2020 update: I received a good-natured letter from someone associated with this record, taking me to task for such a mean review. It was all in fun, etc. And I have to admit that since I wrote this review, I’ve even become a little bit fond of the song when it comes over the PA system between innings at my local minor league ballpark. I’m not going to include a video of the song. You can look it up online if you want.
Their old website is long gone, so I can’t give you a link to it. But I can refer you to an excellent program in which Rednex’ “Cotton Eye Joe” is discussed at length, Episode 90 of the superb podcast Switched On Pop. It’s a truly astounding story.
This record came out long before YouTube was a thing, and I’ve debated with myself whether to include the video in this update. It’s been viewed millions of times already, though, so who knows, you may have already seen it. I still can’t decide if it’s so bad it’s funny or it’s just bad.
On to my original 2001 review:
I’m trying hard to not be an old fogey. But there’s something about this whole thing that’s just wrong.
First, there’s the name of the group. I don’t have a problem with a bunch of musicians calling themselves “rednecks,” even though some who are afflicted with the PC (political correctness) virus might object to the stereotyping of rural Americans. Taking a pejorative term and applying it to yourself in a sort of hip, ironic way that identifies with the maligned group is a time-honored tradition among performers.
Then, there’s the music. Why in the world did anyone think it was a good idea to take bluegrass and set it to a techno dance beat? And gussy it up with all kinds of electronics, loops, synthesizers, sound effects and so much compression and reverb on the vocals that it feels like an icepick through the eardrums?
I can see that it might be entertaining and amusing to do it to one song… say, the title track, an homage to the bluegrass standard “Cotton Eye Joe.” But a whole CD full of it?
Rednex is a huge collective of mostly Swedish musicians, which tours Europe with a techno-cowboy-pop yee-haw stage show that would make the hucksters of Branson and Opryland blush. According to the Internet, they are pretty popular with a certain segment of European young adults — several of their singles have sold well over a million copies.
I must admit that these musicians are good at what they do. Lead vocalist Goran Danielsson has a supple tenor that’s perfectly suited for country music. Likewise, some of the fiddle, banjo, steel guitar and accordion playing is right on the money. And there’s some creative songwriting going on — a couple of these numbers would make decent honkytonk songs given proper arrangements. It’s a testimony to the durability of country music that it can stand up to this treatment.
A couple of ballads sung by Annika Ljungberg are absolutely horrible, though. Both “Wish You Were Here” and “Rolling Home” have ghastly sentimental lyrics, delivered in an insipid, breathy style over a backing laden with syrupy synth-strings. I’d rather listen to this than be strung up by vigilantes or staked over an anthill by screaming savages, but only just.
I do think it’s a good sign that Eurokids find American roots music of any kind entertaining. I only wish they were being exposed to the real thing, not this overproduced techno-glop.
There’s so much more I could say about Cotton Eye Joe. But all of it’s bad, and a waste of energy. Don’t buy this CD. Don’t even accept it if somebody tries to give it to you. Use an old floppy disk if you need a coaster that badly.