Prior to the development of the gramophone, Canadian songwriters' works were published as sheet music, or in periodicals in local newspapers such as The Montreal Gazette and Toronto Empire. Most recordings purchased by Canadians in the early days of the gramophone were made by American and British performers, behind some of these international hits were Canadian songwriters. Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943) was among the first Black Canadian composers during the early years of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. His works often appeared among the programs of William Marion Cook's New York syncopated Orchestra. Dett himself performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Boston Symphony Hall as a pianist and choir director. Following quickly on the gramophone's spread came Canada's involvement in the First World War. The war was the catalyst for the writing and recording of large numbers of Canadian-written popular songs, some of which achieved lasting international commercial success. The military during World War I produced official music such as regimental marches and songs as well as utilitarian bugle calls. The soldiers had a repertoire of their own, largely consisting of new, often ribald, lyrics to older tunes.
In 2010, the group Lady Antebellum won five Grammys, including the coveted Song of the Year and Record of the Year for "Need You Now". A large number of duos and vocal groups emerged on the charts in the 2010s, many of which feature close harmony in the lead vocals. In addition to Lady Antebellum, groups such as Herrick, The Quebe Sisters Band, Little Big Town, The Band Perry, Gloriana, Thompson Square, Eli Young Band, Zac Brown Band and British duo The Shires have emerged to occupy a large portion of the new country artists in the popular scene along with solo singers Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert.
Sometimes it takes a bunch of Canadians to write some of the most quintessential American songs in music history. While the band is 80 per cent Canadian (with one Arkansan in drummer Levon Helm), they remain one of the most influential acts in 60s rock and their concert film, The Last Waltz, stands as one of the greatest moments in rock history. With their 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink, the Canadian troubadours (Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel) gave definition to the genre of ‘Americana’ with their blues-meets-country-infused R&B. Even the most casual music fan knows the chorus to ‘The Weight’ and their song, ‘The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down’ is one of the best rock songs ever put to tape about the Civil War.
Alt-country is such a hard genre to define that the wonderful music magazine devoted to it proclaimed itself the “alternative-country (whatever that is) bi-monthly.” For our best alt-country albums list, we’ve chosen to focus on albums with significant country elements operating outside of the mainstream country music industry. So country stars we love like Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton didn’t make the cut. Neither did folky Americana acts like Josh Ritter, The Civil Wars or First Aid Kit, though we’re huge fans of all three.
Country music often consists of ballads and dance tunes with generally simple forms, folk lyrics, and harmonies mostly accompanied by string instruments such as banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, steel guitars (such as pedal steels and dobros), and fiddles as well as harmonicas. Blues modes have been used extensively throughout its recorded history.
With her Grammy-adorned breakout solo LP, Ingénue, k.d. lang transformed from a country traditionalist to an impressionistic pop crooner, draping her dazzling mezzo-soprano over samba rhythms ("Miss Chatelaine"), oceanic cabaret-jazz ("Save Me") and breezy orchestrations from collaborator Ben Mink ("The Mind of Love"). No longer chasing the ghost of Patsy Cline, she pursued unique stylistic combinations—imbuing her formative "torch and twang" with a tapestry of colors: accordion, viola, marimba, the tropical-flavored pedal-steel of session master Greg Leisz. The album is best remembered, and summarized, by the lonesome yearning of hit single "Constant Craving." "Always someone marches brave / Here beneath my skin," Lang sings. Two decades later, she's still marching bravely—still shifting her sound with each song cycle. But Ingénue remains her signature statement.—Ryan Reed
The most successful British country music act of the 21st century are Ward Thomas and the Shires. In 2015, the Shires' album Brave, became the first UK country act ever to chart in the Top 10 of the UK Albums Chart and they became the first UK country act to receive an award from the American Country Music Association. In 2016, Ward Thomas then became the first UK country act to hit number 1 in the UK Albums Chart with their album Cartwheels.
The Prairie provinces, due to their western cowboy and agrarian nature, are the true heartland of Canadian country music. While the Prairies never developed a traditional music culture anything like the Maritimes, the folk music of the Prairies often reflected the cultural origins of the settlers, who were a mix of Scottish, Ukrainian, German and others. For these reasons polkas and Western music were always popular in the region, and with the introduction of the radio, mainstream country music flourished. As the culture of the region is western and frontier in nature, the specific genre of country and western is more popular today in the Prairies than in any other part of the country. No other area of the country embraces all aspects of the culture, from two-step dancing, to the cowboy dress, to rodeos, to the music itself, like the Prairies do. The Atlantic Provinces, on the other hand, produce far more traditional musicians, but they are not usually specifically country in nature, usually bordering more on the folk or Celtic genres.
