Anna Bergendahl – Speak Love

“Country is basically schlager, just with different instruments and more pickup trucks.”

Tim: Bits of yesterday’s track reminded me of Avicii; here’s a country opening for you that’s right out of his playbook.

Tim: Not quite as hefty later on, of course, but as country tracks go it’s still a RIGHT ON BANGER, and one I’ve happily played several times now and not got even slightly bored of.

Tom: Country is basically schlager, just with different instruments and more pickup trucks. Which is why I’m surprised that you always seem to write it off as a genre. This isn’t full-on American country, of course, but it’s certainly on those lines. And you like it!

Tim: The melody, the vocal, the energy, the everything, it’s there! Right there!

Tom: It’s a bit by-the-numbers, sure, but they are good numbers.

Tim: All flipping marvellous, so BRING IT, Anna, YES, with your walks down memory lane in the pouring rain. They might not be the greatest things, but at least they inspire good songs. Like this.

1 thought on “Anna Bergendahl – Speak Love”

  1. I mean, you’re wrong, Tom. You’re very wrong.

    Country as a genre grew out of a sort of synthesis of 4-part gospel (or to be a little more blunt, white Southern Baptist gospel) like the Statler Brothers and cowboy songs like Hank Williams, Sr. There’s been influence from rock, pop, and more over the years but up until the last decade-ish there were some unique compositional qualities you could expect from songs that would chart only as country vs. those destined to be crossover soft rock or adult contemporary hits (true country melodies tend more pentatonic; chord progressions and harmonies have an actual Structure which shares a lot with gospel hymns rather than just being a looping I IV V vi).

    This is probably at least partially because country used to be a VERY singer-songwriter heavy genre, with artists who likely grew up in the church, on a farm/ranch, or both pulling a lot of their influence from there. These days most country hits tend to be written as crossover hits with … I can’t even call it country-style instrumentation, it’s usually either Southern rock* or bluegrass, as the only meaningful thing marking them out as A Country Song.

    And this is because 10-15 years ago some pop producers decided they were bored with Hollywood and the European scene, took Alan Jackson’s advice in She’s Gone Country a little too literally, and set about turning the big acts in Nashville equally top-down and manufactured as something from Stock Aitken Waterman or Stargate. They basically took the same beats they had been producing for pop, threw a little banjo or twangy guitar on them, had someone write a trite-ass melody with tick-the-box lyrics (compulsory, misogynistic heterosexuality! romanticized alcoholism! lift truck that can and will run any actual farm truck off the road! God but only as fundies know him! salute the flag and/or a veteran!) to go on top of it and called it a day. It’s the same thing that’s happened with pop music the last few decades, but 1. nearly overnight and 2. with a starting point that provided a lot more contrast, so it comes across as a considerably more drastic shift.

    All of this is to say, it’s not really correct to say country is basically schlager with different instruments, but more to say that schlager has disguised itself as country to break the US market and it broke country in the process. Traditional country doesn’t sound at all like schlager to a trained ear; schlager-in-country-clothes doesn’t really deserve to carry the label of country just because a banjo patch may have been involved (and Billboard should have intervened and expunged the Florida-Georgia Line type shit from the charts way before Old Town Road was even thought of).

    There’s also a discussion to be had about whether bluegrass sound (and by extension the schlager wearing its skin as a suit) merits classification as country at all or whether it belongs more towards a folk chart, but that’s well beyond the scope of this already-too-long comment.

    ***********

    As for this, it’s a fairly bluegrassy instrumentation except they went for an extremely Celtic fiddle rather than an Appalachian style one, which is JARRING to say the least because of how obviously it doesn’t fit in with the overall timbre and vibe. If the other instruments were leaning towards the Irish feel a little more, it could blend in, and this could be a niche thing that was at least internally sensical even if it floated in a transitional no-man’s-land in terms of genre. Bluegrass does have Celtic influences, because that’s the heritage of much of southern Appalachia, but it’s not Michael Flatley and throwing that synthy Irish fiddle in with nothing else in the instrumentation to contextualize it just feels weird, not synergistic.

    *Think Skynyrd, Georgia Satellites, Allman Brothers, that kind of thing

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