I barely follow it, and even I know it’s been a helluva week for country music. I’m sure there are still plenty of practitioners of the form still relying on pickup truck cliches and jingoistic garbage to propel their creativity, but at least some country artists have decided the time has come to draw some lines. As part of the welcome, elongated trek back into music-making, a trio of unlikely agitators dropped Dixie from their name and released a fiery new protest song that further increases the likelihood that I will ask the proprietor of my favorite independently-owned record store to set aside a copy of what will now be the first album billed officially to the Chicks. At about the same time, Eric Church delivered his own tuneful demand for change, specifically calling out his country music peers for shying away from the significant social issues of the day.
“Stick That in Your Country Song” is a roundhouse punch of dissatisfaction, especially powerful because it’s coming from someone who’s hardly a disgruntled outsider. Three of Church’s last four studio albums topped the country charts, and at least six of his solo singles have reached the same pinnacle on their respective list. So when he offers the challenge to write and perform songs about wounded veterans, abandoned cities, and underpaid teachers, he’s implicitly including himself in the call to do better. On that front this stomper is goddamn good start, reminding me of vintage Steve Earle. I can muster few higher compliments for a country song.