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. 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.
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).
Female artists such as Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Deana Carter, LeAnn Rimes, Mindy McCready, Lorrie Morgan, Shania Twain, and Mary Chapin Carpenter all released platinum-selling albums in the 1990s. The Dixie Chicks became one of the most popular country bands in the 1990s and early 2000s. Their 1998 debut album Wide Open Spaces went on to become certified 12x platinum while their 1999 album Fly went on to become 10x platinum. After their third album, Home, was released in 2003, the band made political news in part because of lead singer Natalie Maines's comments disparaging then-President George W. Bush while the band was overseas (Maines stated that she and her bandmates were ashamed to be from the same state as Bush, who had just commenced the Iraq War a few days prior). The comments caused a rift between the band and the country music scene, and the band's fourth (and most recent) album, 2006's Taking the Long Way, took a more rock-oriented direction; the album was commercially successful overall but largely ignored among country audiences. After Taking the Long Way, the band broke up for a decade (with two of its members continuing as the Court Yard Hounds) before embarking on a reunion tour in 2016.
Country rock was a particularly popular style in the California music scene of the late 1960s, and was adopted by bands including Hearts and Flowers, Poco (formed by Richie Furay and Jim Messina, formerly of the Buffalo Springfield) and New Riders of the Purple Sage. Some folk-rockers followed the Byrds into the genre, among them the Beau Brummels and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. A number of performers also enjoyed a renaissance by adopting country sounds, including: the Beatles, who re-explored elements of country in their later albums, like "Rocky Raccoon" and "Don't Pass Me By" from their eponymous "White Album" (1968), and "Octopus's Garden" from Abbey Road (1969); the Everly Brothers, whose Roots album (1968) is usually considered some of their finest work; former teen idol Ricky Nelson who became the frontman for the Stone Canyon Band; John Fogerty, who left Creedence Clearwater Revival behind for the country sounds of the Blue Ridge Rangers(1972); Mike Nesmith, who had experimented with country sounds while with the Monkees, formed the First National Band; and Neil Young who moved in and out of the genre throughout his career. One of the few acts to successfully move from the country side towards rock were the bluegrass band the Dillards.
Attempts to combine punk and country had been pioneered by Nashville's Jason and the Scorchers, and in the 1980s Southern Californian cowpunk scene with bands like the Long Ryders, but these styles merged fully in Uncle Tupelo's 1990 LP No Depression, which is widely credited as being the first "alt-country" album, and gave its name to the online notice board and eventually magazine that underpinned the movement. They released three more influential albums, signing to a major label, before they broke up in 1994, with members and figures associated with them going on to form three major bands in the genre: Wilco, Son Volt and Bottle Rockets. Bottle Rockets signed, along with acts like Freakwater, Old 97's and Robbie Fulks, to the Chicago-based indie label, Bloodshot, who pioneered a version of the genre under the name insurgent country. The bands Blue Mountain, Whiskeytown, Blood Oranges and Drive-By Truckers further developed this tradition before most began to move more in the direction of rock music in the 2000s.
For thousands of years, Canada has been inhabited by Indigenous Peoples [Aboriginal peoples in Canada] from a variety of different cultures and of several major linguistic groupings. Each of the Indigenous communities had (and have) their own unique musical traditions. Chanting - singing is widely popular, with many of its performers also using a variety of musical instruments. They used the materials at hand to make their instruments for thousands of years before Europeans immigrated to the new world. They made gourds and animal horns into rattles which were elaborately carved and beautifully painted. In woodland areas, they made horns of birchbark along with drumsticks of carved antlers and wood. Drums were generally made of carved wood and animal hides. These musical instruments provide the background for songs and dances.
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
Significantly, however, the style occurred not in a city alive with the values of contemporary art but in Los Angeles, which during the previous decades had attracted many rural Southerners. Moreover, country rock’s rise to prominence paralleled the rise of the big-budget Hollywood recording studio ethic, the desire to compete with London in the effort to make pop recordings of the most highly advanced sonic clarity and detail then imaginable. Country rock had begun by insisting that the sources—and not the means—of popular music were of signal importance. Yet in the end the movement succeeded by adopting the same exacting production techniques pioneered by the Beatles and their producer George Martin.
