“That ain’t country.”
It’s a phrase you often hear when arguing with your buddies at a bar or around the living room when blaring someone’s favorite country song. Sure, some songs have more “country sounding” elements to it, whatever that may be. Sure, some songs considered to be in that genre may not fit. The question is, why should that matter?
The Nashville scene gets enough flak from fans who turn their nose up at the latest current top 40 single, so let’s leave that argument for another time. Let’s turn our attention to the Texas and Red Dirt/Oklahoma scene.
Koe Wetzel, an absolute superstar out of Texas, is the first example of one of the acts rapidly evolving at the moment. If you take his first album, 2015’s Out on Parole, that is a straight up country record. With all respect to that release, he and the Konvicts really blew the damn doors down with 2017’s Noise Complaint. Koe and the band started to utilize louder riffs and a more rock ‘n’ roll sound, which clearly paid off and made him huge in the TX/OK scene and the places in between. Moving on to 2019’s Harold Saul High and the newest 2020 album, Sellout, Koe made a huge shift into an almost grunge style. While the band channels their inner Nirvana or Puddle of Mudd, Koe still uses songwriting and other unique elements to bridge the gap between his current sound and the TX scene where he cut his teeth years ago.
Our next example is Mr. “Too country for rock, too rock for country” himself, Austin Meade. His drastic shift could be proven simply by stating that he toured with Sevendust and played Rocklahoma the same night as Rob Zombie, but let’s explore deeper than that. What’s unique about Meade is that every album he has dropped sounds completely different when compared to each other. Released in 2014, Chief of the Sinners is very heavy in the Americana department while 2019’s Waves can be found somewhere between blues and a hint of soul. Fast forward to this year’s Black Sheep, and you’ll find Meade has morphed into a sound few of his peers have ventured in. Black Sheep has a bit of everything, but what sonically stands out can only be compared to the lovechild of Black Sabbath and the Arctic Monkeys. Meade’s metal/alternative rock approach to his music has unlocked doors to new opportunities in multiple music scenes, which he dives into head first and kicks ass doing it.
Read Southall Band, another giant in the TX/OK scene, is a group who we should all be excited for, especially right now. In 2015, RSB put out Six String Sorrow, which is country to the bone. A while later came a big album for them, 2017’s Borrowed Time. This is the period when they incorporated a bluesier, rock driven sound in their work. After a live album and a few more years, their next record, For The Birds, is scheduled to drop in October. The singles released teasing the album include “Stickin’ n Movin’,” “Where We Belong,” “DLTGYD” and “Rose Gold,” and they certainly get your attention. Each song sounds different and could easily be put into different genres if you really wanted to. The unique thing about RSB is that Southall’s vocals fit no matter how the song may sound, and we are literally watching them change in front of our eyes, which is about as exciting as it gets.
On the flip side of Koe, Meade, and RSB, we have Flatland Cavalry. There isn’t much to say about Flatland that hasn’t already been said when it comes to their talent and songwriting ability. Traditionally country and folk through and through, they stay very true to their roots and are one of the images of the modern TX/OK music scene. From the fiddle to Cleto Cordero’s smooth delivery, Flatland remains huge and pumps out successful releases time and time again.
Getting to the point, why argue about who is country or not? The Texas and Red Dirt scenes’ lines have become blurred, which gives us unique and creative music. All of these artist were playing the same clubs and bars when working their way up and continue to generate mutual fans constantly. This scene is not a genre – it’s a breeding ground for all kinds of acts with their own sound that they came to offer. You can trace the differences all the way back to Cross Canadian Ragweed, Jason Boland, and Reckless Kelly, and even then you can bet people argued about the genre bending. With all that said, change is healthy. It is exciting to see musicians evolve into their own and become better. Seeing them play what they want to play instead of what they feel they need to play will not only help them stand out, but also result in genuine music and messages.