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.
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.
Still think country music’s all about Rhinestone Cowboys, Stetsons and the Grand Ol’ Opry? Then think again, because for the past five decades or so, country-loving artists of all persuasions have kicked against the Nashville mainstream and joined the broad church we now refer to as either Alternative Country (usually shortened to Alt Country) or simply Americana. In this Top 10, uDiscover rides the range with 10 seminal alt country acts who have thrown everything from rockabilly, folk-rock and punk into their radical, roots-rock stews.
Truck driving country music is a genre of country music and is a fusion of honky-tonk, country rock and the Bakersfield sound. It has the tempo of country rock and the emotion of honky-tonk, and its lyrics focus on a truck driver's lifestyle. Truck driving country songs often deal with the profession of trucking and love. 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. Dudley is known as the father of truck driving country.
Rock and roll has usually been seen as a combination of rhythm and blues and country music, a fusion particularly evident in 1950s rockabilly. There has also been cross-pollination throughout the history of both genres; however, the term “country-rock” is used generally to refer to the wave of rock musicians of the late 1960s and early 1970s who began recording rock songs with country themes, vocal styles, and additional instrumentation, most characteristically pedal steel guitars. John Einarson states, that "[f]rom a variety of perspectives and motivations, these musicians either played rock & roll attitude, or added a country feel to rock, or folk, or bluegrass, there was no formula".
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.
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!
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
More important than recordings for the growth of country music was broadcast radio. Small radio stations appeared in the larger Southern and Midwestern cities in the 1920s, and many devoted part of their airtime to live or recorded music suited to white rural audiences. Two regular programs of great influence were the “National Barn Dance” from Chicago, begun in 1924, and the “Grand Ole Opry” from Nashville, begun in 1925. The immediate popularity of such programs encouraged more recordings and the appearance of talented musicians from the hills at radio and record studios. Among these were the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, whose performances strongly influenced later musicians. These early recordings were of ballads and country dance tunes and featured the fiddle and guitar as lead instruments over a rhythmic foundation of guitar or banjo. Other instruments occasionally used included Appalachian dulcimer, harmonica, and mandolin; vocals were done either by a single voice or in high close harmony.
Lucero is perfectly alt-country—half rock bombast, half country swagger. The Memphis band is a touring machine, amassing devoted fans wherever they go, and 2009’s 1372 Overton Park helped capture that excitement in the studio thanks in large part to its horn section. Like that brassy homage to the band’s hometown of Memphis, Lucero also named 1372 Overton Park after the address of its Memphis loft space.—Hilary Saunders
Country music gained national television exposure through Ozark Jubilee on ABC-TV and radio from 1955 to 1960 from Springfield, Missouri. The program showcased top stars including several rockabilly artists, some from the Ozarks. As Webb Pierce put it in 1956, "Once upon a time, it was almost impossible to sell country music in a place like New York City. Nowadays, television takes us everywhere, and country music records and sheet music sell as well in large cities as anywhere else." The late 1950s saw the emergence of Buddy Holly, but by the end of the decade, backlash as well as traditional artists such as Ray Price, Marty Robbins, and Johnny Horton began to shift the industry away from the rock n' roll influences of the mid-1950s.
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.
A little girl voice that held ages, “Broken Things” offered redemption as well as deep love for those damaged by life. For Julie Miller, whose second album for Hightone following a Christian career, there was always salvation peeking through the cracks of her songs. Beyond the divine, there was the charismatic “I Need You,” the Appalachian dirge “Orphan Train” and the percussively minor-keyed creeper “Strange Lover,” an homage to – of all things — cocaine. Emmylou Harris would record the shimmering “All My Tears” and Lee Ann Womack would embrace “Orphan Train” and “I Know Why The River Runs” further broadening Miller’s reach. But the songwriter with a dexterous voice that does many things – howl, coo, caress and throttle – remains her own best interpreter. “I Still Cry,” a straightforward elegy, suggests the way some people linger in unlikely ways long after they’re gone with the sorrow profoundly transparent in her tone, bringing both naked vulnerability and intuitive playing that exemplifies the best of Americana.—Holly Gleason
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
Everyone knows this crooner outside of Canada for his 80s hard-rocking hits ‘Summer of 69’ and ‘Cuts Like a Knife’ or his heartfelt love ballads that dominated the 90s, ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ – which still holds the record for longest unbroken run at No. on the UK singles chart – but this Canadian icon and prolific songwriter is so much more than the soundtrack to school dances. With an unmistakable raspy voice and gift for writing incredibly catchy songs, few things are more cherished by Canadians than maple syrup, hockey and Bryan Adam’s ‘Run To You’.
Canada during the Second World War produced some patriotic songs, but they were not hits in the music industry sense. A number of Canadian singers who learned their craft in Canadian opera companies in the 1930s went on to sing in major international opera houses. Most notable from the 1940s is contralto singer Portia White (1911–1968). She achieved international fame because of her voice and stage presence. As a Canadian female of African descent, her popularity helped to open previously-closed doors for talented women who followed. She has been declared "A person of national historic significance" by the Government of Canada. In 1964 she performed for Queen Elizabeth II, at the opening of the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
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
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’.
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. The French and Indian Wars began and left the population economically drained and ill-equipped to develop cultural pursuits properly. The part-time composers of this period were nonetheless often quite skilled. 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. 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. Music publishing and printing in Europe by this time was a thriving industry, but it did not begin in Canada until the 19th century. 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. 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.
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.
1958 saw its first Canadian rock and roll teen idol Paul Anka, who went to New York City where he auditioned for ABC with the song "Diana". This song brought Anka instant stardom as it reached number one on the US Billboard charts. "Diana" has gone on to be one of the best selling 45s in music history. US-born rockabilly pioneer Ronnie Hawkins moved to Canada in 1958, where he became a key player in the Canadian blues and rock scene. The 4th of October was declared "Ronnie Hawkins Day" by the city of Toronto when Hawkins was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame. He was also inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and his pioneering contribution to rockabilly has been recognized with induction into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtKVuwDQUl0