Last night the Country Music Association in Nashville released what they describe as an ‘Historic’ song and video. “Forever Country” features 30 artists of Then and Now celebrating the Country music genre. When was the last time the CMA gave a damn about Country music? These days the CMA appears to be in the business of staying in business. Whatever trend is popular; whatever flag is waving, the CMA is onboard, regardless of how silly it makes them look.
Few will say it, but this new campaign reeks of pandering and self-congratulation (two things the CMA is very good at). What better way to celebrate 50 years than to call upon artists you’ve totally ignored for years (hello Vince Gill and Alan Jackson, to name but two) and pair them with new acts who have little regard for the traditional sounds the genre was built on. (To be fair, artists like Eric Church, Dierks Bentley and Kacey Musgraves, know their roots inside and out, and get a pass.)
Hearing Willie Nelson, Gill and Jackson alongside Keith Urban, Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood doesn’t sit well. Urban, Aldean and Underwood are talented in their own right (and I like all three artists), but they are far from Country. Urban and Underwood are Pop artists; Aldean is about as Country as Willie Nelson is Heavy Metal. A token fiddle, banjo or steel guitar doesn’t make a song (or artist) Country, regardless of what anyone in the industry says.
Rather than have the assembled artists perform a single Country classic (or maybe a new song written for the occasion), the CMA has them performing a blended version of Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again,” John Denver’s “Country Roads” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” This is not a medley, mind you, but three songs woven together, with the artists singing them at the same time. The result is a tangled and overproduced mess that is cloying and embarrassing.
What do you expect from an organization that pairs with ABC every year for a show called Country’s Night To Rock. The televised event features jacked up Rock performances from some of Country’s biggest artists, and is culled from the nightly concerts that take place in Nashville during the CMA’s yearly Music Festival. The CMA, and the artists who agree to take part in this event, come across as desperate for validation from the Pop and Rock worlds. Now they’re flopping back the other way (at least for a few weeks).
Like Country’s Night To Rock, “Forever Country” fails on so many levels. The press, at least those writers afraid of losing their credentials with the CMA, will be praising the song, but after the upcoming 50th Annual CMA Awards, the track will disappear as fast as the CMA’s interest in any artist that sounds remotely traditional.
The CMA, Forever Country? Forever pandering is more like it.