It’s no secret that the current version of mainstream country music leans heavily toward pop. Acts such as Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and Love And Theft have borrowed quite willfully from ‘80s and ‘90s versions of pop and rock, and Keith Urban’s “Kiss A Girl” doesn’t sound all that different in texture from the latest release by pop singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat.
But there’s a growing frustration among some hardcore country fans that they’re being left behind in the current marketplace. A few diehard traditional acts such as George Strait, Brad Paisley, Joe Nichols and Alan Jackson are still adhering to a honky-tonk center, but there aren’t a lot of new artists who fall into that category.
Which makes last Friday’s showcase by Lyric Street’s new artist, Tyler Dickerson, such a breath of fresh air. Just 16 years old, he delivered an acoustic set for media types at John Rich’s private club, the Spot, a second-floor venue across the street from Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a legendary bar at which Tyler has been honing his craft. Between the cowboy hat and the skinny frame, Tyler cut a Hank Williams visage, and he backed it with a sly, authentic voice and a clear taste for music with Southern roots — a little Southern-rock boogie, a little country and even little hints of western swing. And he delivered a cover of “Always On My Mind,” running down a list of the artists who delivered the best-known versions — Willie, Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee and the Pet Shop Boys — all of whom had their runs with the song prior to Tyler’s 1993 birth.
Seemingly unfazed by the exclusive audience, he addressed the reporters with an engaging sarcasm that’s evolved well beyond that of the typical teen.
After the show, he briefly chatted with journalists, and when I was introduced to him as a historically astute reporter, he quickly asked if I was familiar with Wanda Jackson. Oddly enough, considering that I’m the pro and he’s the newcomer, I felt like I passed a test when I was able to answer with enough insight to prove that I indeed knew the subject matter. The fact that a 16-year-old artist knows and appreciates the rockabilly queen should be a surprising and heartening development to fans who fear that the core of country music is being diluted. They should also be encouraged that a record company was willing to sign him.
Tyler may not prove to be the anti-pop antidote that traditionalists long for. But he’s proof that the folks on Music Row haven’t given up on them. He gets his first chance when his debut single comes out in January. A full album is expected later in 2010. And there’s a quality about him that suggests he’ll have plenty more chances after that.