tpt 90pxAin't no commentary like a Jamie Lee Rake commentary. Here are his takes on current highlights of Country.

One of the hallmarks of country music has long been the tension between Saturday night partying and Sunday morning piety. Regardless of whether he still considers himself to be Christian, the songwriting of Kris Kristofferson may offer the the starkest articulation of that tension and its resolution.

The late '60s Johnny Cash hit he penned, "Sunday Morning Coming Down" may be a stark portrait of dissolution and the inchoate longing for redemption as may ever have been sung. Not many years later, after what its author described as a dramatic altar call experience, came "Why Me." It's tough to envision hearing such a self-denigrating and penitent a song on country radio nowadays, much less getting an earful of such a ditty as the substantial pop crossover Kristofferson's lament was 42 years ago.

As should be indicative of days growing more evil as the Lord's return looms all the closer, it might be expected that commercial radio country would be but one realm where anything resembling a biblically orthodox Christian perspective doesn't permeate in the way it once did. One could make a reasonable case that Garth Brooks' ascent throughout the '90s and the muddled spirituality of the lyrics he wrote for himself and sang from others began to tip the scales toward a moire secularized viewpoint in the genre.

More proximately, three interrelated developments may have accelerated the disappearance of Christianity's presence from country radio. The bro' country of Luke Bryan, Brantley Gilbert, Florida Georgia Line, ad nauseum with its YOLO philosophizing and objectification of women don't really comport with spiritual thoughtfulness. Residual hedonism and superficiality also seem to have bled through from country's misguided adoption of electronic dance music and the more-understandable-to-me-at-least rise of hick-hop/country rap as well.

But if the airplay charts at MediaBase's are any indication, in recent weeks, only contemporary Christian and adult R & B formats, the latter with its regular influx of soul gospel***, exceed country radio in mentions of the Almighty and His people than any other place between 92.1 and 107.9 FM. Before this, too, passes, let's take a look at how much godly sense those particular ditties in the country top 40 make. Like any countdown show worth your while, we'll be gong up the rankings for September 15**:

 #39) Riser-Dierks Bentley

Bentley looks to be one of the remaining good guys in commercial country. He releases the occasional duff track like "Drunk On A Plane," but to his credit, he has yet to succumb to the aforementioned noxious trends; last I saw him in concert he had a banjo in his band for more than the sort of signifying accents aesthetically odious folks such as Rascal Flatts and Sam Hunt employ, and his bluegrass roots are credible enough to merit his being profiled in alt country magazine No Depression back when it was a print publication.

Without its video, "Riser" sounds like a song about a man who will do anything to protect and provide for for his significant other. With its official black & white visual accompaniment, it becomes a salute to Amy Thomas. The single mother of two whose story was featured on a recent 60 Minutes segment who lost her house in the last (current? ongoing?) recession and the help she and her kids received through a Nashville homeless shelter for entire families. The total package constitutes an arresting, affecting experience whose musical component shouldn't have had to potter around the chart for three months before cracking the top 40.

Though there are shots of a church in the promo clip, the reference to the Deity presumably worshiped there is at least puzzling. The verse "If we ain't got no money I can make it/I ain't afraid of working to the bone/When I don't know what I'm do and I can fake it/I'll pray till Jesus rolls away the stone" makes for evocative metaphor, if poor Christology. He didn't move the boulder over the entrance to the entrance to the tomb Joseph of Arimathea lent Him in order to anyone's temporal troubles, however inspirational their recovery story is. Scriptural misinterpretation in the name of a good cause and good art? Yes, but here's hoping this still becomes a bigger hit.

Here's the non-profit that assisted Thomas and her brood...

#36) Southern Style-Darius Rucker

The Blowfish's erstwhile Hootie, Rucker by his own admission began recording for his solo move into the country market** by laying down music too traditional (that is, too, go figure, country) for commercial radio. Since then, he's offered a fluctuating quality-to-crud ratio, with this probably from closer to the bottom of his mixed bag.

"Southern Style" could be taken as the feminine inverse of the "I'm so country because..." laundry list lyricism that led to bro-ism. Alternately, Southern soul listeners may hear it as an individuated complement to Bigg Robb's "Southern Ladies."

Both numbers laud church-going gals, but in the titular track of his latest album, the Hootser seems to be singing about a lass who may be universalist ("Says she don't believe in strangers/Only sinners with a savior") or at least ecumenical as her favorite evangelist ("She's a Friday night light lover/A Billy Graham fan like her mother";and she can sleep in the dark the other six days of the week?).

Either way, the closest she comes to liking a country act apparently is Lynyrd Skynyrd. Perhaps Merle Haggard wasn't a close enough rhyme to "oysters raw for dinner." Gal also digs nasty gangsta rapper Lil Wayne. Judging from the video, she also enjoys showing off a wide expanse of her svelte midriff. Whatever would her pastor think?!

Regardless, Rucker's smooth, friendly tone makes it all go down like warm milk. Yay for as much.

Further comparative listening from Bigg Robb:

#15) Smoke Break-Carrie Underwood

Underwood has received cCm props extending back to one of her earliest singles after her 2005 American Idol victory, "Jesus Take The Wheel," and occasional tracks have kept her intermittently high in pop evangelical circles since then. Tempting as it is to tangent into a discussion of how those props may have been rendered moot by her recent statements regarding a certain sexual behavior the U.S. Supreme Court saw fit to defend, let's stick to this song which isn't likely to make it to the K-Love Top 20 any time soon.

As befitted the criteria that made female Idol champs the winners they were, Underwood's a belter. She's wont to sell her material with bravura to spare. At least often as not, that works for the songs she assays.

