From the start of Country Music Television's Can You Duet second season, Steel Magnolia was pegged as a safe bet to claim the title.
Steel Magnolia's Meghan Linsey and Joshua Scott Jones blend their voices and their musical instincts to create an original, promising new country duo. In a world so frequently besieged by same-sounding musical stylings, Steel Magnolia has a truly unique quality other new artists often find elusive. They are quirky, talented and appealing.
Old Country Music
Country music once offered a steady stream of cry-in-your-beer songs and a stable of artists who peppered every lyric with a drawl or a twang. Yet it was that very sound, so full of fiddles, steel guitars, banjos and heart, that spurred millions to develop a die-hard country music passion.
In the 1960s, country music began to flirt with pop music sounds, and soon a crossover country style was born. Artists like Glen Campbell, John Denver, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers discovered that planting one foot in country music and the other in pop increased their musical profile and their fan base. Even so, many devoted country fans weren't impressed with the change. Those who believed that it was the old singing cowboys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry who fathered the true country western sound, didn't take kindly to the addition of classical strings, horns, electronically produced tones and vocal antics.
The melding of country and pop grew increasingly contentious. In 1975, the Country Music Association (CMA) named John Denver its Entertainer of the Year, and per tradition, the outgoing titleholder presented the award. The 1974 winner was Charlie Rich, but instead of heaping accolades upon the new winner during the live broadcast, Rich set fire to the award envelope containing John Denver's name. He called his shocking act a protest of the ever-encroaching pop influence in country music.
Yet country music continued to evolve so effectively that today, artists from nearly every musical genre cross over to sample country flavor, and country artists weave styles and sounds from other genres into songs at will.
The New Country Music
A recent CMA awards show featured country artist, Taylor Swift, in performances with rapper T-Pain and the rock band Def Leppard. Country music has clearly become a canvas of possibilities. And if thats true, then the "Can You Duet" crowning of a duo so tickling the fringe of country music, as Steel Magnolia appears to be, is worthy of celebration.
Steel Magnolia embodies the next new evolution in country music. Their sound is country fusion at its best, and listening to them transition from song to song is akin to taking a world tour. Plenty of colorful musical nuances highlight their unusual style, and as their performances on "Can You Duet" proved, they can sing whatever, and be whatever, is asked of them. They don't need a recording studio to make them sound great. They simply do.
Nashville's Big Machine Records signed Steel Magnolia at the show's end, and as their debut single, Keep On Loving You, continues to climb the charts, its full-bodied sound and infectious hook may bring even more new fans to the ever-changing world of country music.
Steel Magnolia - Country Music Legends in the Making
When all is said and done, history may show that country music took another powerful swing toward creative invention when Steel Magnolia was introduced to the world.
A bit of vintage British rock, an undercurrent of blues, a pop feel and a country soul is what comes together in great harmony to make country music's newest duo an act to watch.
The "Can You Duet" winners have John Denver and other visionary artists to thank for their title, for without the trailblazers who conceived a country music style that could reach across musical borders while still honoring its country roots, the opportunity to be heard wouldn't exist for a fun, exciting, new country duo like Steel Magnolia.
Country Music Association
photograph of Steel Magnolia provided with permsission by Big Machine Records