Country: Portraits of An American Sound

country portraits doc cover

Stumbled across this documentary on Netflix in the last few weeks. For fans of music and music history, it is worth a watch. It is a very mind-opening look at how photography plays such an important role in connecting music with people. Many of the great photographers who captured some historical moments in country music appear. It is a poignant analysis into images connecting people with the sounds and sights. Country music has such a rich history dating back to its’ origins. My own personal education for music began with country music. My first music memories involved hearing the music of Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Patsy Cline and many other mainstays of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

Many legendary country artists are featured talking about some of the images they were in. They refer to pictures that stood out to them of themselves and others. The fashion styles of the times are given a terrific analysis. Those sequined suits were a definitive mark on the presenters. It’s hard to forget those things when some of them were such blazing eyesores.

Towards the end of this interesting film, one of the artists talks about how newer country artists acknowledge the roots of country in their own way (I’m paraphrasing here). Without spoiling who said it and the exact words, it was a statement that left me a bit confused. I have difficulty with any of the modern country music on FM radio today being referred to as country when it has very little country influence within it. These artists might acknowledge the influence of the music of yesteryear through their own way. That’s fine and good. I would argue that it is impossible to tell through any of the music where those influences may lie. You cannot fault someone for this though and I understand that. The direction country music has taken is as it has happened. It has become so saturated with pop overtones and production it has zero country showing of any kind to the listener’s ear.

As I was writing this, I was thinking back to the episode of CMT Crossroads where Taylor Swift appeared with Def Leppard. Swift indicated she was certain she heard Leppard’s “Hysteria” being played while her mom was carrying her. There is to my knowledge no “light metal” influence in any of her music. 

The Grammy Awards now have a category for Americana music. Americana is the absolute closest to real country music that one can get. Americana music still brings out people to shows. Say what must be said about the Grammys. It is quite important that they felt strong enough to ensure that real country music had a place to be acknowledged and recognized.

The documentary’s ultimate message rings true today. Images can tell some of the stories of the people behind the music, the people in front of the microphones, the people working their instruments, the people connecting their songs with the audience.





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