I’ve taken some recent heat from friends and family for being overly negative about country music. I want to set the record straight: I love country music. I don’t think I need to explain it any further than that. But I’ll try.
I don’t love EVERYTHING about country music. Taken at face value, popular country music is the most insipid pop music on the planet–even more pedestrian and hackneyed than the stuff labeled simply as “pop music.” Keep in mind that popular does not necessarily mean bad. For instance, Garth Brooks is one of my favorite performers and Garth is very nearly the most popular singer of all time.
In my estimation, country music has it all: the heartbreak of the blues, the uplift of gospel, the virtuosity of jazz, the regional flavor of bluegrass, the tradition of folk and the hard edge of rock ‘n’ roll. But not all country songs reach the potential of the genre. In fact, few do. That’s a shame, but it’s to be expected.
So what country music do I like? Seeing no particular genre or label that suits my taste, I created my own: Ballz Country.
Ballz Country (n.): um…well, I don’t really have a definition yet. I need some help.
At the moment, it’s one of those “I know it when I hear it” sort of things, but I’m still feeling out the boundaries. It would be easy to just say this is “southern rock,” but it needs to be more inclusive than that. Let’s say Lynyrd Skynyrd is at one end of the range. Some of their songs would certainly qualify at “Ballz Country,” but not all of them do. And I don’t want this to be a total Skynyrd genre. And while some bluegrass can be Ballzy, most of it isn’t. Ditto with singer/songwriter country, which is full of gritty, tough, mean songs, but might not be performed in a way that connotes “Ballz.”
So without clear boundaries to guide us, here are some representative tunes.
“Choctaw Bingo” by James McMurtry
This is my ultimate Ballz Country tune. He’s a singer/songwriter, but he plays a gritty electric guitar. He has a rockin’ band. Lyrics are key here – it’s sort of a redneck talking blues, complete with drug abuse, questionable parenting, trailers, guns and rural details.
“Drink in My Hand” by Eric Church
For the most part, the stuff you’ll hear on pop country radio doesn’t qualify for “Ballz” status. But there are some exceptions. Here is an exception that is a bit more aggressive than the standard country party song. And Ballz Country certainly has room for party songs. Good party songs.
“Let There Be Rock” by the Drive-By Truckers
Flirting with Skynyrd territory here, but I think some Truckers songs are the epitome of Ballz Country. This isn’t twangy, and there’s no pedal steel, but it’s gritty, honest, pure power. That’s Ballz.
“Sin Wagon” by The Dixie Chicks
I’ll admit to a weakness in my genre–not many women. This isn’t to say there aren’t Ballzy female country singers. In some ways, the women are Ballzier than the men throughout country music history. While someone like, say, Loretta Lynn has incredibly subversive and tough songs, I’m not sure I’d blast ‘em with the windows down on a midnight trail ride. So I guess message is important, but the music might be more important. Maybe?
“Copenhagen” by Robert Earl Keen
Here’s evidence that a song doesn’t have to have Marshall stacks to have Ballz. This is a jokey acoustic novelty song, but I think it’s clever enough to warrant some recognition, and the subject matter is certainly country.
So what say you? Have any suggestions?
For those of you with a Spotify account, I have a collaborative playlist going on. I have a bunch of songs in there already, but feel free to add or remove as you see fit. I only ask that if you do add or remove a song, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know why.
Together, we can put the Ballz in country. Join me.