My earliest recollection of Country & Western (C&W) music was a format I hated. Growing up in the South my Dad enjoyed watching Faron Young and Conway Twitty on television. My Mom, in my mind, wasn’t much better choosing instead to play Bing Crosby on the console hi fi in the den. Pretty soon, I can only suppose she took pity on me and bought me an AM / FM transistor radio. Whereupon saving up money for my first audio system, I could escape the confines of Minnie Pearl for the sonic explosion of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.
It wasn’t long before my musical tastes began to swing towards the jazz / rock / pop sounds of groups like Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears. In the early 1980’s when smooth jazz began appearing on the musical landscape I was totally and inescapably hooked. I still am.
A man who is a family friend and ten years my senior, many years ago told me that one day, I’d learn to like C&W music. I can remember as a young kid working with him on one of his many projects and he’d always have country playing on the radio. I would often ask him to change the station and he’d simply smile and say, “Just you wait. You’ll see.” I thought he was nuts.
There is, I believe, a material difference between really liking and being interested in a thing and being a full-fledged practitioner. So it was then for me with high-end audio. I loved the hobby but my early systems never rose to the level of satisfaction I desired. When I really began getting serious back in the mid to late 1990’s and starting in 2010 when I could finally afford to start building the system I had so long desired, I did so with the anticipation of finally hearing smooth jazz as it was recorded and how the artist intended the music should be heard. Little did I know that things would eventually change.
I made the decision several years ago that I wanted to have a variety of music in my collection. I reasoned that if I wanted to invite someone over to hear my system, which I wanted to do, it would be far more meaningful if I had something they enjoyed as opposed to listening only to what I liked. So I began buying music outside of my normal genre and personal tastes. My effort was justified one day when a neighbor asked if I had any classical. So Mozart it was – but not C&W. That remained an uncrossed line in the sand.
Last year, a friend asked me to listen to this new CD he had recently purchased – The Zac Brown Band. I agreed to borrow it more as an appeasement than any intention of actually playing it. But one day, out of sheer curiosity, I decided to give it a spin, see what it sounded like and confirm what I already knew – I would despise this music and that would be that.
Would it be overtly obvious to state that I discovered I actually enjoyed The Zac Brown Band – country music, me? A seismic shock would be an apt description.
While watching a symphony on TV will obviously give the viewer a sense of the music, it won’t reveal all the nuances of classical music. Likewise, watching country music on TV does not server proper justice to understand how incredibly talented many of the musicians really are. Having now the luxury of a highly resolving, dynamically powerful, musically accurate audio system, I believe, has afforded me the insight to hear music in a way I could not before.
When you really hear how complex Mozart’s music is, and realize he composed all of the arrangements in his head before he wrote the actual notes on the page, you get a sense of his incredible genius. Likewise, looking beyond the Georgia twang that is Jennifer Nettle’s voice, if one really listens, it becomes obvious what an incredible vocal talent she is. Power, subtlety, nuance – its all there – all for the taking and enjoyment.
I had such disdain for C&W music for so many years I find it incredibly amusing that I now enjoy the genre more than I would have ever presumed. Like I must guess is possible with all music, C&W has incredibly talented performers. So I can only say the prophecy my neighbor up the street once told me has come true – I suppose I now like C&W music. Man, I did not see this one coming.
On the surface, my explanation into this dramatic change is specifically, absolutely the result of an audio system. The presentation and all the things that a high-end system yields is the reason why my newfound interest in C&W exists at all. It has taken me down other musical paths I never thought I’d follow – Classical and Broadway to name two. The presentation that is high-end audio is why these genres now hold favor. Without the sonic picture that is a luxury audio system, I’d have certainly never strayed so far from my smooth jazz home. That is an eminently plausible explanation and actually makes a lot of sense – at least to me. It is an explanation with which I can feel comfortable.
Of course, maybe like vegetables, my tastes have changed. Let’s face it, as we get older our likes and dislikes do change. So maybe that has something to do with my newfound interest in C&W? Maybe I’m just getting older? No, I think I’ll stick with the audio explanation. After all, there are still lots of vegetables I don’t like.