One of the longest-running debates in country music pits traditionalists against pop-leaning sounds, and it’s tough to find a better illustration of how wide the genre’s gotten than the calendar. Specifically April 20. On that date, country’s releases will include competing albums by old-school singer David Ball and rap-influenced Colt Ford.
David, who played with the late Walter Hyatt in Uncle Walt’s Band, has had a couple of peak periods as a solo artist. He threw George Jones-like, back-of-the-throat vocals onto 1994’s “Thinkin’ Problem,” an ultra-catchy song that bordered on novelty. He signed with an independent label around the turn of the century and his military ghost tale, “Riding With Private Malone,” became a Top 10 hit in the aftermath of 9/11.
David launches a new album, Sparkle City, on April 20 with a backing band whose name — the Pioneer Playboys — invokes his appreciation of tradition, purposely building on two acts in the Country Music Hall of Fame: the western group the Sons Of The Pioneers and the western swing outfit Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys. David plans to celebrate Sparkle’s arrival in the marketplace with a day-of-release free show at Nashville’s Third & Lindsley.
On the other end of the spectrum, Colt mixes hip-hop delivery with country imagery and instrumentation in Chicken And Biscuits, another April 20 release that includes guest appearances by Randy Houser, Joe Nichols, Josh Gracin, Darryl Worley and James Otto, among others. In an official release, Colt’s handlers insist he’s “mistakenly described as a country rapper,” though he does indeed rap in a country context and frequently admits that he “can’t sing all that well.”
Colt’s first album, Ride Through The Country, sold 150,000 copies, a respectable figure — particularly on an independent label during an era in which album sales are on the decline. He’s got his fingers crossed that the sophomore project will continue an upward trajectory.
“I never thought I could make a record like Chicken And Biscuits,” he says. “I pushed myself so hard in writing and finding the songs for the record, and I was blessed to write with some of the greatest songwriters in the world. To be able to make a second album that I feel is better than the first and still maintain who I am as an artist…wow! That was my goal, and I hope the fans agree because I gave it all I have.”
Between David and Colt, there’s plenty of opportunity for those same country fans to continue the debate about country’s borders.