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.
Brooks shattered the blueprint for what a country singer should sound like -– on stage and off. His music was a fusion of George Jones and James Taylor, and his concerts are like nothing a country fan has seen before or since. Brooks also changed the way that the format was thought about from a sales standpoint -– selling well over 100 million copies of his music, making a Brooks release date seem something akin to a national holiday for retailers across the globe.

CALLING ME HOME: GRAM PARSONS AND THE ROOTS OF COUNTRY ROCK differs from any other biography of the musician's life and times, choosing to focus on the extent of his career, his strong influence that led to his being named the 'father of country rock', and the influences he had upon associates and the music world as a whole, from Elvis Costello and Patty Griffin to Emmylou Harris.
There is the C2C: Country to Country festival held every year, and for many years there was a festival at Wembley Arena, which was broadcast on the BBC, the International Festivals of Country Music, promoted by Mervyn Conn, held at the venue between 1969 and 1991. The shows were later taken into Europe, and featured such stars as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, David Allan Coe, Emmylou Harris, Boxcar Willie, Johnny Russell and Jerry Lee Lewis. A handful of country musicians had even greater success in mainstream UK music than they did in the US, despite a certain amount of disdain from the music press. The UK's largest music festival Glastonbury has featured major US country acts in recent years, such as Kenny Rogers in 2013 and Dolly Parton in 2014.
Borrowing a page from the textbook of Dolly Parton, the former elementary school teacher from Oklahoma became one of the first female artists to sell albums and concert tickets on a level with the male artists. In addition to her music, she helped to shape the format with ground-breaking videos such as “Whoever’s In New England.” Along the way, she built an empire called Starstruck that is one of the biggest success stories the format has ever seen -- for any gender.
 Though she hit first with “Walkin’ After Midnight” in 1957, Cline’s true influence as an artist stems from only a three-year recording career (1960-1963). However, what she did with that time period continues to inspire countless artists around the world. Take a walk to Nashville’s lower Broadway on any given night, and you will likely hear a rising female singer doing “Crazy” -– something that will likely be the case for another 50 years or so.
During the great depression in Canada, the majority of people listened to what today would be called swing (Jazz)[65] just as country was starting its roots.[66] The diversity in the evolution of swing dancing in Canada is reflected in its many American names, Jive, Jitterbug and Lindy. Canada's first big band star was Guy Lombardo (1902–1977), who formed his easy listening band, The Royal Canadians, with his brothers and friends. They achieved international success starting in the mid-1920s selling an estimated 250 million phonograph records, and were the first Canadians to have a #1 single on Billboard's top 100.[67] 1932, the first Broadcasting Act was passed by Parliament creating the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission. It was to both to regulate all broadcasting and create a new national public radio network.[60] 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation came into existence, at the time, a million Canadian households had a radio.[60]
Sometimes it takes an ‘American Woman’ to break into the US charts, and that’s what Canadian powerhouse rock group, The Guess Who did in 1970, being the first Canadian group to have a US chart topper since 1954. Powered by the soulful vocals of Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman’s driving guitar and sardonic songwriter, the Winnipeg-based band found international success throughout the 60s and 70s, until disbanding when Bachman left the group and went on to form the hugely successful, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, with their hit single ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’.
Though his father was one of the first major superstars of the genre, Hank Williams, Jr. marches to the beat of his own drummer. Much of his early hit output was in a traditional style, such as 1972’s “Eleven Roses,” but it was later southern rock-inspired hits such as “Family Tradition” and “Women I’ve Never Had” that proved that Junior was in a league of his own. Also adding to his legend was his stage show, which inspired a generation -- including Garth Brooks.
Lists are incredibly subjective but it’s impossible to deny the enormous impact Neil Young has made in the musical world for the past 50 years. From his time with Buffalo Springfield to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to his solo work with Crazy Horse, this singer-songwriter from Northern Ontario left his homeland long ago and yet never became an American citizen. With one of rock’s most productive and enduring solo careers, Young has created his own songbook of standards and continues to be a political force for action, even releasing a new protest song called, ‘Children of Destiny’.
In the 1930s and 1940s, cowboy songs, or Western music, which had been recorded since the 1920s, were popularized by films made in Hollywood. Some of the popular singing cowboys from the era were Gene Autry, the Sons of the Pioneers, and Roy Rogers.[42] Country music and western music were frequently played together on the same radio stations, hence the term country and western music. Cowgirls contributed to the sound in various family groups. Patsy Montana opened the door for female artists with her history-making song "I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart". This would begin a movement toward opportunities for women to have successful solo careers. Bob Wills was another country musician from the Lower Great Plains who had become very popular as the leader of a "hot string band," and who also appeared in Hollywood westerns. His mix of country and jazz, which started out as dance hall music, would become known as Western swing. Cliff Bruner, Moon Mullican, Milton Brown and Adolph Hofner were other early Western swing pioneers. Spade Cooley and Tex Williams also had very popular bands and appeared in films. At its height, Western swing rivaled the popularity of big band swing music.
During the early 1980s, country artists continued to see their records perform well on the pop charts. Willie Nelson and Juice Newton each had two songs in the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the early eighties: Nelson charted "Always on My Mind" (No. 5, 1982) and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" (No. 5, 1984, a duet with Julio Iglesias), and Newton achieved success with "Queen of Hearts" (No. 2, 1981) and "Angel of the Morning" (No. 4, 1981). Four country songs topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s: "Lady" by Kenny Rogers, from the late fall of 1980; "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton, "I Love a Rainy Night" by Eddie Rabbitt (these two back-to-back at the top in early 1981); and "Islands in the Stream", a duet by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers in 1983, a pop-country crossover hit written by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. Newton's "Queen of Hearts" almost reached No. 1, but was kept out of the spot by the pop ballad juggernaut "Endless Love" by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie.[70] The move of country music toward neotraditional styles led to a marked decline in country/pop crossovers in the late 1980s, and only one song in that period—Roy Orbison's "You Got It", from 1989—made the top 10 of both the Billboard Hot Country Singles" and Hot 100 charts, due largely to a revival of interest in Orbison after his sudden death.[71][72] The only song with substantial country airplay to reach number one on the pop charts in the late 1980s was "At This Moment" by Billy Vera and the Beaters, an R&B song with slide guitar embellishment that appeared at number 42 on the country charts from minor crossover airplay.[73] The record-setting, multi-platinum group Alabama was named Artist of the Decade for the 1980s by the Academy of Country Music.
The sixth generation (2000s–present) has seen a certain amount of diversification in regard to country music styles. The influence of rock music in country has become more overt during the late 2000s and early 2010s. Most of the best-selling country songs of this era were in the country pop genre, such as those by Lady Antebellum, Florida Georgia Line, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift.[21] Hip-hop also made its mark on country music with the emergence of country rap.[22]

