There’s an unassuming shift taking place in the country music landscape lately.
The genre has historically wrapped its calloused hands around the working middle class American and sang tunes that resonated with the backbone of our country. However, the last decade has seen an upswing in artists that traded in their worn-out jeans and ball caps for designer clothing and suave hairstyles. This downgrade saw the music landscape migrating closer to pop more and more each day. As with all music evolutions, it was accepted by some and snubbed by others.
But over the last few seasons, the tides have shifted, and what I’m going to call a “Blue-Collar Revolution” has descended upon our beloved genre. A powerful group of young, blue collar Southern artists have been climbing the Country charts, reigniting the ball cap and boots vibe that early 2000s country seem to be missing.
It came in the form of a black PFG shirt, jeans, and a rowdy red-bearded Carolina soul. Luke Combs stormed onto the music scene (no pun intended) with “Hurricane” in 2016, and he brought his boys with him. He built his brand by cowriting songs with other new faces in Nashville, those that were not flush with connections and record deals.
From these writing sessions sparked a new movement in the ranks, one that could once again turn good ole boys into stars. Friends and writers of Luke have sprouted their own careers including Ray Fulcher, Jameson Rodgers, Drew Parker, and many others. Its almost like a coaching tree in college football. Once the talent of one person is showcased to the world, the talented folks sitting around the fire with him emerge from the background and into their own spotlights.
Another member of the ball cap brethren that has exploded like gas on a bonfire is Morgan Wallen. The East Tennessee product with a mullet and cut off pearl snaps has the voice and moxie along with strong everyman roots. This isn’t Morgan’s first ride around the track, as he has been an up and comer in Nashville for a while now.
But his powerhouse vocals and innovative songwriting have resonated recently with fans yearning for something simpler, something that reminds them of the way they were raised. In “Chasin’ You” he tells the story we all are familiar with of chasing down a lost young love. But he mixes images of a Tennessee River, burning whiskey, pairs it with his edgy drawl, and all of a sudden it is a cocktail of Wallen’s unique sound. His witty rhymes serenade you through your speakers, and make you understand what a well written country song is all about. How it can reverberate through your body and float memories through your conscience.
And while he may delve in the world of pop country with some of the tracks on his recently-released double album Dangerous, he still finds himself at home among the fans of Luke Combs, Riley Green, Ashley McBryde, and alike.
You can throw Riley Green in the ring with these two, as he also has driven a stake in bland pop melodies. His Alabama twang has a sharp cut to it, and he finally broke thru in 2018. Since then, he has penned a slew of heartfelt tunes about a simple life in the South.
With “Grandpas Never Died” he brought a tear to our eyes as we remembered the gray-haired men that raised us. “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” made us smile as we hopped in our short bed Chevy. That’s what real country music is. Reviving the things that make us who we are, always reminding us of home no matter how many miles are in between.
The crooner from Jacksonville, Alabama is surely making his hometown proud. Carhartts, long hair peeking out of a ball cap, and a tucked in tee shirt. He reminds you of a guy you dated in high school, a guy who sang his heart at dollar beer night, a guy who had a full ride till he blew out his shoulder. He embodies a small-town Friday night beer before getting up early to chase whitetail.
Powerful vocals paired with simple, downhome lyrics pay homage to those that came before them. The booted trio’s songs have a different feel to them than the pop-country mashups that frequent the radio.
Neither is shy to talk about their love of hunting, fishing, and sipping whiskey with the boys. They have unwittingly brought country back to its roots: the blue collar sounds for the working man, by the working man. They are slowly stealing the spotlights and shining them back on the small Southern towns where the open mic night is the hottest ticket in town.
And the best part? It’s just the beginning.
Ashley McBryde, Lainey Wilson are two rising stars cut from a similar cloth. Hardy is another upcoming artist from the Morgan Wallen camp. And you could probably even lump Jon Pardi in this conversation as well, although he’s well-established and more of a California cowboy than a blue collar southern boy. Either way, the future of mainstream country is finally starting to look pretty damn good.