Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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With Hank Williams, Jr., Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis and others.
No overall director credited.
(Warner Reprise Video, color and b&w, 40 min.)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

Like all promo compilations, Young Country aims to recoup production costs while introducing fans of the better-known performers it features to the charms of the lesser-known performers it sneaks in. It also has a concept, as they say: it means to prove that country music is very, er, now. You know, happening. The music of young Americans. And indeed, all of these artists were born well after Merle and George, though Hank Williams, Jr., entrusted with the title/concept tune, will turn 40+ come May, which is pushing things.

At least Hank is a genuine Junior, hereditary royalty perfectly situated to pass the flame to the likes of nouveau honky-tonker Dwight Yoakam and good-lookin' Randy Travis. And he does get one of the three clips any nonfan would enjoy, a rowdy, star-studded, pointedly interracial celebration of what Warners wants you to think is the new country ecumenicism. Stone tomboy K.D. Lang, who we usually wish would sing as tough as she looks, anchors an infectiously gleeful "Honky Tonk Angels' Medley" with Kitty Wells, Brenda Lee, and Loretta Lynn. And L.A.'s Chicano rockers Los Lobos justify their Springsteenesque "One Time One Night" with a pointedly interracial, Peter Care-directed portrait gallery, demonstrating once again that video is a medium made for the human face.

But if you believe, intolerantly, that country music is just plain boring, the other six segments will fulfill your expectations. Yoakam's road movie, Highway 101's road movie, Travis's moving 8 X 10, Michael Martin Murphey's front-porch rocker, the Foresters' shameless career move, even the soap opera Trio conned out of Harry Dean Stanton--this deadly stuff will convert nobody. Young artists have made serious inroads on the genre's charts recently. But rarely does any country singer sell a mere million of even a long-term hit. This promotion isn't going to change that one bit.

Video Review, Nov. 1988