DIAGNOSIS: A dilemma: When is it cool, if ever, to be a little bit more country than rock ‘n’ roll?
ILLNESS: Circa Garth Brooks, the Chris Gains syndrome and similar awkward attempts to breed the traditionally wry soul of country music with MTV alter egos.
SYMPTOMS: Ground lights on the same pick-up truck you go muddin’ with, a Confederate flag tattoo that reads “Ain’t Skeered” (sic) next to one with “Thug Life Forever,” celebrating Kid Rock as the second coming of Elvis (two rednecks who, ironically, capitalized on ripping off black music) and a theoretical conversation about winning the lottery with purchases including real gold tooth caps, hobnobbing with “all dem Hollywood people” and the Holy Grail of redneck culture, a Chrysler Hemi engine.
PRESCRIPTION: Johnny Cash is always the first guy cited in most circles as good country music. Cash, as a product, has reached Beatles and Elvis status when it comes to greatest hits, essential recordings and box-sets. Murder, however, is a little classic featuring some of Cash’s best work, including “Delia,” “Mr. Garfield” and “Cocaine Blues (Live).” Also, check out Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, in which Jack White produces and sings; and include other party favorites such as Patsy Cline, Hank Williams Sr. and Willie Nelson.
PROGNOSIS: The rock-poppy contemporary country music scene is just as beat as other mainstream genres because it’s trying to appeal to everyone, making for a bland product with few defining characteristics. The country-music faithful should stick to their existential roots: prison, alcoholism and other violent blue-collar issues. The position for plastic and bubbly MTV personalities is already taken.