Components of Country: The Banjo

Banjo Boots

Nothing screams country music more than the sound of plucking a banjo. As one of the most distinctive instruments in the entire music industry, the banjo adds a distinctive country touch to any composition.

The instrument itself has origins in Colonial America, and is believed to have been created to mirror African instruments of a similar style. It can be made with anywhere from four to six strings, with a circular frame wrapped in animal skin or plastic to create its signature sound. The banjo is most commonly present in country, folk, and bluegrass music, but has been known to crossover into other genres as well.

In the country genre in particular, banjos make appearances in many different types songs and compositions. For example, country band Rascal Flatts utilize it heavily in their hit single titled after the instrument itself (“Banjo” from the album Changed). On a flip side, Taylor Swift also uses it to enhance the country elements in her pop songs like “Mean” and “Red”. All in all, the banjo serves as a classic piece of country music, and has contributed to the development of the style and genre into what it is today.

Country Artists on NBC’s The Voice

The Voice

Currently in its fourth season, NBC’s hit singing competition The Voice began broadcasting its live playoff rounds last night. Each team, lead by vocal coaches and music superstars Adam Levine (of Maroon 5), Blake Shelton, Usher, and Shakira, competes through a series of live performances each week from now until the end of the competition. Since the start of this season, country artists have exhibited a huge presence on the show. Where Shakira and Usher’s teams are lacking in the genre, artists on Blake and Adam’s teams have certainly brought their country influences to the forefront of the competition.

Team Blake, from left to right: Justin Rivers, Holly Tucker, Danielle Bradbery, & The Swon Brothers

Team Blake, from left to right: Justin Rivers, Holly Tucker, Danielle Bradbery, & The Swon Brothers

Blake started the season with a team nearly entirely full of solely country artists. Throughout the course of the battles and knockout rounds, however, he has eliminated many of these contestants. Yet, his team of four going into the live shows (which airs tonight at 8 on the east coast) still remains to be an entirely country combination. To start, take 16-year-old Danielle Bradbery, a small country music hopeful with a big voice, emulating country-pop artists like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Next is former college student and marching band member Holly Tucker, a young singer who channels industry greats like Faith Hill to showcase a talent well beyond her years. As the only duo left in the competition, The Swon Brothers stack up as a country-rock pair with roots in Southern gospel. Finally, as arguably one of the biggest underdogs in the entire competion, Kentucky native Justin Rivers continues to impress the coaches and audience with his powerhouse vocals and extensive range.

Team Adam's Amber Carrington

Team Adam’s Amber Carrington

Aside from those making up Team Blake, Adam also continues to push on with a strong country artist of his own: Amber Carrington. Grabbing Adam’s attention at the Blind Auditions with her rendition of Carrie Underwood’s hit “Good Girl”, Amber hoped to snag a spot on Team Blake, which was unfortunately full by the time she stepped out onstage. However, with Adam’s guidance, Amber appears to be transcending from more than simply a country artist, as she takes on more mainstream ballads from artists such as Avril Lavigne and Rihanna.

The Voice airs Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC, with a special three-night event continuing tonight and tomorrow to kick off the live playoffs. For more information on the program, and a full list of the coaches and contestants, visit thevoice.com.

OP-ED: Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist”

ImageOn April 9, country singer and songwriter Brad Paisley officially released his ninth studio album, Wheelhouse. Amongst the 17 total tracks included on the album, one in particular stood out in the mix: a song entitled “Accidental Racist”. Naturally, before even listening to the song, an array of thoughts might run through one’s mind upon reading a title like this – and chances are, the first thought would probably not be a positive one.

Let’s start by first listening to the full song and its lyrics here.

As to be expected, Paisley’s song attracted a fairly large amount of attention and caused for a great deal of controversy in regard to his career. While the song itself is actually meant to address the racial tensions still present in American society today, it has been widely misinterpreted as a somewhat racist statement on Paisley’s part. In addition to this, the involvement of rapper LL Cool J during the bridge and conclusion of the song has caused for an even greater deal of controversy.

In my own opinion, while I believe I understand Paisley’s true purpose in writing and recording this song, I feel the importance and seriousness of content was not well enough portrayed through the lyrics of both artists involved. In perusing various reports on the issue, I find that Jason Lipshutz of Billboard.com closely parallels my own views on the matter:

“…the new song’s subject matter awkwardly attempts to address unspoken discrimination by offering a quick fix to centuries-long tension. “Accidental Racist” carries good intentions, but Paisley’s latest track fails to become more than a flat-footed apology for hate-induced uneasiness.”