In the fall of 1985, The New York Times proclaimed traditional country music as “dead.” Just a few months later, this North Carolina native burst upon the scene that owed as much to Lefty and Hank as it did anyone currently on the radio. His Always and Forever album stayed at the top of the Billboard Country Albums chart for an astonishing 43 weeks -– and hit the top 20 on the Billboard 200 long before Soundscan -– unheard of for a traditional-based artist. Randy Travis rewrote the rules for the format – with a pen of classic-inspired ink.
Following his Rodney Crowell/John Leventhal-produced Planet of Love – which yielded cuts for George Strait, Lee Ann Womack, Patty Loveless, Mandy Barnett and George Jones, the North Carolina-born Lauderdale seemed more in control of his progressive California-forged traditional country. With songs that were existential (“When The Devil Starts Crying,” “Three Way Conversation” “Run Like You”), Lauderdale—like Gram Parsons before him—created a Cosmic American hybrid that blurred bluegrass, Haggard, Jones, Lefty Frizzell and Ray Price with ethereal metaphors for a new kind of classicism. Producer Dusty Wakeman drew on Lauderdale’s scrappy Palomino Club band—Buddy Miller on guitars and vocals, Dr John Ciambotti on bass, Donald Lindley on drums, Greg Leisz on dobro, electric and steel guitar, Gurf Morlix on 6-string bass, mandolin, electric/acoustic/12-string/steel guitars, Skip Edwards on organ and Tammy Rodgers on mandolin and vocals—to return Truth to the lean sound Lauderdale’d developed playing South California’s post-cowpunk outposts. That the band members would become Americana forces in their own right speaks to the scene around the man who coined the phrase, “Now that’s Americana!”—Holly Gleason
Few albums truly exhibit the inscrutable mystery and inescapable desperation of the world as Folklore. Somehow, David Eugene Edwards and his band explored the edges of those vanished territories of the American folk music tradition, channeling the fear of now lost pastorals.The most meditative, haunting release of 16 Horsepower’s Holy Ghost-haunted catalog, Folklore takes further the shiver-inducing despondency of past releases, here relying on droning cellos, wheezy accordions, spindly banjos and Edward’s eerily double-tracked vocals to create an atmosphere of despair and impending doom. Stripping away most of the electric guitars and rhythmic drive of their previous work, the album rarely breaks from the dirge-like ruminations on God, judgment, love and murder. That only four of the 10 tracks are original doesn’t inhibit the authenticity with which they’re presented. Folklore speaks with the earthward metaphors of those who lived in the shadow of unseen pursuers and confronted their worst suspicions with music as their weapon.—Matt Fink
Canada's first nationwide music awards began as a reader poll conducted by Canadian music industry trade magazine RPM Weekly in December 1964. A similar balloting process continued until 1970 when the RPM Gold Leaf Awards, as they were then known, were changed to the Juno Awards. The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences held the first Juno Award ceremony in 1975. This was in response to rectifying the same concerns about promotion of Canadian artists that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission had. https://www.facebook.com/robnwalker/
Canadian artists and Canadian ensembles were generally forced to turn toward the United States to establish healthy long lasting careers during the 1960s. Canada would produce some of the world's most influential singer-songwriters during this time. Among the most notable is Winnipeg's Neil Young who has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canada's Walk of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Leonard Cohen has been inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and is also a Companion of the Order of Canada. Folk legend Joni Mitchell is an Alberta native, and has been inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Walt Grealis of Toronto started in the music business with Apex Records in 1960, the Ontario distributor for Compo Company. He later joined London Records, where he worked until February 1964, when he then established RPM weekly trade magazine. From the first issue of RPM Weekly on February 24, 1964 to its final issue on November 13, 2000, RPM was the defining charts in Canada.
As one of the 20th century’s most celebrated and influential artists, Joni Mitchell is the very face of folk music and yet equally at ease in the worlds of rock, pop, jazz and blues. A fixture of the 6os folk scenes in Greenwich Village and Laurel Canyon, Mitchell first got her start during university in Calgary before busking in the streets of Toronto. With ‘Woodstock’ she created the anthem for an entire generation, even though it was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young that made it famous. Truly one of the most gifted songwriters in music, the enduring popularity of her albums Blue, Court and Spark, defy trends and convention and her music has been sampled from everyone from Janet Jackson to Prince.
While some might argue that Twitty didn’t change the rules of the format like a Haggard or Jones, his influence on the format can’t be understated. From 1968 until his passing in 1993, Twitty charted hit after hit. His 40 No. 1 hits on the Billboard charts was a record that held firm for years until George Strait broke it. From “Hello Darlin” to “Don’t Take It Away,” and all the way through to “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind,” Twitty was the perfect example of the word evolution.