Artists from outside California who were associated with early alternative country included singer-songwriters such as Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, the Nashville country rock band Jason and the Scorchers and the British post-punk band The Mekons. Earle, in particular, was noted for his popularity with both country and college rock audiences: He promoted his 1986 debut album Guitar Town with a tour that saw him open for both country singer Dwight Yoakam and alternative rock band The Replacements.[92]

Catherine Ann Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean are some of the most foundational women in alt-country. Their band Freakwater, which started as a side project, eventually grew into this reputation, thanks to breakthrough albums like Old Paint. Released in 1996, Old Paint musically looks backwards. It has the jauntiness of barn dances, complete with fiddles, dobros, and tambourines. Yet, Irwin and Bean’s voices, content in their different ranges, somehow meld to tell country tales that still sound ahead of their time.—Hilary Saunders
Other acts who became prominent in the alt-country genre during the 1990s and 2000s included The Bottle Rockets, The Handsome Family, Blue Mountain, Robbie Fulks, Blood Oranges, Bright Eyes, Drive-By Truckers, Old 97's, Old Crow Medicine Show, Nickel Creek, Neko Case, and Whiskeytown, whose lead singer Ryan Adams later had a successful solo-career.[95] Alt-country, in various iterations overlapped with other genres, including Red Dirt country music (Cross Canadian Ragweed), jam bands (My Morning Jacket and The String Cheese Incident), and indie folk (The Avett Brothers).
Take a crew of Yes-obsessed Canadians, apply an English prog sensibility and you have one of the most successful rock acts to break out of Canada – selling over million records sold worldwide. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson grew up near Toronto and came up in the local club circuit before going on to form the illustrious prog-rock trio known as Rush. While the band’s sound would evolve over the years since their 1974 debut, their expert musicianship, complexity of their compositions and vivid lyricism would remain unparalleled. While Rush were the ones to hit it big, let’s not forgot other Canadian prog-rockers Saga, Klaatu and Triumph.
Canada's first independent record label Compo Company built a pressing plant (the largest of its day) in 1918 at Lachine, Quebec.[56] Compo was originally created to serve the several American independent record companies such as Okeh Records which wanted to distribute records in Canada.[57] The 1920s saw Canada's first radio stations, this allowed Canadian songwriters to contribute some of the most famous popular music of the early 20th century.[58] Canada's first commercial radio station CFCF (formerly XWA) begins broadcasting regularly scheduled programming in Montreal in 1920, followed by CKAC, Canada's first French language radio station, in 1922.[59] By 1923, there were 34 radio stations in Canada[60] and subsequently proliferated at a remarkable rate, and with them spread the popularity of jazz. Jazz became associated with all things modern, sophisticated, and also decadent.[61]

The first American country music video cable channel was The Nashville Network, launched in the early 1980s as a channel devoted to southern culture. In 2000, after it and CMT fell under the same corporate ownership, the channel was stripped of its country format and rebranded as The National Network, then Spike, and finally Paramount Network. TNN was later revived from 2012 to 2013 after Jim Owens Entertainment (the company responsible for prominent TNN hosts Crook & Chase) acquired the trademark and licensed it to Luken Communications; that channel renamed itself Heartland after Luken was embroiled in an unrelated dispute that left the company bankrupt.
Historically, music was composed in Canada's colonies and settlements during the 18th century, although very few popular named works have survived or were even published.[5] The French and Indian Wars began and left the population economically drained and ill-equipped to develop cultural pursuits properly.[7] The part-time composers of this period were nonetheless often quite skilled.[4] Traditional songs and dances, such as those of the Habitants and Métis, were transmitted orally, from generation to generation and from village to village, thus people felt no need to transcribe or publish them.[21] Printed music was required, for music teachers and their pupils, who were from the privileged minority where domestic music making was considered a proof of gentility.[22] Music publishing and printing in Europe by this time was a thriving industry, but it did not begin in Canada until the 19th century.[23] Canadian composers were not able to focus entirely on creating new music in these years, as most made their living in other musical activities such as leading choirs, church organists and teaching.[24] Regimental bands were musically a part of civil life and typically featured a dozen woodwind and brass instruments, performing at parades, festive ceremonies, minuets, country dances and balls.[25]
Artists from outside California who were associated with early alternative country included singer-songwriters such as Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, the Nashville country rock band Jason and the Scorchers and the British post-punk band The Mekons. Earle, in particular, was noted for his popularity with both country and college rock audiences: He promoted his 1986 debut album Guitar Town with a tour that saw him open for both country singer Dwight Yoakam and alternative rock band The Replacements.[92]

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.


Truck driving country music is a genre of country music[80] and is a fusion of honky-tonk, country rock and the Bakersfield sound.[81] It has the tempo of country rock and the emotion of honky-tonk,[81] and its lyrics focus on a truck driver's lifestyle.[82] Truck driving country songs often deal with the profession of trucking and love.[81] Well-known artists who sing truck driving country include Dave Dudley, Red Sovine, Dick Curless, Red Simpson, Del Reeves, The Willis Brothers and Jerry Reed, with C. W. McCall and Cledus Maggard (pseudonyms of Bill Fries and Jay Huguely, respectively) being more humorous entries in the subgenre.[81] Dudley is known as the father of truck driving country.[82][83]
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
The influence and innovations of Canadian hip hop came to the foreground in Canada when Music videos became an important marketing tool for Canadian musicians, with the debut of MuchMusic in 1984 and MusiquePlus in 1986. Now both English and French Canadian musicians had outlets to promote all forms of music through video in Canada.[100][101] The networks were not just an opportunity for artists to get their videos played—the networks created VideoFACT, a fund to help emerging artists produce their videos.[102]

Following World War II a growth phase for Canadian bands was experienced, this time among school bands.[75] Rapid advances in the inclusion of instrumental music study in formal school curricula brought about fundamental changes to the philosophy of the band movement and the type of repertoire available.[75] The CHUM Chart debuted on May 27, 1957, under the name CHUM's Weekly Hit Parade, was in response to the fast-growing diversity of music that needed to be subdivided and categorized.[76] The CHUM charts were the longest-running Top 40 chart in Canada ending in 1986.[77]
In India, the Anglo-Indian community is well known for enjoying and performing country music. An annual concert festival called "Blazing Guitars"[128] held in Chennai brings together Anglo-Indian musicians from all over the country (including some who have emigrated to places like Australia). The year 2003 brought home – grown Indian, Bobby Cash to the forefront of the country music culture in India when he became India's first international country music artist to chart singles in Australia.

According to Lindsey Starnes, the term country music gained popularity in the 1940s in preference to the earlier term hillbilly music; it came to encompass Western music, which evolved parallel to hillbilly music from similar roots, in the mid-20th century. In 2009 in the United States, country music was the most listened to rush hour radio genre during the evening commute, and second most popular in the morning commute.[6]
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