From Publishers Weekly
As a snapshot of the range of political opinions held by country music artists "during the critical three and a half years between 9/11 and Bush's reinauguration, with only minimal editorial interruption," this entertaining if overlong collection of profiles is clear and effective. Entertainment Weekly
writer Willman applies his magazine's breezy, irreverent style to explore the left- or right-wing leanings of his subjects, from heavyweights like the Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith, Steve Earle, Brooks & Dunn, Clint Black and Merle Haggard to newer, minor artists like the Drive-By Truckers. In spite of Willman's success in presenting these artists in depth, the results aren't too surprising: while there certainly is "a good chunk of Democrats" in the industry, "the stereotype that country music has become the house genre of the GOP isn't easily or persuasively disproven." Most fascinating are the moments when Willman gets the artists to let down their guard, such as when Toby Keith talks about his Democratic tendencies, Ricky Skaggs shows his genuine affection for his more leftist friends such as Rodney Crowell, and Travis Tritt discusses his duet with the left-wing rocker John Mellencamp and unintentionally shows that success still trumps politics in Nashville.
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In the wake of the brouhaha over the Dixie Chicks and their views on sharing Texas origins with the president, Willman discovered clashing politics among country musicians and fans. Overall, he muses, the country-music political landscape has experienced the rest of the nation's conservative drift as ever more politicos try to access voters by identifying with pop musicians. If rock is the Left's music, then mainstream country is becoming the Right's, Willman seems to say. But just as there is the occasional right-wing rocker (e.g., Johnny Ramone, Ted Nugent), Willman notes that the scruffy alt-country contingent, personified here by hardcore individualist Steve Earle, is decidedly left of center, or at least quirky, and sets up the potential for political counterpoint on country playlists and county-fair concert lineups. In a bang-up final chapter, Willman takes the example of Merle Haggard opening for Bob Dylan on tour to look at how music makes strange political bedfellows and how artists' perceived politics change over time. An enjoyable, informative survey. Mike TribbyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved