Country music can at times be a little like a Thomas Kinkade painting.
Kinkade, of course, was the self-styled "Painter of Light," famous for his sentimental, dreamy landscapes and feel-good, fire-in-the-hearth depictions of domestic bliss. Likewise, a certain strand of country music strives mightily to evoke similar feelings, idealizing a lil' slice of countrified perfection. The details are sonic, not visual. But the impulse is the same. And "Banjo" is exactly that kind of song, imagining a mud-spattered, GPS-free, outdoors heaven on earth.
Rascal Flatts' twelfth country chart-topper mixes incendiary banjo pickin' with a walloping dollop o' arena-rock guitar. Along the way, this world-weary country trio trades in the fumes, the stress and the claustrophobia of the urban rat race for an impromptu, off-the-grid adventure in search of … someone playing the banjo.
"When I lose my smile," lead singer Gary LaVox begins, "When the air and BS get too thick/Can't take a breath without getting sick/I've had enough of the concrete jungle/I drop my truck in drive/I pick up my baby/ … We exit off that old highway."
Back roads soon give way to the backwoods as Gary drops it into low gear in search of backcountry nirvana: "You gotta go deep/Way on back/Cross a few creeks/And a couple little shacks/You gotta get lost/Way on out/ … And you kick it into four-wheel drive when you run out of road/And you go, and you go, and you go, go, go/'Til you hear a banjo."
And if you think there's an iPhone app to help you find such a place, well, you're dead wrong about that. To discern the metaphorical banjo's guiding strains, you're just going to have to unplug and follow your heart. "It ain't on no map," LaVox advises, "And I'm glad it isn't/Leave the phone and the GPS/Those satellites ain't found it yet/Got our own little piece of heaven hidden/ … And you go, and you go, and you go/'Til you hear that, 'til you hear that/'Til you hear that banjo."
The song's abbreviated implication of the s-word is its only real issue. But the video adds one more: the sultry siren strumming that oft-mentioned banjo. Onscreen, we repeatedly see a woman in a short, off-the-shoulder gauzy dress as multiple camera shots zoom in on her curves. It's enough to make you wonder, Is this video about the banjo or the woman playing it?
By the standards of, say, a typical Victoria's Secret commercial on prime-time TV these days, those sensual images may not even seem like they merit mentioning. But their inclusion fights pretty hard with the Kinkade reference I made earlier—and belies the fact that sometimes country music's idea of perfection includes something more than just a bit of boondocks or a lowly ol' banjo.