Country has always been a cornerstone of American music, but in recent years it has undergone quite a transformation. What was once brushed off as "hick music" is now being enjoyed by more people than ever before. Its audience has grown exponentially, and its songs are dominating the radio waves. While the rest of the music industry continues to struggle, country seems to be stronger than ever. If one thing is for certain, country music isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
One of the most commercially successful country artists of the late 2000s and early 2010s has been singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. Swift first became widely known in 2006 when her debut single, "Tim McGraw," was released when Swift was only 16. In 2006, Taylor released her first studio album, Taylor Swift, which spent 275 weeks on Billboard 200, one of the longest runs of any album on that chart. In 2008, Taylor Swift released her second studio album, Fearless, which made her the second-longest Number One charted on Billboard 200 and the second best-selling album (just behind Adele's 21) within the past 5 years. At the 2010 Grammys, Taylor Swift was 20 and won Album of the Year for Fearless, which made her the youngest artist to win this award. Swift has received ten Grammys already. Buoyed by her teen idol status among girls and a change in the methodology of compiling the Billboard charts to favor pop-crossover songs, Swift's 2012 single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" spent the most weeks at the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart of any song in nearly five decades. The song's long run at the top of the chart was somewhat controversial, as the song is largely a pop song without much country influence and its success on the charts driven by a change to the chart's criteria to include airplay on non-country radio stations, prompting disputes over what constitutes a country song; many of Swift's later releases, such as "Shake It Off," were released solely to pop audiences.
That said, it's up to you to determine which of these alt country bands can truly can be considered the best. This list answers the questions "who are the best alternative country bands of all time?" and "who is the greatest alternative country musician ever?" If you notice someone is missing, feel free to add them as this should include all alternative country bands.If you know enough about the genre, please vote based on the quality of the band's music instead of just voting for the most popular alternative country bands.(48 items)
Often compared to fellow Canadians, The Band, Blue Rodeo are a Canadian country-rock institution. Since forming in 1984, the Toronto-based quintet were a huge hit in Canada in the 90s thanks to their dynamic mix of American pop, country and blues and two-part harmonies reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. With a solid roots-rock sound and two-part harmonies, their 1990 album, Casino, did achieve some stateside success due in part to their hit single, ‘Til I Am Myself Again’. Since then, they’ve become one of Canada’s renowned legacy acts that tour worldwide.
Lucien Poirier, ed. (1983). Répertoire bibliographique de textes de presentation generale et d'analyse d'oeuvres musicales canadienne, 1900–1980 = Canadian Musical Works, 1900–1980: a Bibliography of General and Analytical Sources. Under the direction of Lucien Poirier; compiled by Chantal Bergeron [et al.]. Canadian Association of Music Libraries. ISBN 0-9690583-2-2
If Johnny Cash covered one of your songs on his final albums, it automatically meant it embodied some sort of country spirit however musically disguised. Cash, of course, interpreted the title track from this 1999 record the following year on American III: Solitary Man. I See a Darkness is dark, yes. It is gothic without being goth. Yet, its confessional cries and distant, discordant layering (especially on tracks like “Nomadic Revery (All Around)”) are also subversive in a way that honors the subgenre.—Hilary Saunders
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
Among the earliest musical societies were Halifax's "New Union Singing Society" of 1809 and Québec's "Harmonic Society" of 1820. One of the first registered all-civilian musical ensembles was a religious sect organized from Upper Canada called the Children of Peace in 1820. In 1833, a student orchestra was organized at the Séminaire de Québec the Société Ste-Cécile, as it was known, and was one of the earliest ensembles of its kind in Lower Canada. The first appearance of a piece of music in a newspaper or magazine was in the pages of the Montreal twice-weekly newspaper, La Minerve, on September 19, 1831. Many immigrants during this time lived in relative isolation and music sometimes obtained through subscriptions to newspapers and magazines, provided entertainment and a life line to civilization. One of the earliest surviving publications in Canada of a song on the piano in sheet music format is "The Merry Bells of England" by J.F. Lehmann, of Bytown (later Ottawa) in 1840.
