Country Music Minus the Culture Wars

Paul Harvey

My piece reflecting on Ricky Skaggs' new recording Mosaic, and more generally on white southern country music's relationship with politics, is just up at Religion Dispatches. (For those interested, here is Ken Tucker's review of the record, from Fresh Air).

A brief excerpt of my piece is below, and then read the rest here:

On his newest record, Mosaic, Skaggs has taken a step back into themes familiar in the religious history of the South, and away from the culture wars. As the opening epigraph suggests, he hasn’t gone soft on his religious belief, and the apocalyptic message drawn from the book of Elijah on Mosaic suggests that premillennial imagery still exerts a hold.

But the message is fundamentally personal, not political. And that’s a good thing.

. . . {T]he more recent culture wars tie between country, religious fundamentalism, and a Tea Party civil religion is an invented tradition. Historically, it lacks any deep roots in the white Southern tradition of musical expression. . . . Historically, Southern music at its best—the bluesmen, the Carter family, Charlie Poole, and the corpus of the old, weird America—simply could not be tied down to any particular political message or program. This music was about a world beyond one’s control. Its occasional bromides or homilies were not nearly as convincing as its unforgettable portrayals of the darker difficulties of survival in a harsh and uncertain world.


Neal said…
I agree with the larger thrust of this piece but you misconstrue Ricky Skagg's career arc. He started in bluegrass and more old-timey music, went to Nashville and hit the big time, and returned to bluegrass after his Nashville electric career sputtered. He came back to the audience that loved him first as a career move, and he's doing the Christian country thing for the same reasons. His pop Christian music is explicitly NOT bluegrass- check any of the bluegrass internet boards and you'll find a raging controversy regarding what he's doing now and how authentic, vs. how Christian-pop-commercial, it is.