Greeneville’s James Brashears took heed when Vince Gill sang the line, “Would you kindly keep it country?”
Brashears listened when Bill Anderson wrote, “Too country? What’s that?”
Thus began The Dimestore Cowboys. Pull on your Tony Lamas and two-step to the Down Home in Johnson City for The Dimestore Cowboys on July 19. Dust your heels one night later when the Cowboys head to Bristol’s Bloom Café and Listening Room on July 20.
“We’re old country, new songs,” said Brashears, lead singer and founder of The Dimestore Cowboys. “That’s our banner.”
Read closely. Genuine country music does not sound like Kane Brown or Billy Ray Cyrus. It most certainly does not include Lil Nas X among its ranks. Instead, it’s Marty Stuart in an rocket burst of twang. It’s The Dimestore Cowboys, real and to the bone.
“We’re what country music used to be and what it lacks nowadays — substance,” Brashears, 35, said. “When I write a song, I want it to mean something, and I want it to sound country.”
American teens devoured grunge rock a la Nirvana and Alice in Chains in the 1990s. Brashears tuned in country titan George Strait and twangy Sammy Kershaw.
“Sammy Kershaw, Travis Tritt, Mark Chesnutt — man, that’s what I was drawn to as a child,” Brashears said. “My mom bought Travis Tritt’s ‘Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof’ in 1994. Oh, man! They’re songs with substance. They mean something.”
Snagged, like a mud-huggin’ truck in a country boy’s eyes, Brashears married country music long before he wed his wife. Gifted with a tooled baritone to sing, he organized The Dimestore Cowboys six years ago.
“I try to stay as real as I can,” he said. “I hope we’re distinct. One of my hopes is that I’m not trying to sound like somebody else.”
Turn to their album, “Trend.” For ample evidence as to where The Dimestore Cowboys tap their boots, “Trend for the Worse” burns a lava-hot bead on today’s Nashville.
“Seems like we’re in trouble,” Brashears sings on the pensive song. “What happened to Waylon? What happened to George Jones?” It’s a mirror held up to the industry, a sharpened rebuke to those who committed murder on Music Row.
“That’s us trying to keep it country,” Brashears said. “That song speaks about where we’ve gone in country. It applies to bro-country, which I hope is not here to stay. They have destroyed tradition.”
Brashears’ “Trend for the Worse” closes with a fiddle in the hearse and the line, “It’s gettin’ dark outside.” Elsewhere, his Dimestore Cowboys click on lights of hope. Heart pumps lyrics of note, soul drives twang memorable and taut.
“Feelings. Substance. Sound,” Brashears said. “Something with meaning, that’s the key to the songs I write.”
“Songs about nothing just don’t mean a thing to me,” Brashears said. “I need substance. Today, they would turn the channel if George Jones came on the radio. They just don’t understand.”
Brashears and The Dimestore Cowboys line up as the latest in a simmering trend of traditionalists who say, “Enough!” Dial it forward. As sure as a Ford is a Ford and y’all means you all, he aims to make country real again.
“Like when Brad Paisley sang Bill Anderson’s ‘Too Country,’” Brashears said, “we’re just trying to keep it country.”