The only music genre less driven by social politics than modern country music is pop music, which isn't so odd when you think about it -- today's country is just saccharine-sweet pop nothingness anyway, and that's how Wal-Mart shoppers like it. That's why Natalie Maines' criticism of George W. received such a backlash from fans who didn't want to think, and why Rodney Crowell's latest, The Outsider, feels preachy and maybe even pretentious, despite its rocked-up pleas for tolerance, charity, and an end to war. See, they both forgot what decade they were living in. In Crowell's case, he outgrew Music Row's limited vision of country a long time ago, and still clings to some crazy notion that the genre has something intelligent to say (sorry, Kenny Chesney, you don't). The best country artists always do that eventually, transcending Nashville's overwhelming homogeneity to become something bigger, in many ways unwelcome, and in even more ways ignored. In other words, an outsider.
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