Depending whom you ask, Kenny Chesney represents everything that's wrong with country music today: His songs stretch the once-tried-and-true country conventions so far that with the exception of the twang in his voice and the pedal-steel guitars, it scarcely resembles country, at least the kind once made by the genre's iconic framers: Johnny, Merle, Waylon, Buck and George. Just the same, you won't have to look hard to find folks who feel exactly the opposite and would contend that he's telling their life stories. And there's a legion of fans who fit that description -- who are not only not put off by the pop-inflected stylings of modern country, but who actually prefer the likes of Chesney and co-headliner Tim McGraw, as evidenced by the fact that these two gentlemen are among the rare contemporary acts whose draw is big enough to justify a stadium tour.
Lucinda Williams learned an important lesson from her poet father, Miller Williams: Never censor yourself. And indeed, since her 1978 debut, Ramblin' on My Mind, the 58-year-old singer-songwriter has never held back in her lyrics, shooting straight from the hip with her brutally honest songs. "Otherwise, what's the point?" she says. "But see, that's how I approach life in general. Like, no bullshit, be honest, treat people the right way. All of that informs everything I do -- my whole philosophy about life in general." (Continue reading full profile)
In the first half of the '90s, Ishmael Butler went by the moniker "Butterfly" as part of the rap trio Digable Planets. After the outfit's 1995 split, the group performed one-off shows here and there, but since 2009, Butler has released music with Tendai Maraire under the name Shabazz Palaces. Instead of completely ditching the jazz proclivities of the Planets, Butler and Maraire have combined that style with a broad sonic palette that includes samples, traditional African rhythms, dub and electronic melodies and textures. It doesn't hurt that Maraire is the son of Dumisani Maraire, best known for bringing the music of Zimbabwe to North America. In fusing exotic sounds and inventive collage composition, Shabazz Palaces has created an electro-organic dance music steeped in an alchemy of the traditional and the postmodern.
Fronted by the sons of two prominent country-music songwriters, this tween-beloved Nashville outfit plays high-energy pop-rock that sounds like a boy version of "Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus. If you don't recognize how good and rare a thing that is, we're not sure what we can do to help.