Magazine article The New Yorker

In Country

Magazine article The New Yorker

In Country

Article excerpt

A few weeks ago, Dolly Parton appeared on "American Idol," coaching contestants through her songbook and performing a number from her latest CD, "Backwoods Barbie." Though the aspiring Idols were game, Parton's spirit is more easily found in a handful of young country singers who, like Parton, became unusually good songwriters at unusually early ages. Ashton Shepherd's debut, "Sounds So Good" (MCA Nashville)--like Miranda Lambert's debut, "Kerosene," from 2006, and Taylor Swift's self-titled debut, from 2007--is a largely self-written affair that takes advantage of Nashville's dependable stable of players and producers but hinges on songs written, in many cases, by a teen-ager.

Shepherd is the beneficiary of the changes wrought by Gretchen Wilson in 2004, when "Redneck Woman" reintroduced the idea of a female country star in thrall to neither balladry nor traditional feminine dress. (Ignore, for now, that "Idol" 's own Carrie Underwood became an even bigger star singing exactly those ballads in exactly that dress. …

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