A look inside EW writer Chris Willman's new book -- Our senior staffer mixes country music with politics in his ''Rednecks & Bluenecks''

By Gilbert Cruz
Updated November 11, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

In May 2003, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY senior writer Chris Willman wrote a cover story on the Dixie Chicks after singer Natalie Maines told London concertgoers she was ”ashamed” to share a home state with President Bush. The ensuing controversy prompted Willman to pen Rednecks & Bluenecks (New Press, $25.95), a comprehensive look at the intersection of country music and politics. Twang doesn’t necessarily mean Republican, he notes. ”People think of Nashville as a conservative town, but it’s really not,” says Willman, 44, a fairly recent convert to country music. ”There’s a huge contingent of execs and songwriters who are liberal.”

Between 9/11 and Bush’s reelection last year, Nashville’s ideological divide was reflected in dueling songs by performers ranging from the liberal Steve Earle (”Rich Man’s War”) to right-leaning Brooks & Dunn (”Only in America”). ”That was a moment in time when the music was the most politicized it will ever be,” says Willman. ”Country was creating a better snapshot of what people were feeling than any other kind of popular music.”