Singing about how a hard-working mom takes a cigarette break and a stressed-out business man sneaks a swig, however, doesn't seem appropriate to the More Is Better approach of nearly all her best biggies. She wails the living tar out of the chorus, a bit of mandolin offsets the bluster of a guitar break with the slick bluster of a lost 'late '80s Bon Jovi session, but no, moments like those she describes are less dramatic incidents than what her vocal attack would deduce.

Problematic, too, is the song's intimation of faith in the second half of its first verse:"When you never taking nothing and doing nothing but giving/ It's hard to be a good wife and a good mom and a good Christian." Yes, cancer sticks make for a filthy, addictive, unhealthy habit. And agreed that a believer's body is a temple for the Holy Spirit. Still, it is debatable whether using tobacco is a prime sanctification issue, especially for someone not lighting another with one already in their mouth. All that said, no, kids, please don't take up supporting Phillip Morris, OK?

That said, gal can still saaang. Totally bogus that she would be playing a venue small as the one depicted at the end of the video, though.

Another, better humored country song about the perils of ciggies from, sadly, a singer who died from their effects...

#3) John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16-Keith Urban

Ever roll your eyes so hard it hurt your forehead? If so, you can empathize with my reaction to the assertion that Nicole Kidman's other half leaned everything he needed to know from the Midwestern Bruce Springsteen-wannabe, farm equipment brand and Bible verse that constitute the disparate elements of this random, indisputably non-country song.

It's not just the ridiculous, alliterative assertion of the song's title that makes this an especially damnably steaming pile of annoying irrelevance. It's the embarrassment of a 47 year-old man singing "Never grown up/Never grow old" and how that sort of couplet militates against the upshot about fallen humanity in the Book containing the scripture he rattles off, much less whatever he may have actually absorbed from Cougar Mellencamp's music. It's that he references rock'n'roll, including Don McLean's confoundingly ponderous "American Pie" (it's more about rock'n'roll than rocking itself, but whatever) more than the purported style of the format to which this wad of idiocy is being directed; that's, ahem, country, right?! It's that this poetic stool could become even more ubiquitous by advertising licensing to Pepsi Cola, Gibson Guitars, Texaco and other brands he name-checks (by the way, Keith, Victrolas of the type pictured in your video DON'T play 45s!). It's that the syn-drums signal Urban's succumbing to his alleged genre's affair with electronica.

To "John x 3"'s meager credit, it shows off at least a glimpse of the six-string prowess on which Urban built his rep' as an ace instumentalist. This occurs within the context of a more prominent, snaky bass that could easily make for a compelling hip-hop sample. Also, the bridge's lyrics, "I spent a lot of years running from believing, looking for another way to save my soul/ The longer I live, the more I see it: there's only one way home" could be easily transposed more effectively, and likely more sincerely, in a Southern gospel or contempo' Christian context. In the off chance those lines are indicative of a true conversion on Urban's part and not pandering may he be an effective witness to his wife regardless the triteness of his current artistic direction.

For the benefit of songwriters Shane McAnally, Ross Copperman and Josh Osborne, here's a site about the antique phonographs on which they seem to need education...

#2) Buy Me A Boat-Chris Janson

Dude ain't rich. He wants to be. Then he can purchase many high-end sporting goods and bland beer. End of joke...which is on the commercial country radio listening public.

National newcomer Janson and his witlessly consumerist lyrics have benefited from the patronage of the I Heart Radio (formerly Clear Channel Media) station ownership group's weekday morning and weekend countdown show host Bobby Bones. Bones was taken from from pop DJing at an I Heart Radio outlet in Austin to become the nation's at one time most-heard-ever country jock, giving many local stations' air talent pink layoff slips in the process. Amid the other controversies Bones' unnatural transplantation into country has engendered is that he seems to yet to have learned that the superpower of his prominent platform should be used for good. Or good music, anyway.

Yet, in the lunk's lament that is "Boat." Janson touches upon bits of scriptural wisdom. That he mangles half of it and seems to reject the whole of it could probably be expected of a song that makes Bill Ray Cyrus' "Achy Break Heart" sound profound. Some writers have likened "Boat" as a late-coming entry into the bro' stakes; I offer that it's at least as much a throwback to country's '90s vogue for novelty ditties such as Miley's dad's biggest smash and Tim McGraw's "Indian Outlaw." Understand that this distinction is no compliment.

Oh, Janson's biblicisms? He gets one of the Lord's analogies right and one of Paul's admonitions to Timothy wrong in one fell swoop of a couplet when he sings "I keep hearing money is the root of all evils/ And you can't fit a camel through the eye of a needle."

Of course, it's the love of money that's the root of all kinds of evil, not being flush with coin in and of itself. Janson should be rolling in small change and copious greenbacks thanks to the popularity of this exercise in idiocy and idolatry. With it he can doubtless buy his coveted watercraft, pick-up to pull it, the Yeti cooler he yearns for and more cans of Coors than his liver can process in a lifetime.

While he's lounging on his boat, maybe he couyld write some better songs, too?


*-Consider, however, that "Why Me" first appeared on Kristofferson's album entitled Jesus Was A Capricorn, and make of that what you will.

**-Chart updates appear ever Tuesday at 11 PM Central Time

***-I've gone on elsewhere in this esteemed publication about the the permeation of word-faith heterodoxy within current soul gospel, but that's another rabbit trail that needn't be followed here.

****-Had Rucker and his mates stuck it out long enough into the '90s or early '00s, they would have found country radio doubtless amenable to their most anemic output.

-Jamie Lee Rake

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