Alt-Country Singer Accuses Nashville Star of Plagiarism

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 9 2012 5:58 PM

Alt-Country Singer Accuses Nashville Star of Plagiarism

Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell performing in 2008 in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

On Twitter last Friday, one well-known country musician accused another of plagiarism. Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell tweeted,

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 


The “Dierks” in question is platinum-selling Nashville star Dierks Bentley, whose single “Home”—an ode to America that was purportedly written in response to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting of last January—is currently number 13 on the Billboard Country Songs chart. According to Isbell, the melody of Bentley’s hit is virtually indistinguishable from the melancholy “In a Razor Town” from Isbell’s 2007 solo album Sirens of the Ditch.


Here’s Isbell’s “In a Razor Town”:

And here’s Bentley’s “Home”:

“Home” was written by Bentley, Brett Beavers, and Dan Wilson, the songwriter behind such smash hits as Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Isbell, claiming, “I love Dan’s songs,” surmised on Twitter that Bentley was responsible for the alleged rip-off rather than Wilson.

Slate music critic Jody Rosen, who alerted us to Isbell’s comments, sees echoes of a larger conflict in the allegation. The charge, he says, invokes “the fringe vs. mainstream musical culture clash, pitting alt-country against the Nashville pop machine. (Isbell is a standard-bearer for left-of-center country, a former member of the great band Drive-By Truckers.)” Rosen pointed out that Isbell does not see “Home” as an isolated incident. “I have had too much stolen lately,” Isbell wrote in another tweet. “Not gonna let this slide.” Is Isbell implying that the Nashville establishment steals musical ideas from the alternative scene on a regular basis?

Other country songwriters accused of plagiarism have made amends by belatedly giving credit where it was due: Miranda Lambert, for instance, shared songwriting credit and royalties with Steve Earle after realizing her 2005 hit “Kerosene” sounded uncannily like Earle’s 1996 “Feel Alright.” At the moment, though, it looks unlikely that Bentley will make a similar concession. His response on Twitter to Isbell’s charge?


Even if Isbell does not reap any financial reward, however, he can at least claim victory in this Twitter-based war of words:




More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

iOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 12:02 PM Here It Is: The Flimsiest Campaign Attack Ad of 2014, Which Won’t Stop Running
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.