niallon – Helplessly Hoping

In another life I was a massive country music fan. To be honest I’m not entirely sure that I ever stopped…or if I was ever fully aware in the first place. Though Crosby, Stills & Nash might not be the most out and out country music going, covering this song has led me on a serious trip down country music memory lane and found me evaluating my relationship with the genre.

There’s been many country artists I’ve been exposed to over the years, but being Irish and growing up in the nineties there was of course one utter standout. For a time Garth Brooks was king of the music world and in Ireland especially his music was just unavoidable. My entire family was obsessed and this was both the beginning of my fondness for country music but also the roots of my somewhat derogatory attitude to it.

Similar to Joe Dolan who I wrote about a few weeks ago, Garth Brooks carried that near parody label with him. It wasn’t real country music. I get it, he was far more mainstream and borderline manufactured. By the same token though, artists like him let country music reach places it otherwise might not have. Like our house. I’ve picked up other artists of a similar genre along the way. Groups like Old Crow Medicine Show and artists like John Prine find themselves part of my regular rotation, but it’s nearly like I can’t admit to being a country fan and that stigma I mentioned has a lot to do with it.

Country music though, even the mainstream variety produced by Brooks and others, really is my favourite from one particular perspective – lyrics. We all know the saying that if you play a country song backwards you get the house back, the wife back etc. Yes, in a lot of country songs you’ll find very similar themes, but for me that’s where the lyrical brilliance comes from. A lot of the time it’s thousands of artists all trying to find new ways to speak about the same thing. This leads to some truly outstanding wordplay. I think of “Seven Year Ache” by Roseanne Cash:

‘Tell me you’re trying to cure a seven-year ache
See what else your old heart can take
The boys say, “when is he gonna give us some room”
The girls say, “God I hope he comes back soon”

I mean, Jesus. Could just be a song about your typical bad boy but instead it delves that bit deeper, into those real elements of the disruption this person causes. And that’s just the chorus! The verses contain the real detail. Or “Independence Day” by Martina McBride:

‘Well she seemed all right by dawn’s early light
Though she looked a little worried and weak.
She tried to pretend he wasn’t drinkin’ again
But daddy’d left the proof on her cheek.

There is no other word for it, that’s pure poetry. Country music can traces it’s origins to blues and American folk, with smatterings of various other national genres such as Celtic thrown in for good measure. Is it any wonder it reached the peaks it has? If it isn’t obvious, I’ve actually convinced myself in the writing of this article that I’m a die hard country music fan. Halfway through writing I’ve actually started listening to my Country playlist, which I’d even forgot I had.

If you’ve never given it the time, maybe because of the aforementioned stigma, I hope you’ll reconsider. If it helps, here’s said playlist https://open.spotify.com/user/nially88/playlist/2oQQGqo5USLYSiGdvNTWzI?si=4JSV-zsIS2qH24DFqiRRvA

You might be surprised.

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niallhetherington

Bachelors Degree in Arts from NUI Maynooth. Double Honours English & Philosophy.