The Kentucky band’s sprawling major-label debut did nothing to alter the independent spirit of singer-songwriter Jim James and his cohorts. The country-rock base retained elements of Memphis soul, classic ’70s rock and neo-psychedelic sounds, all drenched in salubrious washes of reverb. Besides, nothing says complete artistic freedom like 12 songs that average six minutes in length, many of which were recorded in a grain silo to give the reverb more reverb. Styles mix wantonly, songs meander but never go quite where you expect them to. What begins as an acoustic-driven folk song (“Magheeta”) morphs into a hard-rocking power ballad; a funkified homage to R&B clubs (“Dance Floors”) becomes an Exile on Main Street-era block party, powered by a propulsive horn section straight out of “Tumbling Dice”; and the minor-key melancholia of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse epics (think “Cortez the Killer”) forms the backbone of “Run Through” until it mutates at the chorus into the early ’80s Manchester sound reminiscent of New Order. Is it alt-country? That’s as good a descriptor as anything else.—John Schact
Carrie Underwood was one of several country stars produced by a television series in the 2000s. In addition to Underwood, American Idol launched the careers of Kellie Pickler, Josh Gracin, Bucky Covington, Kristy Lee Cook, Danny Gokey, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery (as well as that of occasional country singer Kelly Clarkson) in the decade, and would continue to launch country careers in the 2010s. The series Nashville Star, while not nearly as successful as Idol, did manage to bring Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Chris Young to mainstream success, also launching the careers of lower-profile musicians such as Buddy Jewell, Sean Patrick McGraw, and Canadian musician George Canyon. Can You Duet? produced the duos Steel Magnolia and Joey + Rory. Teen sitcoms also have influenced modern country music; in 2008, actress Jennette McCurdy (best known as the sidekick Sam on the teen sitcom iCarly) released her first single, "So Close", following that with the single "Generation Love" in 2011. Another teen sitcom star, Miley Cyrus (of Hannah Montana), also had a crossover hit in the late 2000s with "The Climb" and another with a duet with her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, with "Ready, Set, Don't Go." Jana Kramer, an actress in the teen drama One Tree Hill, released a country album in 2012 that has produced two hit singles as of 2013. Actresses Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton began recording country songs as part of their roles in the TV series Nashville.
After getting their start in Tuscon, Arizona’s punk scene, Green On Red moved to Los Angeles and expanded their sound to incorporate country and psych-pop influences. The move inched them closer to the Paisley Underground with the likes of Dream Syndicate, The Three O’Clock, as well as Thin White Rope up in Davis, California. By the time Green On Red released Gas Food Lodging in 1985, they’d begun sneaking more elements of country music—a la The Byrds—into their music, while still retaining their jangly pop prowess. There’s nary a dud on this one, each song a gem and strong enough to satiate country fans with a sense of adventure.—Mark Lore
Ultimately, country music’s roots lie in the ballads, folk songs, and popular songs of the English, Scots, and Irish settlers of the Appalachians and other parts of the South. In the early 1920s the traditional string-band music of the Southern mountain regions began to be commercially recorded, with Fiddlin’ John Carson garnering the genre’s first hit record in 1923. The vigour and realism of the rural songs, many lyrics of which were rather impersonal narratives of tragedies pointing to a stern Calvinist moral, stood in marked contrast to the often mawkish sentimentality of much of the popular music of the day.
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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.
For a relatively small country (roughly 36 million), Canada continues to punch above its weight when it comes to musical contribution. The sheer volume of notable acts that were left off the list is impressive enough. From bonafide legends (Neil Young and Joni Mitchell) to 80s hit machines (Bryan Adams and Corey Hart) to 00’s chart toppers (The Weeknd and Grimes) Canada boasts some serious homegrown talent that they’re nice enough to share with the rest of the world. To celebrate Canada Day, we’ve assembled a list of the country’s greatest musicians that cross all genres, eras and provinces (excluding the many talented French-Canadian artists and Glenn Gould, Lenny Breau, and Oscar Petersen (they’re above lists).
In 2007, Canada joined the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement talks, whose outcome will have a significant impact on the Canadian music industry. In 2010 Canada introduced new copyright legislation. The amended law makes hacking digital locks illegal, but enshrine into law the ability of purchasers to record and copy music from a CD to portable devices.
