I am stuck on country.
Sometime late this spring, between the unforgiving winter cold and the healing virtues of sunshine mixed with April showers, I discovered the melodies and harmonies of country music.
Of course, country music existed long before my recent more intimate connection. My previous occasional indulgences had quite mistakenly reduced country to a blend of bluegrass and twang that often conjured up unpleasant historical visions of good ole Dixie, fluttering Confederate flags and shouts of “yeehaw!” at a country & western bar that can make a city black boy like me somewhat uncomfortable.
But I have found country richer, deeper. A blend of storytelling and a salve to my urban-fried nerves.
I guess it all began one night at a local bar not long ago when I was introduced to Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” — an emotional reminiscence of a woman returning to the house where she grew up.
“…I thought if I could touch this place or feel it, this brokenness inside me might start healing. Out here it’s like I’m someone else, I thought that maybe I could find myself. If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave. Won’t take nothing but a memory from the house that built me.”
I can relate. …I ride Lambert’s melodies to memories of the old house that built me.
Country takes me away.
Perhaps in some ways it takes me back, like an old Isley Brothers song. Like Earth, Wind & Fire, or The Commodores’ music — bathed in summers past and bygone breaths of yesterday.
Except I have discovered through country music new and winding green-lined roads to those times and feelings that soon settle over me like a cool breeze on a hot day.
The likes of Lambert, Midland, Thomas Rhett, Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line and Parmalee fill my playlist. It is a blend of traditional American country, some of it rich with the influences of hip hop, R&B, blues and rock ‘n’ roll. It pours into my ears from Spotify on my Android.
“Body Like A Back Road” has played more times than I can count while rolling on my Hog, mixed with the wind and the muffled roar of my tailpipes.
Chris Young’s “Losing Sleep.”
Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man.”
Scotty McCreery’s “Five More Minutes.”
Devin Dawson’s “All On Me.”
They transport me over imaginary winding roads, away from the continuous cares and crises of this world that seem to spill by the minute from CNN as breaking news.
And inasmuch as I have tried to switch my playlist, I find myself soon returning to “Hot Country” or to “John’s Country” playlists or Sirius XM’s The Highway in my car.
Don’t get me wrong, I still dig some Chance the Rapper, Jay-Z, and Charlie Wilson, among others, who satisfy my urban music tastes. But Country, for me, provides a respite and also a reminder that there is nothing separatist about music and art.
That music from the soul reaches the soul. That “humanity” is at the true heartbeat of any good song. That country music isn’t black or white or brown — just American.
That sentiment was expressed by some of the artists themselves from the stage earlier this summer at the Country LakeShake at Northerly Island, where my wife and I danced to Brothers Osborne.
We swayed to Rascal Flatts’ “God Bless The Broken Road.” We clapped and bobbed to “Yours If You Want It” and “I Like The Sound Of That,” as the summer wind blew off the lake.
And I must confess: I liked the sound of that.
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