John Rich – “The Good Lord And The Man”
Songwriter: John Rich.
Like his last name implies, John Rich is a pro at constructing commercial country songs with built-in, ready-to-consume target audiences for artists such as Gretchen Wilson, Faith Hill and Jason Aldean. His latest single “The Good Lord and the Man,” an ode to the hard-working men and women Tom Brokaw famously dubbed “The Greatest Generation,” proves he is also able translate his special brand of craftsmanship into his own solo songs.
Where the populist “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” failed in its incredible discord between John Rich, The Working Man’s Voice and John Rich, The Blinged-Out Superstar, his latest effort succeeds. Unlike Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten” or Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” Rich’s song is not so much a defensive reaction or rallying war cry as it is a thank you note, and a convincing one at that: His understated vocal delivery effectively conveys his obvious pride and admiration for servicemen and women, while the acoustic beginning continues an acoustic-minded, neo-traditional trend in Rich’s production choices.
The song is obviously intensely personal, a fact Rich has acknowledged in interviews. Written about his father’s father, a World War II veteran who won six purple hearts, the details Rich injects into the opening lines provide the set-up for a heartfelt homage to his Grandfather Rich: “Well he was one of the millions/Who signed up to defend us, long ago in 1941/When they sucker punched us in Pearl Harbor, he fought under MacArthur/Seventeen with an Army Thompson gun.”
Unfortunately, whatever authentic patriotism Rich conjures up in the opening verses is instantly discredited by the song’s uncomfortably off-putting chorus. Rich doesn’t effectively channel the emotions his grandfather’s service evokes within him and his phrasing and lyrics end up straining both rhythmically and logically to make his points: “And I see people on my T.V. taking shots at Uncle Sam/I hope they always remember why they can/’Cause we’d all be speakin’ German, livin’ under the flag of Japan/If it wasn’t for the good Lord and the man.”
Lest we hold our breath and hope the chorus is merely Rich’s attempt at a hyperbolic characterization of changes that would have certainly resulted from an alternative ending to the war, in March the singer told the New York Times in no uncertain terms: “I mean [“The Good Lord and the Man”] completely literally.” Sadly, this superficial emotional payoff negates the lyrical story he sets up at the song’s beginning.
Another lyrical incongruity stems from the song’s titular reference to “the man.” In this context it refers to Rich’s grandfather and the many other individual soldiers that made up WWII’s armed forces. However, as a term usually relegated to disparaging commentary on the bosses, politicians and similarly power-abusing villains of the world that work in opposition to the honest, hard-working laymen thematically prevalent in country music, it rings off target.
What’s most upsetting about the song is how close it is to being a nice memorial to a generation that grew up under circumstances a world away from anything I could begin to imagine. The unsettling lyrics of the chorus become the focal point of the tribute, instead of the men and women it rightly set out to celebrate.
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