CC2K

The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Give Us Our XXX!

Written by: Pat King, Special to CC2K


We’re going full-on country today as resident down-home expert Pat King tours a new subgenre in southern rock.

Shooter Jennings and Adam Sheets want their XXX.  And frankly, so do I.

There’s a kind of underground country music that’s been around for a decade or so, and none of the old labels like “Southern rock,” “cowpunk” or “Americana” seem to work anymore.  If you’ve been listening to Shooter Jennings and Hank Williams III these past few years, you probably have some idea what I’m talking about.

“Too rock for country, too country for rock,” as it says on the XXX website, is as good a descriptor as any.  But it’s more a rule of thumb than anything.  For XXX, “rock,” especially when used to describe more roots-influenced artists like Rachel Brooke, refers to an attitude more than a sound.  Keeping this in mind, it’s pretty easy to see how Rachel’s music fits comfortably into a genre that also includes the Drive-By Truckers.

 

 

As far as the name itself, XXX has only been in wide use since January.  Shooter Jennings came up with it.  I actually only found out about it very recently, while looking for articles on Shooter Jennings’ new album.  I happened upon a cool site called Saving Country Music.  There was a ton of debate over there on the merits of adopting the new name.  The comments were all over the place.  Besides supporters and those who didn’t care for the name, there were also a few folks whose reaction to it was, uh, one of passionate disagreement (let’s say).  This was probably to be expected and, actually, a pretty good indication of the effectiveness of the name.  Ultimately, though, the genre will continue to exist whether the XXX brand catches on or not.

Adam Sheets, a writer for No Depression, a lively Americana music website, wrote the first article on the genre, “Introducing the XXX Movement”.  I asked Sheets, via e-mail, what role he played in the development of XXX: “My role was initially to help Shooter expand his original list of artists.  My name was the second one on the petition and when Shooter was ready for it to be presented to the world, I posted a blog on No Depression letting folks know who we are, what we’re about, and what our goals are.”

And what about those goals?  If nothing else, Sheets and Jennings are at least super ambitious.  The  XXX website doesn’t explain what the petition is for, but I suspect it has something to do with their desire to get country music played on non-satellite radio (Jennings already has his own XXX show on Sirius radio).  They want it to become an established format, like “alternative” or “classic rock” stations.  My first reaction after hearing this was to shrug my shoulders and wonder why they’re even bothering.  You could take to the internet and start a massive viral campaign.  But when I asked Jennings about this, he wrote me back and said, “You take ten hell-raising hillbillies from Arkansas, one probably has the internet or satellite radio but I guarantee all ten would LOVE Scott H. Biram.  And guess what all of ‘em have?  Terrestrial radio.”

Sheets elaborated: “It’s important to get this music played on traditional radio at this point because of the numbers alone.  It’s estimated that 90% of the people in the U.S. still listen to terrestrial radio on a daily basis.  At the same time, we understand that satellite radio, podcasts, and other things of that nature are the wave of the future, which is why we’re incorporating them into the movement as well.”  So any worries on my part that they’d ignore new media in their publicity campaign were unfounded.  For Sheets and Jennings, terrestrial radio is a sort of big-picture thing.  Which is great.  I think you should always figure out the endpoint for a project and try hard to get there.  Own the dream, you know?

Besides Shooter Jennings and Hank III, the Drive-By Truckers and Reverend Horton Heat are perhaps the most recognizable artists on the list of XXX bands.  But I think the real beauty of a project like this is that it turns an audience hungry for this type of stuff on to lesser-known artists.  I can’t comment on too many of them, since I’ve just started listening to a lot of this stuff myself, but there are a few acts that I’m already passionate about.

Bob Wayne’s music contains elements of rockabilly, outlaw country, bluegrass and the blues.  His song “Reptile” is about a man confronting his violent essence.  A really brooding tune.  It’s a sort of sociopath’s anthem.  “Chatterbox” is a fun, up-tempo tune about a musician’s sexual adventures with women while he’s on the road.  He tells his number one girl at home about them after he finds out she’s been cheating on him.  This is definitely the kind of stuff you won’t hear on your local pop-country station.  At least not while they’re still playing songs about Mayberry and drinking Cherry Coke.  Likewise, it’s very definitely country, so you won’t hear anything like it on your so-called “alternative” station either.

Scott H. Biram is a one-man band whose songs combine blues and gospel elements with classic country.  It’s actually telling that before he played country music, he was in a punk band.  Even his religious-themed songs have a kind of snarling aggressiveness about them.  But I think the most impressive thing about his music is the way it takes you back to the days when the music played by black and white performers didn’t sound all that much different.

I mentioned Rachel Brooke earlier, and for good reason.  Her music harkens back to a time before rock-n-roll.  It sounds like Hank Williams, Jimmie Rogers and the Carter Family, updated and sifted through a filter of 21st Century experience.  Brooke’s songs reveal repressed parts of the American psyche.  Her newest album, Down in the Barnyard, opens with a murder ballad.  A good sign for any album.  Some tracks feature a banjo or a fiddle or even drums (though rarely).  But if you check out her Youtube videos, you’ll see that her performances are mostly solo affairs, just Brooke and her guitar.  Her voice is impressive.  Even on a track like “Meet my by the Apple Tree,” with its fairly innocent lyrics, her singing adds an ominous foreboding subtext to the track.  Songs like “The Barnyard” and “Me and Rose Connelly” start out as sweet songs about childhood friendship or love and end in murder.  The story changes, but her style of singing doesn’t.  The more innocent parts sound dark and the darker parts have a weird innocence about them.

Man, I tell you, I’m really digging these musicians.  I wish I had an unlimited amount of money so that I could buy all this XXX stuff right now.  But a few at a time works too.  Gives me a chance to spend some time absorbing the work, getting a better handle on what the music’s all about.

I suppose we do need to address the name itself.  There were some strong misgivings among some folks at Saving Country Music.  They didn’t like the association with porn.  Which is pretty strange, considering that a lot of this music is about sex, drugs, murder, infidelity and the like.  Anyway, I like the connection, even if it’s unintentional.  Lets you know right away that this is adult material, no parental advisory sticker needed.  Mom and Dad can take that how they will.

For his part, Jennings says that he wasn’t thinking about porn when he came up with the name.  He was thinking about the marks on moonshine bottles.  Besides, he said, “I’m not saying it HAS to be called this, we aren’t trying to run the scene.  We just wanna be a part of improving the communication among artists, labels, radio and writers.  I’m open to a new name, but first I have a few points to make.  First, I think it needs to be ambiguous to style and sect.  Besides that, the name has sparked a LOT of discussions to become VERY LONG and involved which I think only helps the cause.  And thirdly, for those who are concerned with the association with porn, who really searches for porn by googling ‘XXX’?  And when you do, the number one result is the stupid Vin Diesel movie.  Give it a year and our XXX will be number two if not one.”

Could be.  At least I hope so.  If not, well, like Shooter said, the music will still be there.  Whatever happens, though, I’ll continue to listen.  But I wish XXX nothing but the best.  Ya’ll can count on my support.

Author: Pat King, Special to CC2K

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