The 1970s saw the growth of the “outlaw” music of prominent Nashville expatriates Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The gap between country and the mainstream of pop music continued to narrow in that decade and the next as electric guitars replaced more traditional instruments and country music became more acceptable to a national urban audience. Country retained its vitality into the late 20th century with such diverse performers as Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett. Despite its embrace of other popular styles, country music retained an unmistakable character as one of the few truly indigenous American musical styles.
By the end of the 1970s, punk and new wave pushed country rock out of the pop charts and the media limelight. The 1980s saw a resurgence of the genre, more geared to rockabilly force than folk and country balladry. Christened “roots rock,” it yielded underground champions like Nashville’s Jason and the Scorchers, ultimately manifesting itself in the mainstream work of Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and others. Also by the end of that decade, country music in Nashville had begun to adapt some of the riskier guitar tones and rhythms for its less traditional artists. Elsewhere a new wave of young country rockers, notably Son Volt and Wilco, lumped together under the banner “alternative country” in the 1990s, tried to resurrect the less glitzy side of the movement. But country rock in the most popular sense became a period style, left to evoke the 1970s, a time when artists dressed up deep aesthetic and personal concerns in music that only sounded soft.
The September 11 attacks of 2001 and the economic recession helped move country music back into the spotlight. Many country artists, such as Alan Jackson with his ballad on terrorist attacks, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)", wrote songs that celebrated the military, highlighted the gospel, and emphasized home and family values over wealth. Alt-Country singer Ryan Adams song "New York, New York" pays tribute to New York City, and its popular music video (which was shot 4 days before the attacks) shows Adams playing in front of the Manhattan skyline, Along with several shots of the city. In contrast, more rock-oriented country singers took more direct aim at the attacks' perpetrators; Toby Keith's "The Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue)" threatened to "a boot in" the posterior of the enemy, while Charlie Daniels's "This Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag" promised to "hunt" the perpetrators "down like a mad dog hound." These songs gained such recognition that it put country music back into popular culture. The influence of rock music in country has become more overt during the late 2000s and early 2010s as artists like Eric Church, Jason Aldean, and Brantley Gilbert have had success; Aaron Lewis, former frontman for the rock group Staind, had a moderately successful entry into country music in 2011 and 2012. Also rising in the late 2000s and early 2010s was the insertion of rap and spoken-word elements into country songs; artists such as Cowboy Troy and Colt Ford have focused almost exclusively on country rap (also known as hick hop) while other, more mainstream artists (such as Big & Rich and Jason Aldean) have used it on occasion.
Country influences combined with Punk rock and alternative rock to forge the "cowpunk" scene in Southern California during the 1980s, which included bands such as The Long Ryders, Lone Justice and The Beat Farmers, as well as the established punk group X, whose music had begun to include country and rockabilly influences. Simultaneously, a generation of diverse country artists outside of California emerged that rejected the perceived cultural and musical conservatism associated with Nashville's mainstream country musicians in favor of more countercultural outlaw country and the folk singer-songwriter traditions of artists such as Woody Guthrie, Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan.
During the 1930s a number of “singing cowboy” film stars, of whom Gene Autry was the best known, took country music and with suitably altered lyrics made it into a synthetic and adventitious “western” music. A second and more substantive variant of country music arose in the 1930s in the Texas-Oklahoma region, where the music of rural whites was exposed to the swing jazz of black orchestras. In response, a Western swing style evolved in the hands of Bob Wills and others and came to feature steel and amplified guitars and a strong dance rhythm. An even more important variant was honky-tonk, a country style that emerged in the 1940s with such figures as Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams. Honky-tonk’s fiddle–steel-guitar combination and its bitter, maudlin lyrics about rural whites adrift in the big city were widely adopted by other country musicians.
Canada's music industry is the sixth largest in the world, producing many internationally renowned artists. Canada has developed a music infrastructure, that includes church halls, chamber halls, conservatories, academies, performing arts centres, record companies, radio stations and television music video channels. Canada's music broadcasting is regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences administers Canada's music industry awards, the Juno Awards, which first commenced in 1970.
Shania Twain became the best selling female country artist of the decade. This was primarily due to the success of her breakthrough sophomore 1995 album, The Woman in Me, which was certified 12x platinum sold over 20 million copies worldwide and its follow up, 1997's Come On Over, which was certified 20x platinum and sold over 40 million copies. The album became a major worldwide phenomenon and became one of the world's best selling albums of 1998, 1999 and 2000; it also went on to become the best selling country album of all time. Unlike the majority of her contemporaries, Twain enjoyed large international success that had been seen by very few country artists, before or after her. Critics have noted that Twain enjoyed much of her success due to breaking free of traditional country stereotypes and for incorporating elements of rock and pop into her music. In 2002, she released her successful fourth studio album, titled Up!, which was certified 11x platinum and sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Twain has been credited with breaking international boundaries for country music, as well as inspiring many country artists to incorporate different genres into their music in order to attract a wider audience. She is also credited with changing the way in which many female country performers would market themselves, as unlike many before her she used fashion and her sex appeal to get rid of the stereotypical 'honky-tonk' image the majority of country singers had in order to distinguish herself from many female country artists of the time.
