Whenever a good-hearted kitsch cash cow comes a-lumbering on the land, I call my taxidermist, clear a place on the wall, and make ready the blunderbuss. So why do I lack the will to fire? New-country man-child Billy Gilman’s fourth album, a musical treatment of the verse of Mattie J.T. Stepanek, a terminally ill home-schooler who is surely the most richly remunerated poet ever to shill his way from the wilds of P.G. County into the national spotlight, is worthy of powder, wadding, and shot. I got means, and Music Through Heartsongs has given me opportunity—but what of motive? Despite the record’s intermittent intonations of message, which make it sound as if Yoda had signed up with the Lollipop Guild, I don’t fault Stepanek for believing his notices and singing all thanks and praise to the God who appears hellbent on killing him. After all, few other coping mechanisms are open to the kid. And I don’t blame his mother, who, having already nursed three children to early deaths and being disabled herself, could likely use the money. Nor do I scorn the Nashville hacks who set such crap as “Songs of the Wind” and “About Things That Matter” to music, nor their studio chums, who dialed in 12 tracks of eminently digestible mush—they are as blameless as bakers who awaken each day with bread-making on their minds. Gilman himself is merely a tool, as mindlessly unblackened in this enterprise as the DX7 was in the crafting of 1984 (the year, not the album). No, I blame the adults who swarm over Stepanek with false concern, buying millions of copies of his poems, gushing that he’s a courageous little man wise beyond his years (if not an angel), and making emotional book on the probability that the myths of precociousness and innocence they hold so dear won’t soon fall prey to adulthood. My wish for Mattie is that he live to regard with the beneficent embarrassment of middle age this creative episode as a folly of youth, his plans of becoming a “peacemaker” junked in the past alongside less ambitious kids’ dreams of playing basketball or dousing fires or exploring space. His fans aren’t so generous, however: They want him dead. —Glenn Dixon