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

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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. 

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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.

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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?

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

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