Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Country, Folk, and Jimmy Buffett

I've been thinking a lot about music genres lately, and it's mostly influenced by listening to Alex Rainbird Radio or Indie Folk Central while reading and writing about punk rock music for a paper I'm working on with the claim of Henry David Thoreau as America's original punk. As I ponder, I've been generating a fair amount of discussion on social media by posing questions such as why someone decided that Nirvana would be called grunge rather than punk. Another question was just how we define the genre of Jimmy Buffett's music, which started in Nashville and definitely has country roots. And finally, what's the difference between country and folk music, because while I know it when I hear it, I can't actually define the specifics.

As you can imagine, these sort of queries can generate quite animated debate and commentary.

Some descriptions of Jimmy Buffett include Caribbean country, ambient country lullabies, country rock pop. Rather surprisingly, a few people actually posited that JB could be filed under "bad music," and I had to admit that was the first I'd ever heard of not liking Buffett. While there is certainly a party time, novelty act tone to some of his songs such as "Cheeseburger in Paradise," others are richly crafted narratives and ballads that are not only interesting musically but also perfectly capture the storytelling quality so integral to the country music tradition. Some of those would be "A Pirate Looks at Forty," "He Went to Paris," and "Son of a Sailor."

And that, of course, leads me back to the country and folk question:  what's the difference?

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