Country music in the olden days had more Country Music Just A Girl in love with her King shirt artistic merit, in my opinion. Even though many of those earlier country songs shared a similar lyrical aesthetic (the stereotypical “my woman was untrue and I’m drowning my sorrows” theme), there was a sense of honesty. They told stories of human trials and tribulations, and musically came from a place of more technical facility than today. There were cats like Flatt and Scruggs shredding bluegrass banjo, Chet Atkins laying out pioneering fingerpicking work on the guitar, and guys like Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and Merle Haggard owning the stage with their presence and lyricism- hugely influential on early rock and roll.
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Classic country music- like most Country Music Just A Girl in love with her King shirt 20th-century American music- comes from the blues, and a certain modicum of experience and honesty is needed to sing either with particular emotional affect. When you listen to Johnny Cash do his thing, you feel like he lived every word- because often he did. You listen to the words of “I Walk the Line” and the sheer no-frills honesty of it, and you can relate in some measurable way. We all walk the line for somebody or something that we know means the world to us, that is truer to us than anything else. That’s just good songwriting, regardless of the genre. There’s a great quote in the 2004 film Ray when Ray Charles (played by Jaimie Foxx) decides to record a country record. I’m not sure if Ray ever said this in real life, but in the film, he says “You know why people love country music? The stories. Real good stories!” And you gotta be telling it from a true place in order to give it meaning. By the way, Ray’s albums Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (Volumes 1 & 2) are both killer records- country with a jazz big band!