During the mid-1970s, Dolly Parton, a successful mainstream country artist since the late 1960s, mounted a high-profile campaign to cross over to pop music, culminating in her 1977 hit "Here You Come Again", which topped the U.S. country singles chart, and also reached No. 3 on the pop singles charts. Parton's male counterpart, Kenny Rogers, came from the opposite direction, aiming his music at the country charts, after a successful career in pop, rock and folk music with The First Edition, achieving success the same year with "Lucille", which topped the country charts and reached No. 5 on the U.S. pop singles charts, as well as reaching Number 1 on the British all-genre chart. Parton and Rogers would both continue to have success on both country and pop charts simultaneously, well into the 1980s. Artists like Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell would also find success on the pop charts with their records. In 1975, author Paul Hemphill stated in the Saturday Evening Post, "Country music isn't really country anymore; it is a hybrid of nearly every form of popular music in America."
Country music has been growing as an art from since Eck Robertson’s recording of “Arkansas Traveler” in 1922. From the days of 78 RPM vinyl to digital downloads, fans continue to flock to the format. So who are the 25 greatest country artists of all time? That list might very well be subject to conjecture as the definition of country, but here are the acts that have made an immeasurable mark on the genre. In compiling this list, we took into consideration sales, airplay, and influence upon the genre -- and outside of it. Let the debates commence!
Another subgenre of country music grew out of hardcore honky tonk with elements of Western swing and originated 112 miles (180 km) north-northwest of Los Angeles in Bakersfield, California, where many "Okies" and other Dust Bowl migrants had settled. Influenced by one-time West Coast residents Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell, by 1966 it was known as the Bakersfield sound. It relied on electric instruments and amplification, in particular the Telecaster electric guitar, more than other subgenres of the country music of the era, and it can be described as having a sharp, hard, driving, no-frills, edgy flavor—hard guitars and honky-tonk harmonies. Leading practitioners of this style were Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, Gary Allan, and Wynn Stewart, each of whom had his own style.
Hailed by Rolling Stone as “the most important record producer to emerge in the 80s”, Lanois is one of Canada’s distinguished producers-composers and has worked with the likes of Brian Eno (Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks), Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Emmyous Harris and is the man behind U2’s Joshua Tree and The Unforgettable Fire. In his famous studio in Hamilton, Ontario, he produced records for Canadian artists such as Martha and the Muffins and Ian and Sylvia. As a solo artist, the multi-instrumentalist and singer released a string of albums that featured his wonderfully atmospheric textures and poetic songwriting.
In 2005, country singer Carrie Underwood rose to fame as the winner of the fourth season of American Idol and has since become one of the most prominent recording artists of 2006 through 2016, with worldwide sales of more than 65 million records and seven Grammy Awards. With her first single, "Inside Your Heaven", Underwood became the only solo country artist to have a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the 2000–2009 decade and also broke Billboard chart history as the first country music artist ever to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100. Underwood's debut album, Some Hearts, became the best-selling solo female debut album in country music history, the fastest-selling debut country album in the history of the SoundScan era and the best-selling country album of the last 10 years, being ranked by Billboard as the #1 Country Album of the 2000–2009 decade. She has also become the female country artist with the most number one hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in the Nielsen SoundScan era (1991–present), having 14 No. 1s and breaking her own Guinness Book record of ten. In 2007, Underwood won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, becoming only the second Country artist in history (and the first in a decade) to win it. She also made history by becoming the seventh woman to win Entertainer of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the first woman in history to win the award twice, as well as twice consecutively. Time has listed Underwood as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2016, Underwood topped the Country Airplay chart for the 15th time, becoming the female artist with most number ones on that chart.
After years as the crown prince of hip Nashville—Emmylou Harris’ wingman, Rosanne Cash’s producer, proud owner of five No. 1s off the gold Diamonds & Dirt—Crowell eschewed the mainstream for a song cycle devoted to his hardscrabble youth on the wrong side of Houston. With mirth and wonder, he captured the thrills of being young (“Telephone Road”), hearing Johnny Cash for the first time (“I Walk The Line ReVisited”) and romantic misdirection (“U Don’t Know How Much I Hate U”). But there was also brutality, the acoustic-framed “The Rock of My Soul” captured domestic violence as a cycle of generational abuse and the lurching “Topsy Turvy” mirrors the chaos, while the spoken “Highway 17” is an O. Henry-esque small crime confection—and “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Wandering Boy” are reckoning bookend songs for twins as the one who left turns tricks and contracts AIDS in West Hollywood then has to come home to die. In the end, “I Know Love Is All I Need” offers a universal blessing and benediction, accepting the inevitable flaws of his dead parents with tenderness and recognition of their best intentions.—Holly Gleason
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