In Ireland, TG4 began a quest for Ireland's next country star called Glór Tíre, translated as "Country Voice". It is now in its sixth season and is one of TG4's most watched TV shows. Over the past ten years country and gospel recording artist James Kilbane has reached multi-platinum success with his mix of Christian and traditional country influenced albums. James Kilbane like many other Irish artists are today working closer with Nashville. A recent success in the Irish arena has been Crystal Swing. In Sweden, Rednex rose to stardom combining country music with electro-pop in the 1990s. In 1994, the group had a worldwide hit with their version of the traditional Southern tune "Cotton-Eyed Joe". Artists popularizing more traditional country music in Sweden have been Ann-Louise Hanson, Hasse Andersson, Kikki Danielsson, Elisabeth Andreassen and Jill Johnson. In Poland an international country music festival, known as Piknik Country, has been organized in Mrągowo in Masuria since 1983. There are more and more country music artists in France. Some of the most important are Liane Edwards, Annabel [fr], Rockie Mountains, Tahiana, and Lili West. French rock and roll superstar Eddy Mitchell is also very inspired by Americana and country music. In the Netherlands there are many artists producing popular country and americana music, which is mostly in the English language, as well as Dutch country and country-like music in Dutch language. The latter is mainly popular on the countrysides in the northern and eastern parts of the Netherlands and is less associated with his American brother, although it sounds sometimes very similar. Well known popular artists mainly performing in English are Waylon, Danny Vera, Ilse DeLange and the band Savannah. The most popular artist in Dutch is Henk Wijngaard.
Many traditional country artists are present in eastern and western Canada. They make common use of fiddle and pedal steel guitar styles. Some notable Canadian country artists include Shania Twain, Anne Murray, k.d. lang, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie, George Canyon, Blue Rodeo, Tommy Hunter, Rita MacNeil, Stompin' Tom Connors, Stan Rogers, Ronnie Prophet, Carroll Baker, The Rankin Family, Ian Tyson, Johnny Reid, Paul Brandt, Jason McCoy, George Fox, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Hank Snow, Don Messer, Wilf Carter, Michelle Wright, Terri Clark, Prairie Oyster, Family Brown, Johnny Mooring, Marg Osburne, Lindsay Ell, Doc Walker, Emerson Drive, The Wilkinsons, Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans, Crystal Shawanda, Dean Brody, Shane Yellowbird, Gord Bamford, Chad Brownlee, The Road Hammers, Rowdy Spurs, Colter Wall and The Higgins.
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.
While rappers like Dream Warriors and K-os were underground upstarts in the 90s to early 2000s, no Canadian artist was able to achieve mainstream popularity until former child-actor-turned-rapper, Drake, put Canada on the hip-hop map – becoming one of the biggest-selling and influential rap stars in the world. From co-founding Canadian record label OVO (October’s Very Own) Sound to coining the city’s unofficial nickname, “The 6”, Drake is Canada’s biggest hypeman. Not only did he use the CN Tower for his Views album art, he even has a tattoo of the iconic Toronto landmark on his arm and helped to introduce fellow Canadian, The Weeknd, to the rest of the world.
Years before the term “alt-country” was conceived, something a little uglier and grimier was festering in Nashville. Jason & The Scorchers—led by explosive frontman Jason Ringenberg—released a couple of EPs before dropping their best record Lost & Found in 1985. It’s a punk rock album at heart, but guitarist Warner Hodges has plenty of twangy licks up his sleeve. Songs like “Lost Highway” and “I Really Don’t Want To Know” showed off Ringenberg’s wry sense of humor, while also confounding audiences for being too country for some and too punk rock for others. The band never found any major success early on, however, three decades later Lost & Found proves that Jason & The Scorchers were light years ahead of their time.—Mark Lore
The same period saw a concerted effort to recover some of country music’s root values. Mandolin-player Bill Monroe and his string band, the Blue Grass Boys, discarded more recently adopted rhythms and instruments and brought back the lead fiddle and high harmony singing. His banjoist, Earl Scruggs, developed a brilliant three-finger picking style that brought the instrument into a lead position. Their music, with its driving, syncopated rhythms and instrumental virtuosity, took the name “bluegrass” from Monroe’s band.
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.