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With quo vadis y'all, or what's country

Country Musings by Robert Loy, December 2002

I've made some friends during the seven years I've been writing this column. (I've pissed off a few people along the way too. Here's a word of advice to budding columnists: don't say anything uncomplimentary about Keith Urban. He has a lot of vicious female fans.) But the best friend I've made is Jeff Remz, esteemed editor of the publication you're pawing through.

I've had my differences with other editors, but Jeff and I get along remarkably well. He got a little testy with me when I said the July 2000 cover shot of Kathy Mattea was the only ugly picture I've ever seen of her.

I used to get upset when he changed my words around without consulting me, until I realized he's an editor, and he just can't help editing.

The only thing Jeff and I sometimes disagree about these days is something I bet you and your friends can't concur on either. Who is and who isn't.

What is and what ain't. Country, that is. He rejected one column because it was about Lynyrd Skynyrd, and to ye editor the Skynyrd boys aren't country. I recently offered to review Kim Richey's new album and was told Ms Richey's latest is not country enough for Country Standard Time.

If you have the May 1997 CST handy, you'll see that in that issue cover girl Kim Richey is interviewed by none other than Jeff Remz. That doesn't mean he was right about her being country then or wrong about her not being country now. It doesn't even mean that Kim Richey's music has changed. What has changed - and is continuing to change is our definition of country music.

Lee Roy Parnell was on the cover of the first issue of CST with a Country Musings. Lee Roy is still making music, but you won't hear it on the country stations. The first interview I ever did for CST was Shelby Lynne, and she is now no longer considered country even though her eclectic musical style hasn't changed that much. Meanwhile artists who sound pop but wear cowboy hats continue to dominate the country charts, and now some newcomers - like Teresa Farris with fuchsia highlights in her hair - sound country, but look punk.

The problem as I see it is that the dust is still settling on the post-Garth country world, and it's impossible at this point to pin a definition on something that is evolving too fast to hold still long enough. So I say, just to be on the safe side, let's use a broad definition of country. If there's a even a chance it might be country, let's give it the benefit of the doubt.

And no, Jeff, this isn't an attempt to get a free Kim Richey CD. (Well, not just an attempt to get a free Kim Richey CD.) I'm really interested in where country music is going and if we'll recognize it when it gets there.