Even as far south as Kentucky, it’s hard to find a hip place for country music.
Although country music may abound on Kentucky radio, it has long carried the stigma (especially in indie rock) of being hopelessly out of touch. But the fact is that country-inspired music has found its way to indie rock in some surprising ways, challenging the widespread belief that country music is the haven for nostalgia-based patriotism and fiddles.
Probably the most openly country-inspired band in indie rock today is the Drive-by Truckers. Swaggering into the scene with a double-disc concept album dedicated to Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Truckers have developed a career of applying shamelessly drawling vocals and southern slang alongside surprisingly dark narratives generally revolving around the idea that life in the south is hard. For example, “Sink Hole” is about a man fighting with a banker over the sell of his land. Their latest album, this year’s Go-Go Boots, focuses on small town crime and conspiracy.
Some find a band like the Truckers difficult to listen to because of their country influence, but country music has been an implicit influence on rock music for years. The Rolling Stones were unafraid to embrace country sounds, an idea that was picked up in the 80’s by bands like R.E.M. Country has even showed up among indie royalty such as the Pixies (“Here Comes Your Man”) and Yo La Tengo (“One PM Again”).
This August, two unabashedly country acts will be playing in Cincinnati, OH at the PNC Pavilion. Neko Case will play the opener, a classy crooner backed by bearded steel guitar players and whispering drum brushes. The headliners, Kentucky’s own My Morning Jacket, will play their spacey campfire rock, coming from a long tradition of acoustic guitars, smoky vocals and psychedelic storytelling.
Kentuckians and non-Kentuckians alike should attend August’s My Morning Jacket show, if for no other reason than to see the way that country music has evolved into an unexpectedly hip presence in modern indie rock.