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Nashville Legend Bemoans The “American Idol”-ization Of Country

Our Country

Are you looking forward to the new season of American Idol starting this week? Well, there's one country artist out there who doesn't sound like he's particularly anticipating it.

First, it was George Jones infamously turning up his nose at newfangled country artists such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Then Wynonna Judd mentioned Swift was receiving too much success, too soon, without paying her dues. Now, another Nashville legend is taking potshots at the "new wave" of country.

"[Country has] really gone in a different direction," country and bluegrass icon Ricky Skaggs said in a current interview with the Washington City Paper.

"If [country] stays on the American Idol scene, where its videos want to look like VH1, and the sound wants to be so far away from country and be more pop and be more absorbed by the pop listener where someone buys a John Mayer CD and a hip-hop CD and a Taylor Swift CD—-there's hardly any differentiation anymore," he noted.

"It's like country music doesn't have a sound."

To be totally fair, Skaggs was giving his opinion in the context of discussing his new solo album, Songs My Dad Loved, which he cites as an example of going back to a purer country vibe.

"We've tried to make perfect records for so long that we've overdubbed the heart and soul out of something," he explained. "That's what I love about Songs My Dad Loved. There's hickeys in it." (I should also note here that Skaggs released the album on his own label, which he said he started 13 years ago in order to have "freedom to make music.")

However benign Skaggs may (or may not) have intended his commentary to be, the fact remains that we are back to the usual argument with the usual suspects--Carrie Underwood (AI's most successful country artist) and Taylor Swift vs. the real country sound.

Whatever that real sound may be. Skaggs is a bit of an odd one to be concerned with genre-bending and sound mixing, given his pioneering status in both bluegrass and country. He's collaborated with several rock and pop artists--in fact, most recently was nominated for a 2009 Country Music Award for his collaboration ("Old Enough") with Jack White's Raconteurs.

I've noted here before several times that I've been pleased with the increasing popularity and range country music has been commanding over the past few years. The fact of the matter is, as I see it, a lot of country lovers are buying John Mayer and Taylor Swift and hip-hop, all of it, at once. With so much music available at our fingertips, fans just don't have to be forced into one-trick boxes these days. 

It's apparent that the old-school country folks are by and large not agreeing with me, however. Can a bona fide Nashville legend stand up and give me some support over here?

What do you think--do you agree with Skaggs and Co., or will you be watching American Idol hoping for a new country star to pull on through? Let me know what you think.

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