Paper Cowboy - Margo Price

from the EP Weakness (2017)

From a business perspective, Nashville is an amazing product enterprise.  It has built an enduring brand that connects with its customers, earning a loyalty that spans generations, while driving insane revenues and profits for those at the top of the heap.  They are the Johnson & Johnson of music.

Like Coca-Cola, Nashville has a secret recipe that works.  Unlike Coca-Cola (think New Coke), they have been prudent enough not to mess with success.

Nashville is a product factory.  Songwriters who understand the winning framework, endlessly working within it, gently pulling levers looking for something that connects and sells.  Musicians who are masters of their tone and technique, who get into the studio - or up on a stage - and knock it out every time.  Producers and Engineers who are expert in what a hit record "sounds" like and in how to capture that sound.  Lastly, the vocalists.  They are the stars.  The face of the brand.  They are sweet.  They are sassy.  They love god and country.  We love them.  Even the bad boys.

The problem (if it really is a problem) is that there is very little room for experimentation or growth.  History suggests that inevitably a new, disruptive product will come along and unseat a stagnant product.

This brings me to one element of the Nashville formula: song length.  Country songs never stray too far from three minutes in length.  This is the optimal song length for radio programs and jukeboxes.  The three minute song makes cash registers ring.  And over the years, it has become engrained in the listener.  It is what they expect.

On her last album, Lucinda Williams had a song titled Faith & Grace.  It was over twelve minutes long.  It broke the formula.  I could not stop listening.  It was clearly a country tune, but at that length the groove became hypnotic, the musicians had more space to perform, and the song connected with me in an uncommon - and very positive - way.  This song changed my view of what country music could be.

Paper Cowboy is a new song by Margo Price that runs over six minutes in length.  As with Faith & Grace, this song is evidence of new possibilities in country music.  Listen to those musicians !!!  The drumming, keyboards, and steel guitar are all magnificent.  Expert musicians stepping into the spotlight and shining.  This song even lets the bass player riff-off for a segment.  Country tunes don't do that.  It gives me chills.

Listen to this song and ask yourself, "Is this the disruption that Nashville has been waiting for?"

Click Here to listen to Margo Price perform Paper Cowboy live at SXSW 2016.

Click Here to listen to Episode 5 of Gigolo A Go Go, which leads off with Lucinda Williams singing Faith & Grace.

Click Here to read my December 2016 blog post on Since You Put Me Down by Margo Price.