The most striking thing about John Fullbright’s brilliant 2014 album, Songs, isn’t the music; it’s the jacket art. On the cover, Fullbright sits on a wooden stoop, wearing the everyday uniform of an average male Oklahoman: plaid shirt, blue jeans and black cowboy boots, with a short haircut that gets in the way of nothing. In his right hand is a glass of white wine, and inside, where lyrics appear, the wine glass sits atop Fullbright’s piano.
That’s the weird part: Sooner crooners aren’t supposed to drink wine; they’re supposed to drink beer. Nor are they typically seen favoring the ivories over six strings and a fretboard (Fullbright also plays guitar, but it’s his keyboard playing that figures most prominently on Songs.) Fullbright’s music is far from fancy, but in both sound and beverage, he stands as a refreshing affront to the shotgunnin’ machismo that permeates mainstream Nashville these days.
Speaking of which, the female duo Maddie & Tae have a #1 hit on their hands with “Girl in a Country Song,” a humorous rejection of female steretypes that crop up with “bro-country” tunes nowadays. While the song calls many male artists out onto the carpet (without naming them), it takes its deadest aim at Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here,” which speaks of ice-cold beer, girls, trucks, and redneck pride. Shelton’s is a catchy tune that you wish were parody. Unfortunately, it’s not.
The irony here is that Shelton’s one of the good guys. He has a deep appreciation for country’s forebearers, and uses his fame to bolster the prospects of his wife, Miranda Lambert, as well as fairer-gendered cohorts like Ashley Monroe, whom he dueted with on The Voice the other night. If anyone could chart a more emotionally complex course for popular male roots music, it’s Shelton. Which brings us back to Fullbright, who’s comfortable enough in his own skin to drink Chardonnay and tickle keys instead of pound beers and lunge at denim cheeks. These two Oklahomans need to meet and possibly tour together. Fullbright would get the larger audience he deserves (fanatics would thereafter be dubbed “Fullbright Scholars”), and Shelton could more fully embrace the sensitive side that’s so obviously there.