Styles & Forms | Young Country

The young country movement was an industry-driven trend aimed at the mass market of teens and twenty-something music fans. Like the urban cowboys, young country artists often contemporized or diluted prevailing styles like honky-tonk and pop country for mass consumption.

The early 1990s saw a continuation of the mid- and late-1980s neo-traditionalist movement and produced a glut of gifted young male singers like Mark Chesnutt, Clay Walker, Rick Trevino, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart, for the most part grounded in honky-tonk and hard country.

Of these, Alan Jackson, a handsome, unassuming singer from Georgia, would rise to the fore. Jackson’s 1990 debut album, Here In The Real World, features unabashedly twangy vocals and robust fiddle-guitar-steel guitar arrangements, while also showcasing Jackson as a tradition-flavoured songwriter of artistry and insight. Other men, like Steve Wariner, Mike Reid, Collin Raye, Bryan White, Kevin Sharp and Vince Gill (an Oklahoma-born tenor singer who has also emerged as one of country’s most popular figures in the past decade) thrived in the late-1980s and the 1990s with softer, more refined ballad-oriented styles, equally accessible to pop and country fans.

Invasion Of The Youngsters

Though his dramatic rise preceded the young country movement by a few years, Oklahoman Garth Brooks’ phenomenal success in conquering the youthful crossover audience (he sold 60 million albums between 1989 and 1996 alone) did much to shift the country record industry’s focus to an increasingly younger crossover crowd. Brooks’ success lay in his uncanny ability to combine the drawl and whine of a neo-honky-tonker with effective pop country balladeering, an animated performance style, an introspective new age persona and a shrewd marketing acumen.

Nearly parallel with Brooks’ rise was the ascendance of Georgia-born Trisha Yearwood, who debuted in 1991 with the No. 1 single ‘She’s In Love With The Boy’. Yearwood’s confident, Linda Ronstadt-like soprano, which often effortlessly bridges the rocky gap between country and pop, won instant appeal. She has since followed up with a string of chart-topping hits, from the soulful ‘The Song Remembers When’ to the sprightly ‘XXX’s And OOO’s’.

Mississippi-born LeAnn Rimes, another harbinger of young country, first topped the national charts aged 13 in 1996, with the No. 1 crossover single ‘Blue’. ‘Blue’ was originally written for Patsy Cline, who died before she could record it. Rimes herself has a powerful Patsy Cline-like pop country voice, but audiences found a novelty appeal in her ability to sound like she was 13 going on 39. Like Brooks, Rimes racked up incredible sales figures. Her debut album, Blue, sold three million, and she sold twelve and a half million albums in 1997 alone.

A dozen or more under-20 artists were soon rolling down the pathway that Rimes paved for them. By the late-1990s there was hardly a Nashville record label that hadn’t signed at least one teenage sensation with a sweet voice, a revealing halter-neck top...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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