Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Western Music Ropes in New Listeners

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Western Music Ropes in New Listeners

Article excerpt

There was a time when you could ask anyone driving a pickup truck what kind of music they listened to and you'd get a well-worn witticism.

"I like both kinds," they'd say, "country and western" as though there was nothing else worth listening to. The phrase was also funny because they were considered one and the same.

But during the 1960s, the two parted trails and in many ways are as different a drive as a dirt road and Madison Avenue. Country took a commercially successful route. Millions of pop-music fans regularly cross over to listen to heavily produced tunes of teenage phenom LeAnn Rimes. Garth Brooks even swings across the stage on a wire like the heavy-metal rockers of the '70s. The size of the western audience, on the other hand, dried up like a desert tumbleweed. But the enthusiasm for the simple harmonies and ballads performed mostly on acoustic instruments never did. And today, that enthusiasm for songs that dust the Old West with a golden patina is making a comeback. "It's taking off all over the world," says Ray Condo of the Canadian group Ray Condo and the Ricochets, one of a growing number of groups singing western-style music. "The whole Americana wave is going worldwide. It's a celebration of American culture, it's like gold," he says. Western groups are popping up everywhere - Australia, Europe, Japan. In the United States, country fans are returning to the roots of their music, but a younger, alternative-music crowd is also listening. The reason for the revival can be found in part at the genre's center in a single cultural icon: "There is no more recognizable hero in the world than the American cowboy," says Voleta Hummel of the Western Music Association in Tucson, Ariz. Another reason is the simplicity and nature of the songs that center on western life, journeys, and a satisfaction with life. "We like to say country music is about bedrooms and barrooms. Western on the other hand is very wholesome music. You aren't embarrassed to take your mother to {hear} it," Ms. …

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