Cross Pollination, A Theory

One of the most compelling things about southern gospel is the way it incorporates the best of what is said, thought, and sung in other musical genres while retaining stylistic coherence of its own. There aren’t many other musical forms or styles that can do that. When I first heard Alan Jackson’s song “Wanted” I initially said (to myself of course) “Wow, this really sounds like a southern gospel tune.” At the time, I thought it was a good example of the kind of country music ballad that influences southern gospel. But I’m beginning to think it’s also the other way around, that in addition to absorbing aspects of other genres, southern gospel also exerts its own shaping force on adjacent or related musical styles. Specifically, “Wanted” adapts a version of southern gospel’s delayed harmonic resolution (and the voices of the back-up singers seem to rely on southern gospel intonation to some discernable degree). The pacing and the instrumentation feel very sg to me, too. The adaptation of southern gospel is subtle, to be sure, and it’s not stunning or revolutionary but the influence seems there all the same. I think another way to say this might be less highfalutin: “Wanted” is an old-style country ballad in the tradition of Porter Wagner and Conway Twitty and George Jones and the like. And of course southern gospel still remains very much in touch stylistically with that era of country music. So maybe Jackson is accessing an older country tradition by coming through contemporary southern gospel and its longstanding use of that older style of country-western. Of course I have no way to prove any of this, and perhaps I’m just imagining it all. But still …

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