Remember that Keith Whitley post from three weeks ago? I’d like to isolate part of it for discussion. Namely, this part:
Is a classic country voice doomed to keep on rerecording the old classics? Who’s writing modern classics worthy of such a voice? Would Keith Whitley be having this same problem if he were alive today?
This was in reference to Daryle Singletary, who seemed to have trouble finding really solid original material early in his career and has basically been relegated to a classic country cover act for the past decade or so. Singletary is an extreme example, but many of the golden-throated singers who haven’t done multiple cover albums – the other Whitley disciples, Josh Turner, Jeff Bates – face essentially the same problem: Their voices are usually a lot better than their songs.
Maybe their material isn’t any worse than that of their contemporaries, but we expect more of them because their voices give us the idea that they’re capable of delivering it. When you hear Chuck Wicks or Rascal Flatts do a trite love song, you might (hopefully) dislike it, but there’s no sense of wasted potential. Those acts are doing exactly what they’re meant to be doing. That’s their best, take it or leave it. Conversely, when you hear Daryle Singletary having “Too Much Fun” or Josh Turner declaring that “Everything is Fine,” even if you enjoy it, you can’t help but wonder what they could do with a really great, meaty country song. They’re skilled enough as vocalists to make trifling radio fare likable, but their voices seem made to sing classic country. Until they deliver on that promise, they’re just neotraditional teases.
So, what to do? They could devote themselves to covering the old classics and watch all commercial relevance fly out the window. Or they could look for new classics. But where would they find songs like that? Who’s writing them? And is the search worth the trouble, given how much easier it is to skate along on middling material?