Nashville’s war ‘tween the trads and the new-jack Musik Mafia is just heating up, and about time. The old school has seen some victories: Lee Ann Womack wraps herself in a dirty hotel blanket of sin and retro arrangements on her new release. Joe Nichols’s conservative sophomore effort is still slapping singles on the charts, a good year after it hit stores. And genial teddy bear Buddy Jewell, 44-year-old winner of the first Nashville Star contest in 2003, has Times Like These, his second CD of conventional corn.
Jewell’s latest isn’t the worst of Music Row (for that please see Rascal Flatts—filed under Whatta Load of Crap), but just a solid example of how the same old same old can lead to exasperating dead ends. The gurgling, countrypolitan tempos are slack; the songwriting is hack when it doesn’t miss the mark altogether. Jewell, who has a rich, resonant voice, can’t find the right gear with “So Gone,” a rocker that sounds trash-picked from Montgomery Gentry’s reject pile. “Dyess, Arkansas,” home to Jewell’s granddaddy and Johnny Cash, is a punch(line)-less Hallmark card about the town with no “superstores and mini-malls.” Sounds lovely and nonexistent.
Speaking of the unreal, “hick hop”—country-rap generated by six-foot-five-inch African American Cowboy Troy—must seem like a bad dream to administrators of the Grand Ole Opry. But Loco Motive (great title, huh?) doesn’t take country themes to the street as much as mix in Troy’s deft raps to Big & Rich’s already busting-at-the-seams jester country-rock. Yes, John Rich and Big Kenny are all over this record—enough that it could be called Horse of Another Different Color. The ridonculously infectious single “I Play Chicken With the Train” is typical: Troy announces his arrival and name-checks Tim McGraw in between audacious fiddle and banjo solos. “I’m big and black, clickety-clack/And I made the train jump the track like that” has to be the softest brag in hip-hop history, and if all was right with the world, it would set off an earthquake in Nashville.
Troy hails from Dallas, but his flow is clean old-school instead of Dirty South crunk. There’s guitars erupting out of this record (love the fuzzy one in “Automatic”), probably because it was produced by AOR-listening white guys. Still, “If You Don’t Wanna Love” is “Stan” with Sarah Buxton playing Dido and country’s favorite protagonists, lovelorn females, taking the place of Eminem’s crazed fan. “Wrap Around the World,” a benevolent United Nations hug that’s almost too sugar sweet, finally triumphs with Troy’s multiple verses in Mandarin Chinese. So is “hick hop” a novelty? Oh yeah. Is it better than a gurgling dead end? Do you have to ask?