If you think theres too much rock in country music these days, Jason Aldean has one explanation: Its the music most country stars grew up listening to.
By TIMOTHY FINN
The Kansas City Star
I love country music, he told The Star recently. Im a huge fan. But I was a general music fan growing up. If a song was cool, I liked it and didnt care who sang it. And those songs are a big influence on my music.
Aldean has the hottest single in country radio these days. Its called Shes My Baby, and its a ballad about the woman who gets him through the rough spots and makes his life better: Shes the perfect shot of faith when every bit of mine is gone.
Baby is off Night Train, Aldeans fifth studio recording, which he released in October 2012, and like most of the rest of the album, its roots are embedded in rock. Baby opens with a heavy electric guitar flourish born in the late 1970s, then proceeds with an arrangement that feels country only because of Aldeans deep Georgia drawl.
There has been plenty of discussion about whats happening on the country music radio and charts these days. Theyre filled with guys singing rock songs about the country lifestyle.
Aldean has been one of the most successful practitioners of that style, going back to 2005 and his self-titled debut album.
Jason Aldean opened with a song called Hicktown, a place where Grannys getting lit, shes headin out to bingo / Yeah, my buddies and me are goin muddin down on Blue Hole Road.
Nine years later, the charts are filled with similar anthems about small-town lifestyles. And much of the music is steeped in rock, especially Southern rock. Aldean said that makes sense for him, given what he listened to growing up.
My tastes are pretty scattered around, he said. A big one was Alabama, and Im a big George Strait fan. But I also listened to John Mellencamp, Bob Seger, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd and a lot of that stuff. Otis Redding is one of my favorite singers. Theres a lot of diversity in the music I listened to growing up. I liked a lot of 80s rock bands, like Def Leppard.
And those are the sounds he applies to his music. Aldean isnt a songwriter, but he is involved in selecting the songs he records, and in picking the right material, he applies a few criteria.
It has to be a subject matter you want to talk about, he said. And you want it to be ear candy, something that gets stuck inside peoples heads. But mostly it needs to be a great song about something you can relate to, thats believable for you to sing.
If there are parameters and prohibitions in country music when it comes to sounds and subject matter, Aldean said, he doesnt follow them or hasnt confronted them.
Over the course of my career, Ive recorded so many different kinds of songs, he said. I dont back myself into a corner where I wouldnt be able to record something I wanted to record.
Weve proved we can do things more on the rock side. We do ballads. On Dirt Road Anthem, we added this little hip-hop thing.
He has also indulged in several collaborations with artists outside country music, bringing other genres into the country charts. One was a remix of Dirt Road Anthem that featured rapper Ludacris. Another was Dont You Wanna Stay from his My Kinda Party album, a duet with Kelly Clarkson.
I love working with other artists, Aldean said. Im a fan of all different kinds of music. Country radio has proved that its not like it used to be. You can record a song with someone whos not in the country format and, if its a great song, it will have a chance.
When you collaborate, its meant to be fun. You experiment with someone and have a good time, and if the songs good, the people will give it a chance. Thats all you can ask for.
Ive set myself up to be able to record whatever I want to, within reason, and for it to have a chance to do well.
He has done more than well. If anyone illustrates the permanence of rock in country, its Aldean. He has been one of the most successful acts in country music over the past five years and one of its fastest-rising stars. He has sold more than 8 million records in the United States alone and has 19 top 10 country singles, eight of which reached No. 1. He has been nominated for four Grammys and won nearly two dozen country music awards. He has been nominated for male vocalist of the year this year by the Academy of Country Music.
His rise in country can be charted by his appearances in Kansas City. In November 2007, Adlean opened for Rascall Flatts at the Sprint Center. In March 2012, as the headliner, he drew the biggest crowd ever to the arena more than 18,000 breaking the record set by George Strait in 2010. Aldeans show at the Sprint Center on Friday night is also officially sold out.
From the outset, Aldean established himself as a country-rocker, something that hasnt changed over seven years. From a review of a recent show in Minneapolis: He knows how to rock out, as he proved on Johnny Cash, one of the rockingest tunes ever written about a country star (and) the main-set finale Shes Country with its AC/DC undertones.
The rock vs. country debate came to a head last year, when Blake Shelton upset an entire generation of country artists by dismissing their complaints about the state of modern country music: Nobody wants to listen to their grandpas music, the singer stated, adding, And I dont care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, My God, that aint country! Well thats because you dont buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they dont want to buy the music you were buying.
Aldean is more diplomatic in his defense (or support) of whats on country radio. For one thing, he said, theres more than just one flavor.
I think theres diversity in country, Aldean said. Look at the charts. You see artists like Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, who have more of a pop sound. You see artists with a more traditional style, and then theres my thing, which is more of a country-rock thing. And every time a new act comes a long, they bring their own flair to it.
And the previous generations did what he and other artists are doing today: letting their influences into the music they record, whether its rockabilly, as it was in the 1950s, or hard rock, like today.
Thats how its always been, he said. Every wave of new artists bring their influences and their favorite music to the table. We have guys coming up who are more traditional, and thats fine. I love that stuff. But its not necessarily what I want to go out and perform every night for an hour and a half.
If you listen to our show, we have a couple of things that are on the more traditional side. We have our My Kind of Party stuff, which is more rock-oriented.
The thing is, if everyone was traditional and everyone was recording the same stuff, it would get boring after a while. I think its cool to have people bring their own influences to country music, whether its rock, pop, R&B, the blues or whatever is doable. Its what makes everybody different.
Jason Aldean headlines a show Friday night at the Sprint Center. Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr open. The show is officially sold out.