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Thread: Alan Jackson takes a different path on dirt roads

  1. #1
    Carrie Guru Claire2004's Avatar
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    Alan Jackson takes a different path on dirt roads

    Alan Jackson takes a different path on dirt roads
    Brian Mansfield, Special for USA Today


    Tune into any country radio station, and you won't have to listen long to hear some guy waxing romantic about a dirt road, back road or country road. Most will involve beer and/or pretty girls in denim shorts.

    In today's country songs, dirt roads signify escape, that place just a couple of turns removed from the pressures and responsibilities of civilization. It's part of the music's cultural identity, something that separates "country" living from "urban" living. It's also a good place for a party, and, by implication, a place to drink and drive without getting stopped by the cops.

    Alan Jackson looks at dirt roads another way. "I'm certain a lot of people have some nice memories and great stories about growing up like that, but mine was a little different," says the singer, who'll turn 55 next month.

    More at: Alan Jackson takes a different path on dirt roads
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    Ultimate Carrie Fan Farawayhills's Avatar
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    It's a timely reminder. Dirt roads, back roads, country roads are a fundamental part of the imagery of the genre. But the examples that the article highlights (which are pretty typical of the current fashion for male chart singers) seem not just over-used (to the point of becoming a stereotype) - they are also weakened by two characteristics that tend to lose much of their impact as songs. One is that the imagery too often seems to be brought in as a stock symbol to "earmark" the song as Country (as if someone's said 'OK you want Country - here comes the bit about the dirt road - get it?'). The other is that they are very often linked to the "good time", party image, which risks trivializing much of the ethos of Country Music - which has traditionally put more emphasis on story-songs, wry punch lines, and songs which explore the raw side of human emotion. It's that that is in danger of building up a divide between the often "easy living" songs of many of the male chart toppers, and the often edgier, more message-focused songs of the fewer female chart singers.

    Alan Jackson is right to point out that the back roads imagery is an important part of the tradition - but that it's also a two-edged tradition, involving both warm nostalgia for "down home", and also alienation - the sense of seeing the open road as a way of moving on from limited horizons.

    I think it's probably a minority view among the fans here, but I'm particularly keen on Carrie's "Thank God for Hometowns" (one of the songs on her current album that has steadily grown on me since its release). I see this as a good example of the "nostalgia" type - with a memorable chorus, and a rather clever development from the girl's uncertainty about going back, and almost resistance to her mother's prodding of her memory, to her sense of relief as she nears the county lines drawing her back, when the images of her growing up flood in.

    But as Jackson implies, not all home town memories are good ones. Songs that explore the less cozy side of small town life have long been a feature of the alternative scene, and are making a welcome return to the Mainstream - increasingly, though, it seems due to the efforts of female singers and groups.
    Here, though, is part of a "leaving home" lyric from Chris Knight, whom I regard as one of the best singer/songwriters in Country Music today:
    "I grew up near what they call the Flats
    aint too many people knows where it's at
    can't hear the highway can't see a way out
    I guarantee it ain't nothin' worth cryin' about
    Inspired and abbeyjones18 like this.

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    Insane Carrie Fan gaycarebear's Avatar
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    ^And of course, Kacey's "Merry Go Round" is a rather darker look at small-town life and being trapped.

    Side note: I'm still pretty surprised that song became a Top 10 hit, considering everything else going on in the genre right now. But it's a relief that honest, real songs like that can do well on radio.
    Farawayhills and Claire2004 like this.


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