What is the best kind of station to tune into on a long, lonesome drive? It depends on personal tastes, of course, but there is a definite sense of satisfaction to be found in a classic country station. Many country singers draw from a long, rich narrative tradition, so one is much more likely to encounter story-songs in this genre than any other. Thus, one can expect to listen to engaging tales a mere few minutes in length, and the fact that they are told through music simply makes them easier to latch onto. There’s nothing quite like hearing a satisfying story on the radio when a person is all alone and eager to return to loved ones.
Several singers spring to mind when considering this type of music. One of the undisputed masters is Kenny Rogers, who established himself as an accomplished balladeer decades ago. Of his many richly drawn story-songs complete with vibrant characters and a riveting plot, the most enduring has been “The Gambler,” in which a man relates his encounter with a grizzled poker player on an evening train ride. Not only is this tale of a newly forged friendship between men who share a hobby entertaining, it contains some very practical advice that can be applied to everyone, not just those with an enthusiasm for card-playing.
On the other end of the age spectrum is Taylor Swift, a promising up-and-comer who has been writing her own songs since her early teens and has a singular way of getting the heart of teen loves and anxieties. She has built a reputation as a wholesome singer-songwriter who speaks for the geekier members of her generation. Her most potent anthem is “You Belong With Me,” made far more poignant by the music video that accompanies it. Here, we see an ordinary girl pining for the friend she secretly loves and wishing he would understand what a great match they would make. For anyone who has experienced a burning crush, this certainly hits home.
These are only two examples out of the dozens of country singers whose stories fill the airwaves. Others include the deep-voiced Randy Travis, gentle Alan Jackson and effusive Dolly Parton, to name just a few. The beauty of it is that one needn’t know who the singer is to appreciate a good country song. It’s easy to just sit and listen to a string of unknown songs and soak up the colorful characters and twisty plots that emerge. It feels a bit like gathering a campfire as people swap stories. It’s great when a new one comes along to catch a person by surprise, though hearing the same song multiple times means being able to sing along. Either way, this music makes a great traveling companion.
Country music has always been the quintessentially American genre of music. While pop and rap depict aspirational lifestyles that listeners can only imagine living themselves, country music is about real people and real ways of life. It is only natural that country singers would begin to cross over into the popular realm as the voices of true Americans.
Perhaps the most famous country singer right now is Taylor Swift. Referring to her as a country singer may seem strange given her pop success, but she is a country singer at heart. She sings about the glitz-free lives of real girls in an authentic way that speaks to women of all ages. Her sincerity is mocked by cynics, but it is that genuine quality in her persona and songwriting that helps her connect to her massive audience. She is not afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve and expose her emotions on the public stage. Her fans imagine that she is telling them true stories about her own life. Taylor’s preference for acoustic instruments and skilled way with small-scale lyrical vignettes have drawn comparisons to folk musicians throughout the ages and, oddly enough, to contemporary indie rockers like the Shins and Fleet Foxes.
Carrie Underwood is another female country singer who owns a permanent spot on the pop charts. Ever since her rise to fame as an American Idol winner, she has maintained a steady fan base and an ever-growing string of hits because she stayed true to her roots. Her most successful song, “Before He Cheats,” is a classic female revenge anthem with a rock edge to balance out her sweet twang. She continues to toe the line between traditional country music and edgier fare with grace and finesse.
Country music’s latest crossover success is the Band Perry, fronted by Kimberly Perry and backed by her musician brothers Reid and Neil. “If I Die Young” is reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s early winsomeness and brings a sweet, earnest perspective of life to radio airwaves.
Male country singers like Toby Keith and Luke Bryan embody a rugged kind of masculinity that is only rarely seen in straightforward rock music. They sing about tried and true subject matter like girls and life on the road. They have both released strings of anthems affirming their modest ways of life that, in turn, evoke pride in their fans.
Country music is sometimes thought to be unimportant because it is earnest. Country musicians strive to be liked, a notion which is anathema in circles that fancy themselves ahead of the curve. Fans of country music are more loyal than fans of any other genre because of the honest reality that is captured in country music.