The 9 Categories of Country Music

A few years ago my friend Dan and I discovered the 9 categories of country music. These subject areas and themes are the ones most frequently appearing in the best country music songs, crafted and defined to be broad enough to apply across the spectrum of country music and specific enough to capture the important topics covered in a particular song. Our theory was that, at least as a rule of thumb, the more categories a song hits the better the song. This certainly isn’t a hard and fast rule – Wagon Wheel, one of the unquestioned contenders for qualitatively best country song doesn’t stack up particularly impressively on our quantitative metric. It’s certainly true that by focusing lyrically on even just a couple of these categories a country song can be great. Nevertheless, our theory is that there’s at least a very strong correlation between the number of categories a song hits and how good that song is.

In no particular order the 9 categories are:

  1. Love
  2. Hard Times
  3. Raisin’ Hell
  4. Nostalgia
  5. Musical Aspirations and Inspirations
  6. God/ religion
  7. The South
  8. America
  9. Modes of Transportation

I can’t recall hearing a country song that did not hit at least a couple of these categories, and probably the average is around 3.5 categories. Of course, one of the key issues in analyzing country songs for the number of categories represented is how strict or loose a construction to put on each of the categories. I hope to explore each of these categories in depth in future posts and what I mean by the level of construction will become more clear. But just to give a bit of color on each of the categories by way of example, consider the following lyrics from the lone song that our analysis has uncovered as hitting 8 of the categories, Kenny Chesney’s I Go Back:

  1. I go back to a two-toned short bed Chevy/ drivin’ my first love out to the levy (Love)
  2. And I go back to the loss of a real good friend/ and the sixteen summers I shared with him (Hard Times)
  3. And I go back to the feel of a fifty yard line/ A blanket, a girl, some raspberry wine (Raisin’ Hell)
  4. After graduation and drinkin’ goodbye to friends (Nostalgia)
  5. “Jack and Diane” painted a picture of my life and my dreams (Musical Aspirations and Inspirations)
  6. So I go back to a pew, preacher and a choir/ singin’ ‘bout God, brimstone and fire (God/ religion)
  7. I go back to the smell of an old gym floor/ and the taste of salt on the Carolina shore (The South)
  8. Not represented (America)
  9. I go back to a two-toned short bed Chevy/ drivin’ my first love out to the levy (Modes of Transportation)


A Comprehensive List of Things Appearing in “I Love This Life” that LoCash Loves

  • my boots broke in
  • my camo hat
  • driving my truck across the railroad tracks
  • a fresh cut field with a first frost on
  • how it [a fresh cut field with a first frost on] shines like gold when the sun turned on
  • the sound of them wheels [presumably the wheels of LoCash’s truck when driving across the railroad tracks] with my baby singing along when “The Boys Of Summer” comes on – it’s not entirely clear in context whether LoCash has an independent love for when “The Boys of Summer” comes on or whether the aforementioned song coming on modifies LoCash’s love for the sound of them wheels with my baby singing along, perhaps to an unspecified song; I think it is the former
  • my small-town world
  • a country girl
  • a Friday night
  • this life
  • that county line bar where they all know my drink
  • the way she throws her hands up when that cover band plays – really the same editorial comment here, and in the next item, as to “when ‘The Boys of Summer’ comes on”; again, in context, I think the better understanding is that LoCash specifically loves the way and the taste as modified by these specific circumstances rather than as loving, in each case respectively, two separate things
  • the taste of her lips when she’s been sippin’ that wine
  • that ragged old barn that my grandpa made
  • that little white church out on 109

Additional things LoCash may love, but for which their love is not clearly expressed: 

My understanding from the song is that LoCash also loves “the sound of an ol’ dirt road rollin’ through my mind” however they do not explicitly profess a love for this. In addition, LoCash notes that “I still get drunk on her every time” which, while not specifically professing love for her, I think is best interpreted through the metaphor and in the context of the song listing things that they love as loving her.

Addendum: Songs listing things can be great (see, e.g., Kip Moore’s “Something ‘bout a Truck”) as, of course, are songs with unbridled optimism and enthusiasm for the great things in life (see, e.g., Kenny Chesney’s “Life is Good”). Preston Brust (together with Chris Lucas, LoCash f/k/a LoCash Cowboys) talks about writing this song here, saying “We got to talking about how there was so much negativity on the news. We were kind of fed up with it that morning. [We said] Let’s get back to the stuff that we love, the little things. Let’s make a laundry list of all the things we love, and let’s call this song, ‘I Love This Life.’” What a perfect mentality for writing country songs!

NB: As this song was co-written by Brust, Lucas and two other writers, and sung by both Brust and Lucas – in the first person – I have sort of just assumed that both members of LoCash each love all of the items in the song, I think it’s better that way.

