Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Country Roundup # 1

We introduce a new monthly feature dedicated to bringing you interesting recent videos (some good, some bad) from the much maligned world of country music. This week spotlights Dierks Bentley's new "Long Trip Alone" and offers brief looks at videos from Ashley Monroe, Keith Anderson, and Chris Thile.

Dierks Bentley "Long Trip Alone"

dir. by Charles Mehling

When Dierks Bentley begins a country video in a Mexican jail with his hair shaved, it's hard to know what exactly to expect. But thankfully director Charles Mehling (yes, a former member of the Brian Jonestown Massacre) adds subtle depth and complexity to this seemingly simple story about the value of companionship.

The opening jail shots are close-up, tense and shaky, adding an air of suspicion and dread to the proceedings. But we soon realize he's getting out and not being put in, and gradually the shots are expanded to wider angles. As Bentley steps out of jail the director pulls back all the way to show him standing in the middle of the screen, under the sunlight. It's an image of freedom, but also one of loneliness - Bentley's now stranded in a country he doesn't know, without a way back home.

We are aware early on that this man is on a journey to return home to his wife, but it isn't immediately clear how he got where he is and what the significance of said journey really is. On paper it reads rather mundane - guy gets drunk in Mexico, gets into a fight and consequently spends the night in jail. Yet as Bentley travels the Mexican countryside we get a thoughtful portrait of the people who help him along the way. It turns out that he isn't quite as lost as he originally thought. A man lends his hand to pull Bentley into a truck, another gives him a job and others help him find his way home.

But on the bus back Bentley is asked to prove his citizenship. He fortunately has a passport and makes it safely across, but through his window we can see a group of people who are not as fortunate. As the song plays, "it's a long way alone," the significance of the words seem to apply to bordering nations and cultures as much as to two people. Perhaps it's a call for cooperation across borders, or maybe it's simply meant to add realism to Bentley's journey - either way one can't ignore the significant presence of the Mexican countryside and it's people.

Of course in the end Bentley is mainly concerned with returning home to his wife. When he opens the door we are expecting a hug or a kiss, some grand culmination of the search. But what we get is emptiness and an unheard message. Which calls into further question why Bentley was drunk in Mexico in the first place, and why he would be so angry as to get into a brawl. By not fulfilling easy expectations throughout, Mehling makes an otherwise regular country video into something far more compelling.

Ashley Monroe ft. Ronnie Dunn

dir. by ?

This video is about as pointless as the song itself. It's always strange to begin a love song with a line like "I could go out tonight, and find some stranger/it wouldn't be wrong," especially when it seems like all your lover does is sit around and produce paintings of you. But let's assume there was some sort of fight that has provoked this outburst, it's still unclear what exactly is being said with the words or visuals. If there was some huge fight over the man's infidelity, would she forgive him in a few hours after seeing a painting? And if it's not about something like that, why is she threatening him with infidelity?

It's especially confusing that she confesses she is "treated like a queen" and that she is "in love" yet she roams the streets and he sits on his bed thinking only of her. She doesn't want to be with anyone else, but as she walks down the sidewalk every guy she passes sings just like her man, is handsome and she believes many of them could treat her just as well as her current mate. She doesn't mention anything really unique about him, or any clue as to why she wants him but instead lists all the reasons she could go to someone else - which inevitably is only going to make him doubt his own worth for the rest of the relationship! I'm just saying...

Keith Anderson "XXL"

dir. by Trey Fanjoy

WTF. Hip-hop videos get a lot of (often deserved) flak for being overly misogynistic and mostly meaningless - but is nobody watching country videos? Even more baffling is the fact that Anderson ever felt compelled to make a song strictly about his masculinity, which necessarily calls into question said claims. Furthermore, and most importantly, this video lacks any wit, cleverness or skill at all. Contender for worst video of the year.

Chris Thile "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"

I just kind of like this White Stripes cover, plus they play it on CMT once in a while.

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Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie