The history of LGBT involvement in country music and its fandom is a compelling topic, and one which goes back decades. Consider Vernon Dalhart’s 1938 cover of the song Lavender Cowboy, about a gunslinger with “only two hairs on his chest,” which was banned from radio on the pretext of gay undertones. Years later in the wake of Stonewall, the out-and-proud band Lavender Country was formed. Though they were from the Seattle counterculture rather than Nashville, their music was pure country that delved into gay themes, which caused them to also have a song pulled from radio on one occasion. It’s unavoidable that mainstream country, due to its penchant for sexual conservatism, is not as known for gay icons as genres like rock or disco—though there are notable exceptions, like Dolly Parton. The 1990s brought some cultural changes with them, as K.D. Lang juggled success on pop and country charts while coming out of the closet. Since then, the door has opened for country acts like Kacey Musgrave and Little Big Town to cover queer topics while finding mainstream audiences, suggesting that there’s no better time for Paisley Fields to break through.
Glitter and Sawdust—a title that cleverly mixes the rustic macho imagery of the genre with gay aesthetics—is an album in the tradition of Lavender Country, putting a queer twist on the tradition of honky-tonk love ballads. The production is a warm and welcoming mix of fiddles, banjos, piano, and other bluegrass standards, that immediately puts a smile on your face with the Eagles-esque opening track “Keep Swimming”. That song, like the Eagles’ “Already Gone”, is a sassy but good-natured collection of putdowns for an ex, delivered with a joyful energy. It’s clear that lead singer James Wilson, who grew up in Iowa on the likes of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, enjoys the genre’s opportunities for playfulness and sarcasm—the second track is called “Hot Burrito #1”. Though the third song “Winchester’s Gun” carries on the humorous balladeering tone, the album then goes on to explore heartbreak and longing from a gay perspective, such as in the unrequited love tune “Expect a Heart From Me”. “Can’t Stop Our Love”, a duet with Jack Lysnkey, deals with the fear of being ostracized from the family and community for coming out of the closet. It’s one of the emotional highlights of the record, and is followed with a very different set of feelings in “My Wallet Is Empty (But My Pint Glass Is Full)”, about the atmosphere of a saloon nearing closing. “Periwinkle” returns to themes of being judged by society, with lyrics like “fitting in is always best when you’re living in a one-stoplight town in the Midwest.” Glitter and Sawdust ends with a cover of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush”, which made waves in the country music scene in 2015 for its lesbian lyrics and continues the melancholic feel of some of the album’s second half.
I’m not any kind of expert on country music. Though I did grow up with it often playing in the background of my house, I admit to not following the genre as it is today very closely. However, Glitter and Sawdust has made me reconsider my tastes, reminding me of country’s ability to mix sly humor and sincere heartbreak effortlessly. Paisley Fields is an act that deserves to go big, with enough charisma for pop crossovers and enough authenticity for the country scene.
Follow Paisley Fields on Twitter @ThePaisleyField
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