Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 14, 2009

Costner: Dixie Chicks for Dudes?

Kevin Costner: Americana/alt-country singer?

Yup. Here’s a video of his first single, “Superman 14“.

There will be accusations of  it being an actor’s vanity project. There will be a few musicians and critics quietly thinking “not at MY backyard barbecue”, and still others looking to ride his coattails with a surprise guest appearance, to get some attention of their own. And Costner will perhaps let them, to improve his own image of respectability and acceptance as a musician.

And there will likely be concert sellouts and CD sales galore. Because people (okay, WHITE people, of a certain age, with money) simply like this guy. I like this guy. I even sent him a song I wrote, the one about the 1958 Les Paul guitar and being rough around the edges, because it seems MADE for him and his band (and because I wanna ride those coattails, too…)

Not to mention, the music on Untold Truths seems pretty tuneful and authentic to me, from what I’ve heard. Costner’s singing voice reminds me of Don Henley’s, but a bit country-rougher, and with less range (click through to hear full songs stream at myspace music). 

Also, his bandmates have some serious chops, and the album’s studio production seems tight, smart, and radio-ready– sorta like Dixie Chicks for Dudes, or early-Nineties Mellencamp (as this semi-complimentary reviewer  puts it). The optimistic song  “The Sun Will Rise Again” in particular ought to strike a chord, in a nation that increasingly feels like too much is falling apart around us. Plus Costner’s got alot of promotional muscle in place to help him succeed. (They’ve already had a pre-NASCAR gig, for example, and they’re touring starting this week.)

Despite being a fan of “No Depression” style music and Americana, I’m not very likely to buy the album, just because I’m choosy about how I spend my limited music money and have other stuff higher on my list.  Also, Costner’s not looking like the main songwriter here (his pal John Coinman is), but he is a collaborator on three or four songs. Nevertheless, I do think Kevin and his band Modern West (a few other actor buddies from way back, plus some “pros” on fiddle or other instruments) have something worthwhile to say.

Costner as a creative force almost always has something to say, even though he’s not seen as a visionary, but more of a populist philosopher. For awhile after Dances With Wolves, when he directed — or as a producer had big input — he was often dismissed by critics and fans (Waterworld, and The Postman… two movies I’m not ashamed to say I liked, for their ambitiousness and originality).

But Costner had a return to bankability and respect directing Open Range in 2003, and he’s got enough intelligence and power these days that on most of the movies he makes, he gets a producer credit. Not that the “producer” title guarantees big creative input, but I suspect in his case, it usually does.

And given the niche he’s carved out with movies like the recent Swing Vote, he’s demonstrated plenty of  “country” credibility, as sort of the thinking man’s regular guy. If  in fact we’re on the brink of a New Depression, Costner’s beginning to look a lot like our Will Rogers or Gary Cooper, with hard-won wisdom and a winning smile.

So you go, Kev.

From the CNN interview, here’s Costner on giving one’s best effort, fearlessness, and letting a good story tell itself, in whatever form it requires:

Costner: Yeah, for a long time. I have been doing a lot of things for a long time. (chuckles) It’s not like we called up and said, “Hey, we have a garage band. Can we show up?” We have been working really hard at this for three years. All of it has been under the radar just because we have not felt like publicizing it. It has kind of happened in the way we wanted it to — which was more of a grassroots situation, people discovering the band.

CNN: When you were talking to the students [college students in Nashville], you spoke a lot about being fearless.

Costner: Their choices are going to be questioned not only by their colleagues, but by their parents. You only get one shot at this life. They can go to college and learn a lot of things, but they should also be encouraged to try things, even if they don’t succeed. I am trying — even if I don’t succeed. You know, failure is completely underrated in America. (smiles)

CNN: With this new project, there’s the possibility of having your head handed to you on a platter.

Costner: Well, that will happen no matter what I do — so I’m not worried about that. I have to get over my own bar on what I think is acceptable.

CNN: And what is that?

Costner: I don’t know. It’s just a moment when you feel you’ve given an honest effort.

CNN: You have trouble stuffing everything you want into a three-hour movie, let alone condensing things into a three-minute song. How do you —

Costner: I don’t have that hard a time!

CNN: Oh, come on!

Costner: I make jokes about it a lot. You know, I make one-hour, 59-minute movies! But yeah — telling the story, I don’t believe in some conditional running length. I just believe in telling the story — musically or cinematically.

Finally, in country and roots music, cleverness counts for alot. And Costner’s always been clever– as an actor, a moviemaker and a person. So his music ought to be at least all right, authentic if not groundbreaking. Can’t be any worse than that turd Toby Keith, or Brad Paisley’s silly (but clever, and catchy) little song about ticks.



  1. Love Kevin & Modern West! Great music, keep it up guys! Love all of Kevin’s music too, I’m a fan!

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