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Northern Country Music May 5, 2010

Anyone who judged American history by its popular vocal music would get the impression that the South had won the Civil War [perhaps freeing the slaves in the process, but] if you count both blacks and whites dominating the scene.  Someone might be a native of Seattle, Toronto, Glasgow, or even Sydney, but when they open their mouth to sing [not to talk] the vowel of ‘my mind’ moves toward being a monophthong, the vowel of ‘raw dog’ to being a diphthong, and the ‘y’ of ‘tiny baby’ from the short ‘ee’ sound to something like ‘eh.’  This is of course in tribute to the Southern origins of jazz, rock, and country.  Country music is generally distinguished by pronouncing final r’s fairly clearly, whereas in rock they are given a rather British treatment.  Bob Dylan, a native of Minnesota who misses being Canadian by less than a hundred miles, imitates Okie Woody Guthrie when he begins to sing.

The New England blogger Ezra Dyer has suggested that at least in country music, it’s time for New England, Canada, and the North in general to get equal time.  Where are the songs about moose, lumberjacks, snowmobiles, lobster traps, and canoes?

It’s interesting to me that the one definitively northern pop culture figure in our culture is Garrison Keillor and his Lake Wobegon.  He has done much to put at least one northern culture back on our southern-dominated mental maps.  Unfortunately he doesn’t sing.  Actually I think he does, occasionally, but not enough to be famous for his music.  I’d like to see him spread Mr. Dyer’s challenge!

3 Comments
James "Walkie" Ray 05/11/2010

I have been a fan of Country Western Music ever since I first heard Cool Water by Vaughn Monroe (born in Ohio) and the Sons of the Pioneers in about 1960. Sons of the Pioneers, incidentally, was formed in California in 1936 by Leonard Slye (who subsequently changed his name to Roy Rogers), and all of the original artists are now deceased. Nevertheless, it continues to perform in Las Vegas and elsewhere and, new artists having replaced the original artists on an ongoing basis, is thought to be the oldest continuously operating musical group in history. The song Cool Water was written by a Bob Nolan who was born in Canada, and it has been recorded by a vast army of artists including Hank Williams (Alabama), Frankie Lane (Chicago), Fleetwood Mac (London), Marty Robbins (Phoenix), Joni Mitchell (Alberta, Canada), Bob Dylan (Duluth, MN) and Johnny Cash (Arkansas), among others. And, yes, the “r” in Cool Water comes through loud and clear. GREAT song!

hschlossberg 05/22/2010

Actually, Garrison Keillor often used to sing on his program years ago before I stopped listening to him. Probably still does, because the audience really seemed to like it. I’ve heard him described as a baritone, and I think that’s probably right. I lost interest in Keillor because of the dark side in his writing, which is light and frothy only on the surface, and because of his habit of using up women and throwing them away.

Incidentally Keillor’s younger brother Stephen is a historian and writer and an evangelical Christian. He also has a dark side revealed in a certain moroseness. Must be those long winters in Anoka, Minnesota, where they grew up.

Gareth 05/30/2010

What’s wrong with a dark side?

In the musical arena, there are quite a few Canadians (Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young), but it’s true that their influence in that regard might be negligible, so far as subject matter goes.

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