It's a concept that's been around as long as there have been music genres.
Fans of genres and folks trying to sell music to other folks.
“Genre 'X' has lost its soul,” they say. “Jettisoned what made it special and real in the name of mass acceptance and filling arenas and googobs of cash.”
It's happened to jazz with fusion and smooth jazz, the pop/hair metal of the '80s, hip pop groups such as the Black Eyed Peas and it's been happening to country music with the rise of short-haired, perma-five o'clock-shadowed handsome dudes becoming the new arena rock.
Well, Akron roots, music-infused pop singer/songwriter and lifelong country music fan Ryan Humbert has had enough of moonlight/taillight rhymes and big pop songs with some pedal steel buried in the mix to get it on country radio. He's fighting back with his new side country band Shooter Sharp and the Shootouts, making their debut at the Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern in Cleveland on Saturday night. The tongue-in-cheek name suggests that Humbert, while certainly standing on his “let's keep country, country” soapbox, isn't taking himself or his band's mission too self-righteously serious. But Humbert, like many outspoken country artists, has problems with contemporary commercial country and country radio and some of those issues, such as the cookie-cutter song structures and the demand that nearly every bar of music contain a hook leading into another hook, which can easily be applied to much of pop music. Let's do some grousing, shall we?
Here's a quick Q&A with the Ryan.
Q: You're a pop/rock lovin' guy, Ryan. What is it about the Top 25 country fare that has inspired you to start a back-to-basics country band?
A: Right, I love a good pop/rock song. I like music with a hook, and generally, I try to write my songs that way as well. My problem isn't with “pop” music, per se. There are plenty of problems with today's pop music, but that's a different conversation. What I don't like is that country music has been “dumbed down” to appeal to the masses. To me, a person referring to what is played on today's country radio as “country music” is a joke, because there's nothing really “country” about it anymore. A song that sounds like Poison mixed with hip-hop back beats and the same boring theme? How can you say that's country? Because there's a fiddle buried in the background and a guy is singing about beers with his girlfriend down by the lake on a Friday night? No, thank you. Some new country music fans might not even know what a real country song sounds like.
Q: Have you heard that six-song mashup DJ Mashalot did last year [featuring Sure Be Cool if You Did by Blake Shelton, Drunk on You by Luke Bryan, Chillin' It by Cole Swindell, Close Your Eyes by Parmalee, This Is How We Roll by Florida Georgia Line and Ready, Set, Roll by Chase Rice] highlighting how shamefully similar the songs all were? Was that an awesomely clear and sad statement about contemporary country music to you?
A: Absolutely. How embarrassing for those involved. Again, I know my place. I know I'm not some big award-winning performer. But the “bro-country” movement is just a bunch of faceless, forgettable guys dressed like Bret Michaels who are all saying the exact same thing. How can that TRULY be who they all are? None of them wants to be unique in any way? I just don't buy it. There are too many people on that bandwagon for me to be able to fit on there too.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the people making the best music in Nashville right now are the ladies. Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe — they've all made outstanding records consistently over the last few years that have embraced classic country sounds. There are also guys like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell who are topping the sales charts, but country radio won't touch them. Why? Because it isn't a safe bet. These guys are singing raw, real songs and putting actual emotion and feeling into it. It isn't cookie-cutter. That type of thing scares the [expletive] out of country radio. They wouldn't know what to do with it. It's a very narrow-minded thought process, sadly. Risks aren't taken on country radio.
Q: Who's in the band and how did you get 'em together?
A: I'll be joined by my RHB bandmates Dan Nauss on bass and backing vocals and Brian Poston on lead guitar. Brian is a beast when it comes to country guitar playing. On the drums we recruited Dylan Gomez from Scarlet & the Harlots and the Joe Vitale Junior Band. Dylan is tasteful and super steady. Him and Dan make a great, tight rhythm section. We're all truly excited to be doing this project together and we've had a ton of fun working on this material.
Q: Do you have a tiger by the tail?
A: Ha! You know, if he were still around, I'd follow Buck Owens to the end of the earth. That man knew how to write a country song.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml and/or follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.