Essentially, there are two “phases” of what the media calls ‘country music’ nowadays. The first revolves the traditional interpretation of the musical genre, icons like Parton and Haggard, Jones and Twitty sitting upright and next to legends like Wynette and Lynn, Wagner and Williams. Then there is the entire A.U.C. era of so-called country (“After ‘Urban Cowboy“), a reclamation of root rock refitted with belt buckles, boots, and solemn Stetson hats. Tied around the Outlaw movement, the steady influence of pop, and something called Garth Brooks, most modern lovers of Rascal Flats and The Band Perry wouldn’t know honky tonk or hillbilly if it came up and bit them in the zither. Somewhere, Mother Maybelle Carter and most of her kin are spinning in their burial plots, worried that their foundations have been forgotten in favor of artists who rework familiar material to fit a more mainstream mentality.
Enter Ken Burns, the documenter of our American experience. After taking on subjects as weighty as The Civil War and as contentious as The Central Park Five, he is now rumored to be working on another media oriented overview, this time taking on the entirety of country and/or western music. Having previously focused on jazz, PBS has just announced that Burns will prepare a multi-part effort on the subject for a 2018 release on the network. No other information was available, and when you consider that the filmmaker has several other cinematic irons in the fire (films on Jackie Robinson and Vietnam, just to name two), such a distant deadline makes sense. In fact, there is so much material here, including how the genre influenced rock and roll, the reciprocal sway of Hollywood and Elvis, the various styles within the subject and the numerous names to discuss that Burns and his crew will have their work cut out for them.
That being said, it will be interesting to see how this overview deals with the current trends in country. There’s no denying the artistic talent and commercial success seen by these performers (many making more of an impact than the singers and songwriters who came before them). It’s just hard to imagine a critical look at country music putting Carrie Underwood in the same sentence as Lynn Anderson, or Johnny Cash jockeying for position alongside Kenny Chesney or Taylor Swift. Here’s hoping Burns provides the one thing this subject (and others like it) so desperately need – perspective. Too bad we have to wait four years for it.
Source: The Wrap