Remaking Country’s Gender Politics, One Barroom Weeper at a Time

Monday morning at the office: Shane McAnally was writing a country song with Josh Osborne, a regular collaborator. McAnally, compact and tight-strung in jeans and T-shirt, sat on a chair with his sneakered feet up and a laptop balanced on his thighs, an acoustic guitar and an enormous carryout cup of iced tea within reach. Osborne, mellower, in a purple hoodie, sat on a couch cradling another guitar, on which he picked out a loping groove in the key of A.

They started with a line they heard spoken at a songwriters’ gathering, “I drank alone a long time,” when someone raised a glass in appreciation of getting together with fellow musicians after pandemic-induced isolation. McAnally recalls that he and Osborne exchanged a wordless look: That’s a song! Now they were writing it. When one of them had an idea, he would half-moan nonsense syllables as placeholders for the parts he hadn’t worked out yet: “Yeah that whiskey sure used to burn, now it’s sweet on your lips mmmmhmmmm anana turn …” The other would murmur along in harmony, a fraction of a beat behind, testing resonance and mouthfeel.

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