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Lionel Richie Does Country?

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a bit tired of country music being used as pastureland for aging artists from other genres. The latest grazer in said pasture is apparently Lionel Richie, who this week released Tuskegee, a countrified collection of his greatest hits.

What do I mean by that opening statement? Okay, let’s start with The Eagles, pioneers in rock & roll. Their 2007 release Long Road Out of Eden, their first in many years, was categorized “country.” Then it was 80-s rock band Bon Jovi, who released Lost Highway around the same time as a country album. (Thankfully, their latest release is a return to rock, at least in style.)

The way country has evolved as a genre, it almost makes sense that classic rock artists could “crossover” pretty easily (not that I particularly like that trend, but still). But Lionel Richie? He’s an R&B artist, for crying out loud. What is he doing in this pasture?

Okay, so to be fair, Tuskegee is actually a pretty tasteful album, for what it is. And Richie doesn’t appear to be trying to become a country artist—just sort of dabbling his feet in it. The concept is basically a country re-working of some of Richie’s greatest hits, including “Say You, Say Me,” “Lady,” “Endless Love” etc., sung as duets with popular country artists past and present (including Blake Shelton, Shania Twain, Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney and others). My personal favorite—if you can call it that—is “Dancing On the Ceiling” featuring Rascal Flatts. It’s my favorite Richie song, anyway, and I like what Rascal Flatts does with the tune.

So what’s problem? It’s not with the record itself—it’s the whole principle behind it. Country is not rock; country is not R&B.  Country is country.  We need new up-and-coming acts like Taylor Swift and The Band Perry to take country into the next generation—not aging stars from other genres drifting over here to graze because the powers that be don’t think they can sell records otherwise. I think this trend does a disservice both to country and to the artists themselves. Admittedly, I don’t know the true motives behind this—hell, this might have been Richie’s idea, for all I know—but given the context and trend, it just doesn’t reflect well on him as a tactical move.

Like I said, Tuskegee is a tasteful rendering of Richie’s hits, and will likely chart well—but it could just as easily been done as a straight tribute album, instead of as Lionel Richie-does-country. Richie, now 62, can still kick it with the best; I say, let him be the R&B artist that he is.

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About the Author


Music blogger Rob Burkhardt has been a fan of country music since he was a child, cutting his teeth on the sounds of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Reba McIntyre and George Jones. In the words of the now-legendary Barbara Mandrell song, he was "country when country wasn't cool." Nowadays, Rob is both intrigued and excited about the mainstream crossover appeal of modern country, as seen in the success of artists like Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts and Lady Antebellum. Even so, Rob's personal tastes in country music remain "old school," tied to the great legends of country. When he's not blogging about country music, Rob Burkhardt holds a day job as a middle school teacher, and is an avid sports fan. He lives with his wife and two teenage girls in southern Ohio.

Posted in: Country Music


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