Edith Kathryn Moogk (1988). Title Index to Canadian Works Listed in Edward B. Moogk's "Roll Back the Years, History of Canadian Recorded Sound, Genesis to 1930", in series, C.A.M.L. Occasional Papers, no. 1. Canadian Association of Music Libraries. N.B.: Title and fore-matter also in French; supplements the index within E. B. Moogk's book. ISBN 0-9690583-3-0
With the migration of many Southern rural whites to industrial cities during the Great Depression and World War II, country music was carried into new areas and exposed to new influences, such as blues and gospel music. The nostalgic bias of country music, with its lyrics about grinding poverty, orphaned children, bereft lovers, and lonely workers far from home, held special appeal during a time of wide-scale population shifts.
From the opening song, which finds Steve doing his best Dylan impersonation in calling for the spirits of Woody Guthrie and Jesus to return and scour the land free of crooked politicians, to the last song, “Fort Worth Blues,” which finds Steve spinning a heartbreaking tale of wanderlust and an unnameable malaise, El Corazon shot like a bullet to my heart. Earle slides effortlessly between folk, Neil Young-like guitar anthems, country weepers, bluegrass workouts and bone-crunching rock ‘n’ roll. And throughout he writes brilliantly, offering up story songs with remarkable economy, using not a single wasted word.—Andy Whitman
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) continues to suffer from a series of funding cuts implemented by the previous Conservative federal government. The 2012 federal budget cut $115 million from the CBC’s budget over three years. While this has negative consequences for all Canadians as this national institution is forced to cut jobs and scale back its reach and scope, the country’s music and arts communities, in particular, stand to lose. In many cases, it’s already happening, but it can be reversed if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal majority government fulfills the promises it made during the 2015 federal election campaign. There is something you can do to make that happen.
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
French settlers and explorers to New France brought with them a great love of song, dance and fiddle playing. Beginning in the 1630s French and Indigenous children at Québec were taught to sing and play European instruments, like viols, violins, guitars, transverse flutes, drums, fifes and trumpets. Ecole des Ursulines and The Ursuline Convent are among North America's oldest schools and the first institutions of learning for women in North America. Both were founded in 1639 by French nun Marie of the Incarnation (1599–1672) alongside the laywoman Marie-Madeline de Chauvigny de la Peltrie (1603–1671) and are the first Canadian institutions to have music as part of the curriculum.
In the early 1970s, Jennings fought Nashville for creative control to make his music the way he saw fit. Though he had been a consistent hitmaker for close to a decade by this point, you could hear a difference on such songs as “This Time” and “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” He was called an outlaw, though he tended to rebel against that word as well over the years. Looking back, Jennings simply wanted to be himself –- ranging from covers of such current hits as “Can’t You See” to stunning ballads like “Dreaming My Dreams With You.”
If Cold Roses, his double-disc gatefold set, was Adams’ Exile on Main St., Jacksonville City Nights finds the singer back in his tear-stained Gram Parsons duds. As always, Adams does a smashing job recreating Parsons’ heartrending lyrical and tonal nuances—the strained crack in the voice, the sobbing plea, the sweet, melancholic sigh. He doesn’t so much return to his Whiskeytown roots here as he canters straight past them into sad-eyed, Bakersfield barroom shuffles. Add a touch of post-acid-test Grateful Dead acousticism plus Adams’ breathtaking lyrics and you got a modern C&W classic.—Paste Staff
The sixth generation of country music continued to be influenced by other genres such as pop, rock, and R&B. Richard Marx crossed over with his Days in Avalon album, which features five country songs and several singers and musicians. Alison Krauss sang background vocals to Marx's single "Straight from My Heart." Also, Bon Jovi had a hit single, "Who Says You Can't Go Home", with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. Kid Rock's collaboration with Sheryl Crow, "Picture," was a major crossover hit in 2001 and began Kid Rock's transition from hard rock to a country-rock hybrid that would later produce another major crossover hit, 2008's "All Summer Long." (Crow would also cross over into country with her hit "Easy.") Darius Rucker, former frontman for the 1990s pop-rock band Hootie & the Blowfish, began a country solo career in the late 2000s, one that to date has produced three albums and several hits on both the country charts and the Billboard Hot 100. Singer-songwriter Unknown Hinson became famous for his appearance in the Charlotte television show Wild, Wild, South, after which Hinson started his own band and toured in southern states. Other rock stars who featured a country song on their albums were Don Henley and Poison.
