Culture

The Music

Culture | Top 5 Country CDs for the week ending August 18, according to Billboard magazine

Issue: "Balancing act," Sept. 8, 2001
1
Brother, Where Art Thou?
Various Artists 35 weeks on the chart
STYLE
"Old-timey" country, folk, gospel, bluegrass, and blues.

OBJECTIONABLE MATERIAL
None.

WORLDVIEW
Like wine, music rooted in the truth improves with age.

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OVERALL QUALITY
As music, these down-home performances of traditional songs function as bearers of good news; as the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film of the same name, they take on surreal and at times comical overtones; as a cottage industry they've spawned the just-released Down from the Mountain (Lost Highway Records), a companion live album featuring many of these same musicians.

2
Coyote Ugly
Various Artists 53 weeks on chart
STYLE
Lots of pop, very little country.

OBJECTIONABLE MATERIAL
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (Charlie Daniels's original, unexpurgated version), "The Right Kind of Wrong" (casual profanity).

WORLDVIEW
These haphazardly collated songs develop no worldview as such, but the film that they accompany does: that working as a sex object at a metropolitan bar qualifies as a legitimate way for an aspiring singer-songwriter with supermodel looks to pay her dues.

OVERALL QUALITY
Half LeAnn Rimes vehicle and half pop sampler, this soundtrack succeeds as neither.

3
Blake Shelton
Blake Shelton 1 week on chart
STYLE
Formulaic, if undeniably "positive," country.

OBJECTIONABLE MATERIAL
None.

WORLDVIEW
That in slighting the woman who loves him, a man plants the seeds of his own unhappiness.

OVERALL QUALITY
One welcomes the success of a talented, clean-cut young hunk who sings all the right things about all the right topics, but when the statements are clichés and the hooks like nets spread in plain sight of the birds, one can't help feeling manipulated.

4
I'm Already There
Lonestar 6 weeks on chart
STYLE
Overtly commercial, "positive" country-pop.

OBJECTIONABLE MATERIAL
None, assuming that the temptress in "Every Little Thing She Does" and "Out Go the Lights" is the singer's wife and not his paramour.

WORLDVIEW
Nothing beats the love of a good woman, kids who miss their daddy when he's gone, going the extra mile to make a marriage work, and country music turned up loud on a Friday night.

OVERALL QUALITY
Pleasant, if superficial-to 30-something country what 'N Sync and Backstreet Boys are to teeny-bop.

5
Set This Circus Down
Tim McGraw 15 weeks on chart
STYLE
Slick country-rock, country-pop.

OBJECTIONABLE MATERIAL
"Telluride" (which wistfully commemorates an extra-marital winter fling).

WORLDVIEW
Touchingly humble-whether celebrating a marriage ("Set This Circus Down"), lamenting a breakup ("Angry All the Time"), waxing corny ("Grown Men Don't Cry"), or stating an explicitly biblical worldview ("Angel Boy"), Mr. McGraw's point of view is resolutely Common Man.

OVERALL QUALITY
Unlike his bio-dad Tug, Tim McGraw is no master of the screwball; if these songs were pitches, they'd be batting-practice fastballs right down the middle, with hits the objective.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
We don't know whether the old-time music craze occasioned by O Brother, Where Art Thou? will last, but if it does, the Country Music Foundation will be ready. Among its recently released "Hall of Fame Classics" are The King of Bluegrass (18 Jimmy Martin tracks, spanning 1956 to 1970), Live Classics (21 Grand Ole Opry performances by Marty Robbins, 1951 to 1960), and Young Buck: The Complete Pre-Capitol Recordings of Buck Owens. Annotated and carefully engineered, each disc attractively presents an important chapter in the story of a country-music legend. Most fascinating of all is Truck Driver's Boogie: Big Rig Hits, Volume One, 1939-1969. A collection of novelty songs about-what else?-trucking, the album has, for all its humor, a strangely moving grim side. Johnny Horton's "I'm Coming Home," Doye O'Dell's "Diesel Smoke," Dave Dudley's "Six Days on the Road," and Dick Curless's "A Tombstone Every Mile," depict the trucker as a uniquely American tragic hero, striving valiantly against weariness, lust, amphetamines, and bad brakes in a noble but potentially doomed quest to reach his wife and kids at home.

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