Coinciding with Willie Nelson's revelation that "Cowboys are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other)," as noted by the Fix, the New York Times' Kelefa Sanneh searches for some closeted liberalism in the world of mainstream country. Citing Merle Haggard's "Rebuild America First" -- with its "Let's get out of Iraq/And get back on the track" lyric -- Sanneh contends that behind the flag-waving façade, the politics of country music are less easy to pin down than blue-staters might imagine. Pointing out that even liberals can find something to cheer in Gretchen Wilson's redneck manifesto "Politically Uncorrect," Sanneh offers alternative readings of some of the more overtly conservative country hits, including Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" -- which he calls "an eloquent expression of sadness." Sadness, and not being able to tell "the difference in I-raq and I-ran."
Good news, meanwhile, for those who prefer their political pop dressed in a socialist T-shirt instead of cloaked in the Stars and Stripes: North Carolina-based label Yep Roc is in the process of reissuing Billy Bragg's back catalog, beginning with his first four albums of gritty folk-punk and wry love songs (plus newly compiled bonus tracks). At Amazon, the man himself selects some albums by other musicians that he thinks we might like -- offering this dead-on appreciation of the unique appeal of Northern Californian songbird Joanna Newsom: "She sings like no one else and her songs are ripe with gothic imagery. And she plays the harp. How great is that?" (Via Chromewaves)
Finally, Britain's rather more low-key answer to the Grammys -- the Brits -- took place Wednesday. With few "What were they thinking?" collaborations and even fewer surprises than its American cousin, the Brits awarded nouveau Brit poppers the Kaiser Chiefs the big prizes (best British group, live act and rock act), along with dreary acoustic balladeer James Blunt (best pop act and British male solo artist). Kanye West added to his middling Grammy haul with the award for best international male, while Madonna took home best international female. Green Day grabbed statues for best international album and group, while Curious George singer Jack Johnson had a double success with best international breakthrough artist at the Brits -- and worst international male solo artist at the rather less prestigious Naomi Awards, which were also announced on Wednesday. The Brit for outstanding contribution to music went to former Jam and Style Council frontman Paul Weller. Weller is a contentious figure -- once a thrilling firebrand of a performer, he has evolved into a byword for trad-rock values. The Guardian laments the decision to laud this most white and male of artists in its commentary on the awards, while the Independent delivers gushing appraisals of Weller's musical influence, his fashion sense, his live performances and even his choice of guitar.
-- Matt Glazebrook