I'm writing this one for my wife and kids, because they seem to think that Dad has recently lost his mind. I want to assure them that their Dad's mind was gone long before this (LOL!), but also try to explain to them (and others) a little bit about how my brain and music mesh with one another.
Having once upon a time been a professional musician (you can go to http://www.myspace.com/sfhighwire if you're brave enough :) ), I can safely say that my casual enjoyment of music has been virtually destroyed. I cannot listen to standard popular music without dissecting it and processing it through my brain as though it were independant tracks. I literally will listen to a song and isolate the drum track, analyze it, isolate the guitar parts, mentally figure out the chords, isolate the bass guitar, figure out its counterpoint to the other instruments (if there is any) and then analyse the vocals for pitch and emotional depth, and that's not even getting into what I do for the lyrics. I don't know when this strange tick of mine developed (I'm guessing when I first started practicing and forming bands in earnest around 1986), but it's left me almost incapable of just sitting down and enjoying music as it is... with perhaps three exceptions. I can listen to Classical music without going through this process. I can listen to Native American music... and I can listen to Country.
There's more to it, though, and I realized something about my fascination with Country music lately and the impact it has on me:
1. There is no better music in the world when one wants to settle in and do some hard, back-breaking work, or even if there's a long job ahead that needs to be done. Country music is perhaps the greatest productivity tool in my arsenal.
2. It's actually cool to be patriotic in Country music.
3. Some of the most clever lyrics ever written are ensconsed in Country, and there is no better storytelling tradition in music to be found today than in Country (Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam are two of my favorites, and Brad Paisley is rapidly rising in my esteemed as one of the cleverest newer wordsmiths).
4. There is genuine emotion to the songs, and some of them are the closest I've come to crying listening to music in decades. At the same time, some songs provide the best laugh I've had regaring songs and lyrics in years.
5. It seems that Country is the last place where singing about a love of God is mainstream. In just about every other genre, if you sing about God, you either have to declare yourself a Christian performer, or you have to somehow do it in a mocking, ironic tone.
6. Country does not take itself too seriously. This is something I think the current trend of rock/metal/emo/etc. needs to remember. Music can be many things, but please, leave some room for it to genuinely be fun at times!
So who am I listening to currently? Little Big Town is one of my favorites; imagine Fleetwood Mac with a Southern twang and you'll have a good feel for these four. Great harmonies and four great and distinct voices. Montgomery Gentry is also frequently played by me; these guys do the traditional country thing with a blend of the Byrds and Skynyrd as well. Brad Paisley's "5th Gear" is a great album both of catchy sonds and really good guitar playing; Paisley has a very legitimate claim to being this generations Albert Lee. Yes, he's that good. Gretchen Wilson cracks me up every time I hear her, yet at the same time, you can tell she has a voice that will rip the roof off the place (and she does a bang up job channelling Ann Wilson; go to YouTube and check out her rendition of Heart's "Barracuda" (woo!!!). Plus, you really can't go wrong with George Straight, Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam or Charlie Daniels, especially his old stuff, and I've always had a thing for Steve Earle, ever since I first hear Copperhead Road oh so many years ago.
Now, if y'all will excuse me, I have some Sugarland queued up to listen to :).