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How To Like Country Music, For The Uninitiated

Loretta Lynn (left) and Vince Gill perform together in 2004. Writer Marissa Moss cites Lynn as an example of a progressive thinker in country music.
Kevin Winter
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Loretta Lynn (left) and Vince Gill perform together in 2004. Writer Marissa Moss cites Lynn as an example of a progressive thinker in country music.

Many people have music they love, and whole genres they think they hate. This new year, we're helping you find some new music by bringing in a few folks to help you reexamine different genres. This week, NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to music writer Marissa Moss about why country music skeptics should give the genre a chance.

On the idea of people liking "anything but country"

I hear that a lot because there's such a narrow view of what country music can be. There's that famous David Allan Coe song ["You Never Even Called Me By My Name"] where he sort of lists off everything that he thinks that, you know, country music is stereotypically about: mama, trains, trucks, prison and getting drunk. And I mean, in some ways, that hasn't changed a lot. There are a lot of truck songs out there and a lot of "dog is dead, I'm in my truck." But it's so broad and so exciting, and that's why I love it.

With people who tell me that they don't like country music, I always ask them, well, do you like Bob Dylan? And I say, well, if you like Bob Dylan, then you probably like Townes Van Zandt. And usually, once they hear a song like ["Pancho and Lefty"] — it has a lot of the same sort of, you know, narrative qualities, it's acoustic-based. It's a folk song, too; you can kind of unveil this whole world that people didn't think existed.

On country music being "too conservative"

One of the things that I always hear is, like, "Oh, I can't relate to country music; it's too conservative." And I mean, ["The Pill"] would be hard to sing about on country radio now, let alone when Loretta Lynn released it in 1975. And yes, there are so many amazing women in country music. I mean, it's still driven by the voices of women. You don't hear them on country radio a lot. That's a whole other story. But they are there, and they are just telling unbelievable stories.

On the exciting artists in country today

There's a lot of great music out there. Maren Morris made a great album last year, Girl. And she's someone that, you know, has a whole new take on country music. But on the flip side, I love Tyler Childers, who has a lot more of those traditional elements — steel guitar, fiddle, Kentucky Appalachian working-class tales that are sort of, you know, bringing to the surface unheard stories. Kelsey Waldon's another singer from Kentucky who is just a real gifted songwriter. I love a record that Robert Ellis put out this [past] year, it's called Texas Piano Man. And I love The Highwomen right now; speaking of powerful women in country music [these are] just songs of women's stories.

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Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
Ian (pronounced "yahn") Stewart is a producer and editor for Weekend Edition and Up First.