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Countrypolitan's Versatility is Evident in Today's Country Music

The countrypolitan sound is used in many different ways. The presence of string instrumentation can give a song the countrypolitan classification without it sounding like the original "Nashville Sound." While our "On The Fringe" series focuses on artists from non-country genres who have used the countrypolitan sound, I wanted to point out some artists within today's country music scene who have found success with the style.

Surprisingly, countrypolitan does get played in today's commercialized radio format. You may not have recognized these songs as countrypolitan, because of the artists who performed them, but there have been a few songs finding success. They don't necessarily have the "Nashville Sound" of the 1960's, made famous by the likes of Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves, and Tammy Wynette. However, the presence of strings does give the song a classification of countrypolitan.

Most recently, Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" was a huge hit and may well be her signature song. This song draws a lot of parallels to the Nashville Sound without actually sounding like it's from that era. As countrypolitan acts of the '60's used groups like the Jordanaires for background vocals, Womack teamed up with Sons of the Desert. There is a strong orchestral presence which gives the song that polished sophisticated sound. This song is a perfect example of how modern countrypolitan can parallel the Nashville Sound while still maintaining today's commercial flavor.

Thirteen year old Leann Rimes debuted in 1996 with a countrypolitan song, "Blue," which earned her many comparisons to Patsy Cline. This may well have a lot to do with the fact that Cline is the best-known countrypolitan artist of all time. In the years since her entry to the country music scene, Rimes has steered away from this type of "traditional" music, but her impact on the country music audience with this countrypolitan song will never change.

Shania Twain, the artist who has been blamed for the onslaught of country-pop crossovers, had a hit song in 1998 with "From This Moment On," her duet with Bryan White. Even in her music video, she shows off the stringed orchestra backing her vocals. The cello and violin's presence are very strong and shows off countrypolitan's versatility.

There is irony to be found in today's ever-rising debate of whether today's country is really true country. The Nashville Sound was the subject of this same debate in the '60's. Many different artists and executives argued that the polished sound did not belong on country music radio. They even went so far as to create new sub-genres to compete against the style. Most successful of these were Bakersfield (Buck Owens, Merle Haggard) and the Outlaw Movement (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson). Many of today's legends and Country Music Hall of Famers, who made their fortune and fame as predominant countrypolitan artists, were accused of not being true country. Now, in most cases, the countrypolitan sound is called "too country." The main difference between the Nashville Sound and the pop-influenced sounds of today's country music is quite simple. While the Nashville Sound was developed to enhance the country instruments (fiddle, steel guitar, dobro, banjo, etc.) already present, these instruments are rarely found in today's country music. That is the difference that keeps this debate from coming full circle.

Written by Sherry Anderson, April 2001.

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