In the full article, Lipshutz continues further by outlining the specific lyrics of the song that serve as the most likely reasons for the controversy. In addition to this, I would like to reiterate that I feel Paisley’s motives behind producing this song were honest and ultimately good. However, I feel like Paisley’s word choice in conjunction with that of LL Cool J did not convey the subject of the song in the most transparent sense possible.

Lipshutz’s full article on Billboard.com may be found here.

Sub-genres of Country

Like any other style of music, country is not simply black and white. Just as rock and R&B have a number of influences present underneath their single genre heading, country music also welcomes a variety of styles and influences, as evidenced by some of today’s top artists.

One of the most popular factions of the genre would probably be in country-pop. Typically more upbeat and containing more mainstream influences, the country-pop sub-genre usually attracts a wider audience from outside of country music, and can initially expose many to the genre as a whole. Modern artists who may be included in this category are those like Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, and Hunter Hayes.

The country-rock style serves as another sub-genre of country music. The composition of this music will having a stronger rock influence in use of electric guitars and powerful drum beats. A bit rougher in texture than country-pop, artists influenced by this area would include those such as Jason Aldean and Kenny Chesney.

While many other sub-genres and influences are present throughout all of country music, rock and pop serve as two major styles that are most popular when added to the mix. In recognizing this variety of styles in the genre, country music may appeal to a wider audience with a broader range of musical tastes.

Components of Country: Storytelling

If you’ve ever watched NBC’s hit singing competition The Voice, you’ll know that coach and country superstar Blake Shelton will regularly acknowledge one very important aspect of country music: storytelling.

One of the most discussed facets of the genre as a whole, storytelling is a way of describing the compelling lyrics behind most country songs. Each song has its own story, sometimes told in a very literal sense, and other times in a more figurative one.

Take for example Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert’s own hit single, “Over You”. The lyrics of the chorus are as follows: “But you went away/How dare you/I miss you/They say I’ll be okay/But I’m not going to ever get over you.” On the surface, these words could easily disguise the ballad as a love song. But truthfully, the pair wrote the song to express Shelton’s emotion about the loss of his brother as a teenager. As seen in this case, what would seemingly be just another love song played on the radio is actually a testimonial about moving on after the loss of a loved one.

Storytelling is an essential concept to the composition of country music. Regardless of where we come from or have been, we all have our stories. More likely than not, country music may be able to speak to our lives in some form, or could possibly provide us with a new understanding of another path we have yet to travel down.

Giving Country Music a Chance

New Yorkers are known for knowing what they like, and would be hard-pressed to even think about changing this. However, at the same time, we’re also known for being open to new ideas, and learning more about new ways of life. After all, that’s what makes New York City the giant melting pot that it is.

So, why is it that any of us would be turned off to the idea of anything country, particularly the music? Most have a negative connotation associated with the genre, assuming it’s nothing more than a bunch of hillbillies slapping washboards and blowing on milk jugs. Modern country music is anything but this. It’s art, just like the rest of the music played on mainstream radio today.

I’ve actually had recent experiences with two friends, who were both originally turned off the the whole idea of the style. One even admitted that she never had any reason for disliking the music, but just never took the time to listen to it. Now, both of them are beginning to discover a brand new taste in country music. Realizing the diversity in the genre alone, they’ve begun to discover new artists and styles to expand their playlists and music libraries.

If you haven’t yet, try giving country music a chance. You may be pleasantly surprised with what you discover, and could have your eyes opened to something completely new and refreshing. But, I’ll leave you now with just one last piece of advice: start off with an artist other than Taylor Swift.

ACM Awards 2013: Winners and Highlights

Image

On Sunday, April 7, the Academy of Country Music hosted its 48th annual awards ceremony for the most outstanding artists in country music today. The event took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV, and the night was decorated with many of the industry’s top stars filling in the seats of the venue. Hosts Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan, both nominees for the highly-coveted Entertainer of the Year Award, certainly lived up to this title as they kept the audience engaged with their lively and humorous dialogue throughout the show.

The evening also included a large number of live performances from artists such as Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, and Little Big Town. Up-and-coming country star Hunter Hayes also performed his new single “I Want Crazy” for the first time live, with music legend Stevie Wonder joining him on stage to close the show.

The 2013 winners of major categories are as follows:

Entertainer of the Year: Luke Bryan

Male Vocalist of the Year: Jason Aldean

Female Vocalist of the Year: Miranda Lambert

Vocal Duo of the Year: Thompson Square

Vocal Group of the Year: Little Big Time

For more information on the Academy of Country Music and a complete list of this year’s winners, visit acmcountry.com.