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I don’t like country music. I used to. But I gave up on it about 10 years ago. One day, I was listening to country radio and the thought just occurred to me: ‘You know, this is terrible music.’
I thought it was just that particular song. So I kept listening, sort of as a de facto second opinion. It didn’t get any better. I had to face the fact that country music had deteriorated to the point that I could no longer bear to listen to it.
And that’s been my stance for the last 10 years. I don’t listen to it. I don’t want to listen to it. I don’t know the top artists. I don’t know any of the top songs. And to be honest, I really don’t want to.
Modern mainstream country music has a lot of problems. They are too numerous to name. To me, however, all of those problems come down to one issue: A lack of authenticity.
The hallmark of country music, no matter the decade, the style, the artists, or the place from whence the music originated, is the genre was always authentic. You could hear it. You could feel it — and in such a way that was found in no other musical category.
Country musicians wrote and sang songs about what they knew. They weren’t just reciting words they were given; their songs were stories of their lives, their experiences, their culture. They connected with their audience and their fans responded.
But not anymore.
So when I heard that a country singer was opening for rockers Blackberry Smoke at the Martin for this week’s shows, I was more than a little irritated. It wouldn’t keep me from going but I didn’t really want to sit through a lifeless set of bad country songs.
Earlier this week, I received an email from that artist’s publicist asking if I would like to interview her. Brit Taylor is her name. She’s 32, a Kentucky native who comes from a bluegrass background. I agreed to the interview but didn’t expect much. I view these interviews the same way the artists do — let me ask the same questions, let the artist give the same answers, and let’s get it over with as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Before I spoke with Brit, I pulled up a few of her songs. I at least wanted to know what I was getting into before her call came through. When I heard the first note of the first song, something grabbed my attention. “This isn’t bad,” I said to no one in particular. I rolled through about three songs from her latest album, Kentucky Blue: “Anything But You,” “Kentucky Blue,” and “Ain’t a Hard Living.” Each one was better than the first.
I’m no music critic. I don’t know the phrases, the buzzwords, the high and lofty prose that critics, even country critics, employ. But I do one thing — I know what I like and I liked what I heard from Brit Taylor.
Of all the sub-genres of country, bluegrass may be the most hardcore. In fact, you could successfully argue that it’s not a sub-genre of country at all, that it stands alone in the pantheon of musical categories. Bluegrass is more regional, more connected to its audience than the others. You can fake pop country; you can’t fake bluegrass. And there’s nothing fake about Brit’s music at all. “I grew up on bluegrass,” she says. “It’s how I came to country. The bluegrass musicians from Kentucky — Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless, I blended those together to create my sound.”
When Brit went to Nashville, she arrived as a songwriter first and foremost. However, her work as a songwriter soured and she left that line of work. Why? She was asked to mass produce songs, the radio-friendly, soul-less noise that pollutes the airwaves to this day. That wasn’t what she wanted to do so she backed away.
Eventually, Brit came back to music — but on her terms. “The music industry is like the wild west. Now you don’t have to have a record label controlling what you do. There are places where independent artists can find a home,” she says.
Brit indeed found her home. Her sophomore album Kentucky Blue is making noise — the right kind of noise — on the country scene. The album is #15 on the iTunes chart and is the #4 bluegrass album. “It’s doing really well,” se says.
The reason it’s doing well is because Brit conveys that same authenticity and connection with the audience that the classic artists of previous generations enjoyed. Call her songwriting chops (she has a songwriting credit on every song on the new album), her bluegrass background, or both — it doesn’t matter. It’s there. You can pick up on it immediately. And it stays with you.
“You need to be your authentic self. That’s where the authenticity comes from. These days, it’s hard to be authentic. You’ve got Instagram, other social media, all the filters that can hide who you truly are. You have to make an effort to be authentic. You have to figure out who you are. You’ve got to get in the quiet and get alone. That’s not easy to do these days,” says Brit.
And how does she feel, as a hardcore country artist, opening for a guitar-laden rock band like Blackberry Smoke? “We played a few dates with them in December. I was nervous at first. But people like a lot of different kinds of music. They’ve got a country feel to them. The guys are great and we really had a lot of fun. We’re going to play a lot of songs off the new record and I’m excited about that. I didn’t have the new record out the first time we played together.”
Brit Taylor and Blackberry Smoke are playing two shows in Douglas: One each on Thursday and Friday. The concert begins at 8 p.m. The Martin has brought some very talented acts to downtown Douglas in the last couple of years. This week’s shows, however, promise to be the biggest and best yet.
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