Hip To Be Country (October 2014)

This month, I’m not just going to encourage you to be country proud – I’m going to present a case to help you win over all those country-haters out there. Using YouTube as a weapon, help me to show the doubters that country music has a rich and varied history as an intelligent, articulate, evolved and at times musically astonishing genre!

To do this we’ll start with Willie Nelson. Look up (and share) his recent performance of new song ‘Band of Brothers’ on the Dave Letterman show. And when you’re watching, remember that the man is 81 years old. Willie is a country icon – up there with Johnny, Dolly and Hank in terms of country credentials. But watching and listening to Willie is a lesson not just in country – but also in jazz, blues, poetry, philosophy and even activism (Nelson has stuck his neck out for causes ranging from farmers assistance to the legalization of marijuana). Keep browsing Willie for a while and you’ll stumble across classic songs like Crazy and It’s Funny How Time Slips Away. You’ll also stumble across Ray’s great friend Ray Charles – exhibit B, if you will.

Charles wasn’t known as a country singer – but his 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was a game-changer – blending African American music and what Charles called ‘hillbilly music’, right when the civil rights movement was hitting full swing. Charles’ undeniable virtuosity coupled with his reverence for the genre elevated country to a new level of pubic respectability – for many, it was a case of “if it’s good enough for Ray, it’s good enough for me!”. Charles continued to experiment with country music right up until his death in the early 2000s – my YouTube tips are his versions of Seven Spanish Angels (a duet with nelson) and the hauntingly beautiful A Song For You.

From Ray’s modern sounds, we jump forward fifty-two years to Sturgill Simpson’s brand new record Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Sturgill is Exhibit 3 in my case for country  – a modern-day, self-funded outlaw existing outside of the mainstream and away from the major labels. His songs follow the classic country forms, but take a psychedelic twist in both production and lyrical approach. Turn your friends on to Sturgill and they will see that country is far from redneck and backwards – even when it’s performed with a pedal steel guitar and sung in a deep southern drawl.

Hopefully, once you’ve posted videos from Willie, Ray and Sturgill, you’ll have won over at least a handful of the country-cynics amongst your Facebook friends. But remember, those musical snobs can be a stubborn bunch – so a long, concentrated campaign may be required. It’s worth the effort though!

Lastly and locally – a quick plug for a new music night. MOTH launched a month or two ago and looks set to become a staple of Mornington Peninsula fans’ musical diet. Visit www.musiconthehill.com.au for details of upcoming shows, including a rumoured alt-country evening.


Lachlan Bryan is primarily a singer/songwriter. His third album Black Coffee is out now. He also moonlights as a gifted observer and music journalist, writing monthly for PEARL Magazine on all things folk/country/bluegrass. If you’ve got a new release, upcoming show or you’d like to get in touch with Lachlan, drop him a line at countryfolk@pearlmag.com.au