Finding appreciation in country music

Michael Hanley, Contributing Writer

On its surface, it is hard to find people who actually enjoy country music. Over-produced garbage about beer and trucks? It’s not enjoyable to most people. I remember my first time trying to enjoy it; the prosthetic sounding band and soulless guitar solos from musicians like Florida Georgia Line and Luke Combs sent shivers down my spine, and still does to this day. It all sounded the same: similar stories, similar voices and similar trends.

The country music seen on Apple Music’s “Today’s Hits” has a very selective audience; sure, it’s good music to party to, but to most music fans, we’re looking for something more. To me and many others, music is about passion, emotion, vulnerability and connecting to the world at large. It’s there for our good, our bad and our worse days. Yet to most of us, it is hard to find a connection with country music.

In one year this all changed for me. Country is now my most listened-to genre on platforms and as a musician, I perform country songs for my friends and family often. Hell, I own a cowboy hat and I wear it proudly.

So what changed? Simple: I sifted through the garbage, swam through the sewer and found the promised land.

I found the one musician that opened my eyes and sang to me: Tyler Childers, the current face of Appalachian country. His second studio album, “Purgatory,” has a song for everybody. Looking for an upbeat love song? Try “Feathered Indians.” How about a song about slowing down and focusing on the finer things? Listen to “Universal Sound.” Want an acoustic murder-ballad? Listen to “Banded Clovis.” The album as a whole is perfect, no skips needed.

From there, finding other musicians like him was easy. The working man, banjo-fueled music of Sturgil Simpson became a pillar of my country playlist. The traditional cowboy twang of Colter Wall has always helped me wind down after a wild day. Looking for a deep storyteller? Give Charles Wesley Godwin a shot. Then there’s Zach Bryan, the hands-down best songwriter on the scene right now. Bryan’s album “American Heartbreak,” consisting of 34 songs, is full of hits for any occasion. From “Something in the Orange” to “Whiskey Fever,”if you’re looking to laugh, sing and cry, “American Heartbreak” is the album for you.

I realized that like most things, you cannot put a definitive label on country music. From bluegrass to studio trash, the country music spectrum is wide and vast and there is room for everybody. Want to get into country music? You simply need to find the one musician that speaks directly to you, connecting their songs to your life and singing directly to your soul. I promise, if you look hard enough, you’ll find that musician or band, and you’ll be hooked for life.