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Whatever happened to real country music?

Country Standard Time Editorial, October 1997

You may hear a slight amount of twang in the music, but that doesn't mean it's the real deal.

Usually, today's country bears little resemblance to what Hank or Merle would classify as country.

Instead, it is highly watered down, pop-oriented version of country.

Just turn on your friendly radio station - at least most of them - and you are likely to hear mediocre songs often sung by mediocre talents finding space on playlists.

Take Bryan White, for example. He may be a likable enough chap, but a listen to his new disc, "The Right Place" places the heartthrob squarely in the light pop field. And White in concert is definitely in the same category.

White is certainly not the only one guilty. Most of the so-called hat acts could be thrown into the pot as well.

Notice the heavy use - overuse - of drums in many recordings to give the music more of a rock sound. Most of the time, the beefed-up sound just isn't needed at all and is really more of an attempt to tone down country.

And the powers that be wonder why the country market has dwindled? Of course, many were aboard the fad factor when line dancing was all the rage. But those days are drying up as the decrease in the number of country music clubs can attest.

Now, if you want to see something exciting, tune into the older cats still putting out quality , like a Waylon Jennings, or such new young turks who are proud to call themselves country: Robbie Fulks and Dale Watson. The former is a most unlikely part of the new breed of country. You're not going to find cowboy boots on the rangy Fulks. The Chicagoan, decked out in sneakers, belts his country with great vigor and twang. Watson is part of the old school of Texas honky tonkers and graduated from Merle Haggard U.

They along with many others breathe life into country music as we knew it. Hopefully, they will lead a resurgence of this indigenous brand of American music. But don't expect to hear them on country radio any time soon. Their consultants - those guys who tell them what to play - would never give to the thumbs up to real country. Of course, these were the same guys who didn't put "Blue" on playlists, one of the countriest of songs in a great long awhile.

Well, here's to real country music. Only problem is you may have to search hard to find it.