The U.S. Congress has formally recognized Bristol, Tennessee as the "Birthplace of Country Music", based on the historic Bristol recording sessions of 1927. Since 2014, the city has been home to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Historians have also noted the influence of the less-known Johnson City sessions of 1928 and 1929, and the Knoxville sessions of 1929 and 1930. In addition, the Mountain City Fiddlers Convention, held in 1925, helped to inspire modern country music. Before these, pioneer settlers, in the Great Smoky Mountains region, had developed a rich musical heritage.
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. Under the direction of producers such as Chet Atkins, Bill Porter, Paul Cohen, Owen Bradley, Bob Ferguson, and later Billy Sherrill, the sound brought country music to a diverse audience and helped revive country as it emerged from a commercially fallow period. This subgenre was notable for borrowing from 1950s pop stylings: a prominent and smooth vocal, backed by a string section (violins and other orchestral strings) and vocal chorus. Instrumental soloing was de-emphasized in favor of trademark "licks". Leading artists in this genre included Jim Reeves, Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith, The Browns, Patsy Cline, and Eddy Arnold. The "slip note" piano style of session musician Floyd Cramer was an important component of this style. The Nashville Sound collapsed in mainstream popularity in 1964, a victim of both the British Invasion and the deaths of Reeves and Cline in separate airplane crashes. By the mid-1960s, the genre had developed into countrypolitan. Countrypolitan was aimed straight at mainstream markets, and it sold well throughout the later 1960s into the early 1970s. Top artists included Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson and Charlie Rich, as well as such former "hard country" artists as Ray Price and Marty Robbins. Despite the appeal of the Nashville sound, many traditional country artists emerged during this period and dominated the genre: Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Porter Wagoner, George Jones, and Sonny James among them.
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.
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 HQ showcases new talent on the rise in the country music scene down under. CMC (the Country Music Channel), a 24‑hour music channel dedicated to non-stop country music, can be viewed on pay TV and features once a year the Golden Guitar Awards, CMAs and CCMAs alongside international shows such as The Wilkinsons, The Road Hammers, and Country Music Across America.
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.
By the time of Canadian Confederation (1867), songwriting had become a favored means of personal expression across the land. In a society in which most middle-class families now owned a harmonium or piano, and standard education included at least the rudiments of music, the result was often an original song. Such stirrings frequently occurred in response to noteworthy events, and few local or national excitements were allowed to pass without some musical comment.
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. 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).
One of the most versatile artists on this list, McGraw's career stretches from '90s dance numbers like "Indian Outlaw" to tear-jerking ballads like "Don't Take The Girl" and the powerful "Live Like You Were Dying." He isn't afraid to expand his boundaries, either, with collaborations with such artists as hip-hop star Nelly. McGraw has also made a name for himself as an actor in Hollywood, delivering fine performances in movies such as Friday Night Lights and Oscar-winning The Blind Side, going far and beyond simply playing a singer on screen like many of his peers.
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.
With a voice like good claret or damp moss, Rosanne Cash’s singing is something to sink into. Surrender to the tones, mostly dark, but marked by the occasional glimmer of light, and let the emotions they contain seep inside. For Cash, the emotions on The River & The Thread are complex and tangled, especially the Grammy-winner’s own difficult relationship with the South, her roots and her own musical journey. What emerges, beyond a woman grappling with a legacy as much in the rich bottom land as her father Johnny’s iconic presence as the voice of America, is a knowing embrace of the conflicts in the things we love. The 11-song cycle is mostly a meditation on the textures and musical forms that emerged South of the Mason Dixon. Finding not just resolve, but acceptance is a gift. Cash, who’s sidestepped her heritage, and eschewed a career as a country star with 11 No. 1s, a marriage to a country writer/producer/artist Rodney Crowell and the city/industry where she found prominence, savored her wandering and the Manhattan life she built. With The River & The Thread, she comes home with the warmth reserved for knowing where we’re from. As powerful a witness for the region—Memphis, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas—as it is a lovely quilt of musicality, braiding blues, folk, Appalachia, rock and old-timey country, this is balm for lost souls, alienated creatures seeking their core truths and intellectuals who love the cool mist of vespers in the hearts of people they may never encounter.—Holly Gleason
Singer/songwriter Bill Mallonee changed lineups to his Athens, Ga., outfit like some frontmen change hairstyles, and with the personnel moves came a variety of styles from alt-folk to indie rock and even Americanized Brit-pop. But one of the band’s best album’s was a straight-up alt-country gem. Audible Sigh benefitted from Kenny Hutson’s versatility on mandolin, guitar, pedal steel and dobro, production from Buddy Miller and backing vocals from Emmylou Harris on standout track “Resplendent.” It’s Mallonee’s vivid songwriting that elevates the album to “overlooked classic” status, though. Audible Sigh trades in Dustbowl imagery more than most of his catalog, but he can’t stay completely away from the personal demons he’s spent a career turning into confessional songs, like on “She Walks on Roses”: “They say that pride, well it’s the chief of sins/Well I know all of his deputies, I’m well acquainted with them.” Song titles like “Hard Luck and Heart Attack” and “Black Cloud O’er Me” fit well on the twangiest album of his impressive catalog.—Josh Jackson
The idea of a band in country music had never really succeeded on a commercial level -- until Alabama kicked in the door in 1980. RCA rolled the dice on them, and it was an investment that paid off quite well –- over 30 No. 1 singles, 75 million in album sales, and the only band (so far) to win the CMA Entertainer of the Year award three times. To further underscore their success story, all of their singles for RCA in the 1980s -– save 1987’s “Tar Top” -- found their way to the pinnacle of the charts.
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.
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.