“He’s always going to evolve, but he seems to be going back to his roots, and I think that’s what’s happening now.”
That was country legend and ‘Class of ’89’ member Clint Black’s assessment during a recent appearance on Tracy Lawrence.Honky Tonkin’radio show when asked about the current state of country music. It’s hard to argue with Clint Black’s conclusion, and it’s about as cool as a man of his stature in country music comes to it. It really shows how far country music has come in recent years.
While the 2010s will remain a pretty terrible time for country music with the rise of Bro-Country, the emergence of artists like Sam Hunt, the near exclusion of women and traditionalists from the format, among other ills, music country is unmistakably beginning to turn back into the mainstream. Sure, there are still bad artists and songs that make it to the top, but so do some of the best things that were once ruled out, and everything seems to be going in the right direction overall, and that is led by the Songs.
“The songwriting is moving to a place where it’s getting a bit more traditional, with really good hook lines, goofy lyrics,” Tracy Lawrence told Clint Black during the interview.
“That’s what worried me the most because the lyrics have always been the main attraction in country music,” Clint Black responds. “It’s the poetry of the common man. My father always said, “It has to be understood by a 3rd grader.” I always thought ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ But there must be layers that you can uncover and say “Ah! So you have all this depth in the song, but you don’t have to go deep or be a teacher to understand it.
What’s also interesting about Clint Black and Tracy Lawrence’s assessment is that it comes with the intrinsic conclusion that in previous years, country music was not serving the audience with deep songs, and was clearly headed in the wrong direction. But things have since changed, and a resurgence of interest in ’90s country, like the Clint Black and Tracy Lawrence stuff, is helping to push it forward.
“There’s a lot of things that I like, there’s a lot that I don’t really understand. Some of that annoys me a bit,” Tracey Lawrence talks about the country today, without naming names. “But I really think everything is starting to line up. People are starting to get really passionate. And you go back on tour, and on the road, I see a lot of young people going back to our music from the early 90s and everything. It looks like we’re having a huge resurgence right now.
“I usually take it for granted that my audience is my age, but country audiences have always been from the time you were born until you died, and we’ve always had them,” Clint Black responds. “For a while there, it left some of them disenfranchised. I know that, just how they feel, because of what I read on my Facebook page. If all that you hear on the radio about the partying crowd, you end up thinking, “Well, the starter was good, but where’s the starter?”… And he thinks we’re starting to see more meat on the bone now. And while that’s happening, and I’m hearing some of the younger artists mentioning me, which is always exciting to hear that someone who comes to sing for new generations was in my music from the same way I would say Haggard and Willie and Waylon. When they point at us, some kids are going to say, “Who? and maybe they’ll check it out.”
And that seems to be what is happening. Along with the improvement in mainstream country in the short term, fans are also increasingly turning to their country’s catalog recordings, especially 90s artists, while non-radio backed indie country artists mainstream connect with more fans who end up expecting more. substance and more twang from their mainstream counterparts, challenging major label artists and songwriters to step up their game.
Clint Black could very easily play the role of a bitter 60-year-old artist who hasn’t had a Top 10 hit in 22 years, and say that all the new stuff has lost its soul and shouldn’t be on the radio. . But Black and Tracy Lawrence’s assessment really helps underscore that things are really changing.
Admittedly, in the interview, the performers Clint Black cites first as signs of improvement are Luke Combs, Chris Janson and Morgan Wallen, who some older, more independent fans may laugh at. Black also slides into Cody Jinks at the end. But he’s even right about that when you compare those names with Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, and Dan + Shay. Also worth mentioning are Carly Pearce, Ashley McBryde and Lainey Wilson, who have all found success with deeper, more country songs recently, including number 1s on country radio.
Meanwhile, Clint Black is gearing up to play gigs with Cody Jinks this summer. The two will team up at shows at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, MS on August 11, the Oak Mountain Amphitheater in Birmingham, AL on August 12, and the Ameris Amphitheater in Atlanta, GA on August 13. He also plays KOKEFest near Austin the first weekend in August where he can see new country traditionalists like Randall King and Triston Marez who he helped inspire a lot.
We can keep complaining that all mainstream country radio is terrible and it’s a shame they don’t play artists like Clint Black anymore. But even Clint Black is seeing significant signs of improvement, and fans are finding their way back to his music anyway, including younger ones. Of course, there is still a lot to do, but we must not overlook the progress made in recent years.