hen names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about.
Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today.
Somehow it seemed ironic this week in seeing newcomer Josh Thompson, whose debut CD drops on Tuesday, and Eric Church, who has released two albums. On his debut, Thompson recorded Blame It On Waylon, which had scant little to do with the country outlaw. And Church invoked the names of his forebears as well on Lotta Boot Left to Fill, a song he co-wrote with lines like "get-ups, gimmicks/One hit wonders that don't stick/ Pretty boys acting tough" and a chorus of "I don't think Waylon it that way/and if he was here, he'd say hoss, neither did Hank/ I ain't dogging what you're doing/but boys come on let's get real/you still got a lotta boot left to fill." Church also has a fine song from his first disc, Pledge Allegiance to the Hag, which features Haggard on the cut.
Those are some tough words from Church, but the fact of the matter is he isn't exactly walking in the footsteps of the people he quotes either. His music is more on the rock side in his anthemic songs, not all that twangy although there is at least a touch of country in what he does. Ditto for Thompson.
Instead, Thompson and Church are reminders of what a lot of country singers do nowadays – they cite the country greats in song, concert and interview in an effort to cling onto the country tradition, but their music has extremely little in common with Williams et al. It's as if by saying their names enough, it gives the newbies cred with all country fans.
But that doesn't make it so. Country has changed a lot – for better perhaps and for worse – but please, don't start making like you're playing traditional country music when you aren't. It came to the fore once again seeing Thompson and Church together in concert, but they are far from the only ones guilty of the crime (and less guilty than some other pretenders out there). They're just the most recent singers to do so.
The country singers of today must not only talk the talk, but walk the talk.