For Love & Country opens with a deep voice saying a profound message:"Despite playing an integral part in the origins of country music, Black artists have been pushed to the margins of the genre. A new crop of artists are seeking to change that and reclaim their place on the country music charts."Flashes of those said artists appear across the screen such as Shy Carter, BRELAND, Allison Russell, and Reyna Roberts. Interviews and achievements by Blanco Brown, Jimmie Allen, Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer are broadcasted and read aloud to viewers as a dramatic instrumental sets the pace.
Directed by Joshua Kissi, the new Amazon Music documentary aims to showcase country music's rising talent within the Black community. Since Charley Pride and Darius Rucker, there has not been many Black artists who've been able to crack into the industry, but that is rapidly changing with a new class of artists coming in hot. Those artists are all given a spotlight in For Love & Country and viewers will get to know their stories and witness their talent.
The first artist highlighted is Baltimore native Brittney Spencer who fell in love with country music after a friend recommended The Chicks; it was a complete rabbit hole as Spencer quickly fell in love with the genre. She made the move to Nashville eight years ago. "When I started listening to country music, when I was 14 or 15 years old, I quickly realized there wasn't anybody that looked like me. And I realized there wasn't anybody bringing in the sounds that I heard throughout my life, my childhood," she says. "It made me feel like an other listening to someone else's music."
Journalist Andrea Williams goes on to talk about how, if people take a closer look at the history of the country genre, they'll understand that "It is as much a part of Black tradition as it is white tradition."
Jimmie Allen speaks on moving to Nashville in 2007, when country music was still traditional. He touched on the fact that labels and industry people would indirectly tell him it wouldn't work, and the obstacles he's had to face in his career thus far. He shares,"The one way to always get past it, is great music." Similarly, trailblazer Mickey Guyton speaks on being continuously questioned and how she tried following the "Nashville formula" for 10 years and it didn't work; it would never work for her.
Throughout the film, the musicians are placed outside among greenery, sat in vintage-looking settings, or in open-spaces with moody lighting. The cinematography does a beautiful job of focusing on the person sharing their story and complementing it with a brilliant, artsy atmosphere.
Amythyst Kiah sat in a recording studio while talking about talking a blue grass guitar class in college and how it helped her find her footing. As the documentary progresses, Kiah also voices some of the history behind the genre such as the banjo originating in Africa. The documentary does a great job blending fact and history with elements of entertainment and visually intriguing shots. There are interviews with Nashville residents, people who work in the music industry, and even a country music historian who takes watchers through decades of country music and touches on how influential radio is for the genre.
There's a later segment touching on the importance of the viral hit "Old Town Road" sung by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. Willie Jones, a rising country artist, stated,"With 'Old Town Road' it definitely, like I said, opened up people's eyes and ears to be like, 'Oh, it's Black people doing this?'" The song went on to break records; it was the longest running No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Despite Lil Nas X jumping genres, it proved that music can blend and be successful. This transitions into BRELAND discussing his TikTok hit "My Truck" that went on to be certified Platinum.
Throughout the film, artists like Blanco Brown, Allison Russell, and Amythst Kiah have their own few minutes to showcase their raw, musical talent with performance clips set in muted settings pulling full attention on them and their voices. Shy Carter also sings impromptu on top of a horse in an open field.
Despite a kind of sadness that can't help but linger through the documentary, it also highlights the progress being made such as the CMAs and the ACMs making sure they always include Black performers and outlets always incorporating people of color on their "Artists to Watch" lists.
As For Love & Country wraps itself up, many of the people featured summarize their final thoughts with poise and steadfastness. Guyton says it best as she states, "There has to be not just one or two or three Black people that go on to have successful careers every 25 years." She adds, "There has to be several Black country artists that have viable careers. And we have to walk through that door together as a whole, as a unit, arm and arm, through these doors and say 'Hey, we're here and we're talented and we deserve to be here. Our dreams are valid.'"
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