I’ve now finished watching to Ken Burns’s fabulous eight-part television series (sixteen hours), “Country Music”. Don’t miss it!
There are a lot of wonderful songs, and one thing I realized about country music, which hadn’t hit me before, is that the tenor of country songs is far more personal than in, say, rock or pop music. That is, while the latter genres may tell stories about human lives, country music, in contrast, concentrates heavily on the singer’s lives. That’s something not nearly as common in rock or pop, though those songs may be built around a personal experience (e.g., “Hey Jude” or “Julia” from The Beatles). And it concentrates on the common things that working class folk (nay, everyone) experience: alcohol, lost love bad marriages, and so on. You can empathize more with those things than with Paul McCartney’s song written to console John Lennon’s son Julian.
But I digress. One of my favorite country singers is Randy Travis, who, though he’s had hard times and has lost a lot of his voice, was to country music as Johnny Mathis was to pop ballads: possessor of a voice of pure beauty, but with Travis having a nasal twang that is pure country and not at all affected. In Burns’s series, though, Travis figures largely as a modern afterthought.
“Deeper Than the Holler” written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, became Travis’s eighth number one hit on the country charts. It’s hard to believe that it was released 31 years ago!
The conceit is that the singer isn’t a fancy-pants crooner of romantic love ballads; he knows only of things country, like robins, pines, and hollers. But it’s not reverse snobbery at all—it’s lovely.
“Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart,” by Hugh Prestwood, was a number one country hit for Travis in 1990. Wikipedia notes that it “features a rare and very distinct rhythm harmonica beat in the final 40 seconds of the song”. Well, I’m not sure what that beat is, but perhaps you can detect it in the recorded version. Do weigh in about this, as I’m puzzled.