Album Highlights: Home – Pat Green

Down here in Texas, Houston en route to Austin, I think it’s only proper to offer up some thoughts on Pat F. Green. It’s going on a decade since I drove down from New Hampshire to Washington, D.C. to see PFG for the first time, and was surely the sole wearer of a NY Mets hat in a town that just a few years before had gotten their own baseball team back and in a crowd filled with Texas ex pats. At the time that was about the farthest north Green ventured, but clearly had sights set on bigger things. It was also about that time that I (apparently) introduced my good friend, who I’ll be travelling to Austin with shortly, to Pat Green and so, Pat, my apologies for his incessant screams at your concerts for Down to the River. At that DC show Green played Let Me, introducing it as a song he’d not yet released and which would eventually be the first single off his What I’m For album. He’s come a long way Home.


Life Good as It Can Be is one of my favorite tracks on the new album. It feels exactly like the kind of song Pat Green should be singing at this stage of his career, like the song says a “take it easy baby, if it’s easy take it twice” kind of song. The lyrics feature a nice blend of sober reflection and just a hint of PFG’s old rowdiness, the tempo is upbeat and energizing but not trying to be pop country and the vocals seem true to a relaxed and contemplative Green, not artificially smoothed out. Letting his guitar put the cash in his car and drinking all the beers in Milwaukee gesture to the Pat Green material of old – Here We Go, George’s Bar, etc – but the song ultimately goes in a different route, reflection over rebellion:

Well I never forgot what my daddy told me
said I waited too long son I’ll never break free
there’s gotta be more boy to being alive
then minimum wage every day til you die

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Girls From Texas, but because this song’s been pretty well received – particularly in concert – and was released as Home’s first single, it deserves mention. The song doesn’t do it for me since the lyrics are a bit cliché and seem too concerned with trying to find words that rhyme rather than telling a story or fleshing out any meat to the song. But on the other hand, the shout outs to so many states is great – how many times do states like New York and Minnesota get mentioned in country songs after all?! And the lullaby tempo and instrumentals are nice and, together with the inclusion of Lyle Lovett, are a clear signal in this first single of what to expect from the remainder of album (i.e. Texas country music).

Day One was Home’s second released single and a fantastic song that recalls the greatness of hits like Don’t Break My Heart Again. In songs like this we hear PFG vocals that convey so much emotion, raw and real, not manufactured. Combined with the strong lyrics that aren’t exactly novel but are combined in a clever way and are overwhelmingly thoughtful and sincere, the vocals take the listener reeling along with the grieving Green through the classic combination of love and hard times, with a bit of nostalgia thrown in.

In addition to the highlights above, there are a number of other strong tracks on the album, in particular Home and I’ll Take This House. And in the end Home is a more mature, grown up Pat Green, which is altogether fitting and welcome: Home was released nearly two decades after Green’s first live album and so the album, called after and representing a return to roots, is fittingly less rowdy and freewheeling and more analytical and reflective. Green has matured as singer and songwriter, and many of his fans have grown up a bit too. But even more important than the particulars of the album is the fact that the extremely talented Pat Green is once again releasing new, original music – With PFG back on the scene, Texas country music fans have a lot to look forward to!

Country Worldwide

I wasn’t greeted with the typical sound of the driver screaming into his bluetooth headset on my last NYC yellow cab ride. Instead, after giving the driver my destination and orienting myself in the cab, it occurred to me that I was being serenaded by the dulcet tones of Eric Church’s Springsteen and a quick glance confirmed that 94.7 NASH FM was playing on the radio. (More to come in a future post analyzing the strengths of “Springsteen”, including but not limited to an analysis of the title lyrics’ ability to conjure up of powerful nostalgia as well as both musical aspirational and inspirational themes all in one word.)

My ears perk up whenever I hear country music in New York City but the context of a taxi cab, being driven by a man who I initially thought – and subsequently confirmed – was not originally from these United States and did not speak English as a first language, I was particularly surprised at the choice of music. I tentatively engaged Mr. Ait-Ouamer in conversation, asking whether he liked the music that was currently playing, assuring him – lest he interpret my query as some sort of complaint – that I, in fact, liked the music. And so it turns out that he did like the genre, expressing a preference for country over various other genres and in sum delivering his verdict that it was nice music to drive around to. We chatted for the rest of the ride about music and culture, the driver I think manifesting significantly more surprise at the fact that I knew where Algeria, his native country, is located than I, at least outwardly, displayed with respect to his preference for country music.

And at the end of the day, while I can’t confirm that Mr. Ait-Ouamer will be attending the time Reckless Kelly comes to town for a concert, this was a nice reminder of some of the things that make country music so great. Country music features songs that are easy to listen to, based around universal themes like family, love and hard times that defy boundaries of state or country. A song about the nostalgia of young love can be just as appealing to a middle-aged immigrant from Algeria driving a taxi cab up and down the potholed streets of a big city as it can be to a young kid driving a harvester up and down rows of corn that seem to go on forever in a farm town out in the sticks. Brantley Gilbert sang that country must be country wide, and I agree with that sentiment as far as it goes, but – as my recent encounter reminded me – the appeal of country is indeed even wider than that.