The greatest commercial success for country rock came in the 1970s, with the Doobie Brothers mixing in elements of R&B, Emmylou Harris (a former backing singer for Parsons) becoming the "Queen of country-rock" and Linda Ronstadt creating a highly successful pop-oriented brand of the genre. Pure Prairie League, formed in Ohio in 1969 by Craig Fuller, had both critical and commercial success with 5 straight Top 40 LP releases, including Bustin' Out (1972), acclaimed by Allmusic critic Richard Foss as "an album that is unequaled in country-rock" and Two Lane Highway, described by Rolling Stone as "a worthy companion to the likes of the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo and other gems of the genre". Former members of Ronstadt's backing band went on to form the Eagles (two members of band were from the Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco), who emerged as one of the most successful rock acts of all time, producing albums that included Desperado (1973) and Hotel California (1976). However, the principal country rock influence in the Eagles came from Bernie Leadon, formerly of the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Eagles are perceived as shifting towards hard rock after he left the band in late 1975. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils had hit singles “If You Wanna Get To Heaven” (1974) and "Jackie Blue" (1975), the latter of which peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. The Belammy Brothers had the hit "Let Your Love Flow"(1976). In 1979, the Southern rock Charlie Daniels Band moved to a more country direction, released a song with strong bluegrass influence, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia", and the song crossed over and became a hit on the pop chart.
But commercialization proved a much stronger influence as country music became popular in all sections of the United States after World War II. In 1942 Roy Acuff, one of the most important country singers, co-organized in Nashville the first publishing house for country music. Hank Williams’ meteoric rise to fame in the late 1940s helped establish Nashville as the undisputed centre of country music, with large recording studios and the Grand Ole Opry as its chief performing venue. In the 1950s and ’60s country music became a huge commercial enterprise, with such leading performers as Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Charley Pride. Popular singers often recorded songs in a Nashville style, while many country music recordings employed lush orchestral backgrounds.
Other artists had been successful crossing over before Kenny Rogers, but he made it an art form. As a member of the First Edition, several of the band’s pop records crossed over to country, and as a solo artist, he notched some of the biggest hits in both markets from 1977-1987. As a touring artist, he was the first country performer to consistently sell out arenas night after night, with only his recent announcement of retirement bringing that segment of his career to a close.
The third generation (1950s–1960s) started at the end of World War II with "mountaineer" string band music known as bluegrass, which emerged when Bill Monroe, along with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were introduced by Roy Acuff at the Grand Ole Opry. Gospel music remained a popular component of country music. Another type of stripped-down and raw music with a variety of moods and a basic ensemble of guitar, bass, dobro or steel guitar (and later drums) became popular, especially among poor whites in Texas and Oklahoma. It became known as honky tonk, and had its roots in Western swing and the ranchera music of Mexico and the border states. By the early 1950s a blend of Western swing, country boogie, and honky tonk was played by most country bands. Rockabilly was most popular with country fans in the 1950s, and 1956 could be called the year of rockabilly in country music, with Johnny Cash emerging as one of the most popular and enduring representatives of the rockabilly genre; rockabilly was also a starting point for eventual rock-and-roll superstar Elvis Presley, who would return to his country roots near the end of his life. Beginning in the mid-1950s, and reaching its peak during the early 1960s, the Nashville sound turned country music into a multimillion-dollar industry centered in Nashville, Tennessee; Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves were two of the most broadly popular Nashville sound artists, and their deaths in separate plane crashes in the early 1960s were a factor in the genre's decline. The late 1960s in American music produced a unique blend as a result of traditionalist backlash within separate genres. In the aftermath of the British Invasion, many desired a return to the "old values" of rock n' roll. At the same time there was a lack of enthusiasm in the country sector for Nashville-produced music. What resulted was a crossbred genre known as country rock.