Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Protest From the Right Side of Country

John Rich, at the Astor Place subway stop in the East Village. His new song, “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” is uncommonly topical for a Nashville production.

There’s no screaming on the first great song of the bailout era. No audible rage. No tears. Instead, on “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” the country star John Rich, singing evenly, sounds perfectly levelheaded, as if he’d thought through his position thoroughly and acquired the peace of the righteous:

I see all these big shots whining on my evening news

About how they’re losing billions and it’s up to me and you

To come running to

The rescue

“The song is not depressing,” Mr. Rich said last week, in an interview in the rooftop bar of a hotel in Gramercy Park. “The song is defiant.”

And for contemporary Nashville, shockingly topical. Mr. Rich, 35, conceived and wrote “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” in late January, in a fit of pique after watching news accounts of the $1.2 million office remodeling by John Thain, the Merrill Lynch chief executive. Within two weeks it had been recorded, mastered and released to country radio stations, as well as added to his new album “Son of a Preacher Man” (Warner Brothers Nashville), which had already been submitted to the label.

Well, he makes sense, but leans right. Yet he isn't simply the same old yahoo.

And he makes for a charming sermonizer. Speaking of his disbelief at government enabling of corporate arrogance on the Fox News’s “Glenn Beck Program” last week, he quipped, "Why don’t you just come to my house and slap me while you’re at it?"

That appearance was part of an album-release media offensive that included turns on “Glenn Beck” and “Hannity,” where he answered one question with a recitation of the first verse of “Detroit,” and gave Sean Hannity a T-shirt that read, “If you don’t love America ... why don’t you get the hell out?”

Well, he is something of a yahoo, clearly. Still:

Politics aside, Mr. Rich can be refreshingly undogmatic. As the host and avuncular mentor on the CMT series “Gone Country,” he shepherds once-weres from other music genres or entertainment careers in their quests to become country singers. And on the most recent season of “Nashville Star,” a country-music competition similar to “American Idol,” he was vocal about the need for Nashville to embrace Hispanic singers who can connect with the growing Hispanic population in the United States.

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