NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column of comment by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.
Country music after 9/11 addressed those tragedies in varying ways, with some major players in the genre running true to form. Country music has traditionally been sensitive to major events and has proved to be ever more so in past months, re-establishing itself as America’s folk music.
The introspective Alan Jackson delivered country’s most lyrical look at the events with “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” The old hawk Charlie Daniels penned a snarling “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag,” and Daniels was still defiant with his later “The Last Fallen Hero.” Toby Keith easily outgunned Daniels with his strident war anthem “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” Hank Williams Jr. re-worked his old Southern manifesto “A Country Boy Can Survive” into the very compelling “America Will Survive.” Goof-meister Ray Stevens ’ attempt at humor, “Osama — Yo’ Mama,” fell pretty flat at a time when goofy comedy was not wanted.
Many pre-9/11 songs adapted surprisingly well to the tragedies. Brooks & Dunn ’s “Only in America,” Aaron Tippin ’s “Where the Stars and the Stripes and the Eagle Fly,” Kenny Rogers ’ “Homeland” and Craig Morgan ’s “God, Family and Country” in particular proved to be very apropos of the times.
Second-generation 9/11 songs — those written with some perspective and some time removed from the actual events themselves — are emerging as a sturdy body of work themselves. As country’s more gifted songwriters assess the impacts of the past year, their entire work can’t help but be affected in some ways by 9/11 and its emotional fallout.
On her latest album Halos & Horns, Dolly Parton ’s song “Hello God” considers the world from the viewpoint of one whose faith has been utterly shattered by the 9/11 atrocities. “Can you hear us,” she beseeches God. “Are you listenin’ anymore? Hello God, if we’re still on speakin’ terms/Can you help us like before?” Unlike most of her optimistic works, Parton’s “Hello God” finds no answers: only heartfelt, agonized questions.
Radney Foster did not originally address 9/11 when he began writing his song “Everyday Angel,” from his new album Another Way to Go. Foster started the song with a verse about Nashville civil rights leader Laura Walker and her impact on the lives of ordinary people around her. Again, the second verse — about his father and one of his clients — touched on the effect one person has on the everyday lives of others. In a post-9/11 visit to New York City, Foster found his third verse in the story of a firefighter who went off to do his duty and never came home. The song is not really about angels, Foster has said. Rather, it’s about “real people doing the right thing in life.”
One of the most eloquent 9/11 songs comes from an unexpected source: three heralded Southern songwriters and artists. Spooner Oldham, Donnie Fritts and Dan Penn are three warhorses from the golden eras in Memphis and Muscle Shoals and are better known for such songs as “Dark End of the Street,” “Sweet Inspiration” and “We Had It All.” Now, they have collaborated on the song “Battle Cry” (included on the 9/11 anthology One Voice on Blue Room Records). “Battle Cry” is a bittersweet lament aimed at an old soldier who is grieving anew. Penn sings the song and his worn vocals give real life and true grit to the words: “Freedom is on the line/And it’s worth defending.”