simistic, but the hard­work­ing peo­ple of this land are prob­a­bly doomed to en­dure Tay­lor Swift and the like — if in­deed they choose to sub­ject them­selves to com­mer­cial ra­dio.

I re­mem­ber the birth of the “Amer­i­cana” ra­dio for­mat in the ’90s. At first it seemed ex­cit­ing that a ra­dio sta­tion would fo­cus on the mu­sic of Merle Hag­gard, Gram Par­sons, Butch Han­cock, Dave Alvin, and The Waco Broth­ers. But the for­mat never re­ally caught on in the com­mer­cial ra­dio world.

Some folks at a panel dis­cus­sion I at­tended at the SXSW fes­ti­val in Austin in the mid-’90s wor­ried that the “Amer­i­cana” genre might be­come di­luted by in­clud­ing folk singers, singer-song­writ­ers, and oth­ers who have lit­tle to do with ac­tual coun­try mu­sic. In ret­ro­spect, that turned out to be the case. And un­for­tu­nately, Amer­i­cana has evolved into what I call “re­spon­si­ble adult adult mu­sic.” If I get a promo CD of a lit­tle-known singer who says, “I play Amer­i­cana,” nine out of 10 times, I’m in for some lame-ass crud.

As Sheets wrote for the No De­pres­sion site, to­day’s Amer­i­cana is “be­ing made by and for mid­dle-class lib­er­als ... the rough edges are be­ing sanded down to make it eas­ier for the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect NPR lis­ten­ers to swal­low. This is about em­brac­ing those rough edges, bring­ing coun­try and South­ern rock back to it’s orig­i­nal in­tended au­di­ence who don’t want to hear pol­ished roots mu­sic any­more than they want to hear pol­ished Nashville pop.”

Like their broth­ers in grunge, few if any ma­jor Amer­i­cana stars ac­tu­ally iden­tify them­selves as “Amer­i­cana” artists. But as some in the Sav­ing Coun­try Mu­sic roundtable in­di­cated, the la­bel XXX might be prob­lem­atic also — mainly be­cause of its as­so­ci­a­tion with porn.

So what’s go­ing to be ac­com­plished with XXX? Al­ready there’s talk of some kind of XXX fes­ti­val, prob­a­bly in Nashville, this sum­mer. And even if it doesn’t catch on as a genre or ra­dio for­mat, if it en­cour­ages mu­sic jour­nal­ists to dis­cover and pro­mote lesser­known gut­bucket shouters and en­cour­ages in­de­pen­dent DJs and pod­cast­ers to mix up wild and prim­i­tive mu­sic in in­ter­est­ing ways, then give me my XXX.

Check out Adam Sheet’s blog about XXX at the No De­pres­sion site: www. node­pres­sion.com/pro­files/blogs/in­tro­duc­ing-the-xxx-move­ment. The pod­cast of a roundtable dis­cus­sion about XXX by on the Sav­ing Coun­try Mu­sic web­site can be found at www.sav­ing­coun­try­mu­sic.com/artists-back­xxx-genre-roundtable-dis­cus­sion. And there’s a XXX YouTube chan­nel: www.youtube. com/give­me­myxxx.

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