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.
Wildly gifted songwriter who flies under the mainstream radar and is beloved by critics and musicians alike? Noticing a pattern here? Ron Sexsmith is another jewel in Canada’s singer-songwriter crown. With his distinctive and charming voice and wonderful melodic sense, he’s gained many famous admirers including Elvis Costello and Elton John. Sexsmith arrived in Toronto by way of St. Catherines and was praised for his songwriting since his self-titled, major label debut in 1995. After crafting 14 albums worth of earnest, guitar pop, Sexsmith developed a cult following despite many of songs becoming mainstream hits for others such as Feist’s ‘Secret Heart’ and Michael Buble’s Whatever It Takes’.
These early styles had coalesced into a genre by the time the Illinois group Uncle Tupelo released their influential debut album No Depression in 1990. The album is widely credited as being the first "alternative country" album, and inspired the name of No Depression magazine, which exclusively covered the new genre. Following Uncle Tupelo's disbanding in 1994, its members formed two significant bands in genre: Wilco and Son Volt. Although Wilco's sound had moved away from country and towards indie rock by the time they released their critically acclaimed album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2002, they have continued to be an influence on later alt-country artists.
The American and British counterculture explosion and hippie movement had diverted music to that which was dominated by socially and American politically incisive lyrics by the late 1960s. The music was an attempt to reflect upon the events of the time – civil rights, the war in Vietnam and the rise of feminism. This led to the Canadian government passing Canadian content legislation to help Canadian artists. On January 18, 1971 regulations came into force requiring AM radio stations to devote 30 per cent of their musical selections to Canadian content. Although this was (and still is) controversial, it quite clearly contributed to the development of a nascent Canadian pop star system.
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.
The Jayhawks returned as backing band for Joe Henry’s Kindness of the World in 1992, just as the band was hitting its own stride. Together, the two acts perfected what they’d begun the year before on Short Man’s Room. The banjos, mandolins, violins, pianos, pedal steel, occasional harmonies and prevalent jangly guitars provided a rich, engaging aural landscape for Henry’s earnest voice and poetic wresting with the human condition. Kindness evidenced Henry as one of the most skillful and honest lyricists in popular music. His next release, Trampoline, commenced a string of sonic experiments that—combined with lyrical prowess that has only grown—have established him as one of most interesting and vital singer-songwriters working today. Though he would refuse to be constrained by the genre, Henry’s collaboration with the Jayhawks serves as an exemplar of the then-nascent genre.
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
Despite the genre's growing popularity in the 1980s, '90s and 2000s, alternative country and neo-traditionalist artists saw minimal support from country radio in those decades, despite strong sales and critical acclaim for albums such as the soundtrack to the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. In 1987, The Beat Farmers gained airplay on country music stations with their song "Make It Last", but the single was pulled from the format when station programmers decreed the band's music was too rock-oriented for their audience. However, some alt-country songs have been crossover hits to mainstream country radio in cover versions by established artists on the format; Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses" was a hit for Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1993, Ryan Adams's "When The Stars Go Blue" was a hit for Tim McGraw in 2007, and Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel" was a hit for Darius Rucker in 2013.
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.
Pioneers of a more Americanised popular country music in Australia included Tex Morton (known as "The Father of Australian Country Music") in the 1930s. Author Andrew Smith delivers a through research and engaged view of Tex Morton's life and his impact on the country music scene in Australia in the 1930s and 1940s. Other early stars included Buddy Williams, Shirley Thoms and Smoky Dawson. Buddy Williams (1918–1986) was the first Australian-born to record country music in Australia in the late 1930s and was the pioneer of a distinctly Australian style of country music called the bush ballad that others such as Slim Dusty would make popular in later years. During the Second World War, many of Buddy Williams recording sessions were done whilst on leave from the Army. At the end of the war, Williams would go on to operate some of the largest travelling tent rodeo shows Australia has ever seen.
In 1952, Dawson began a radio show and went on to national stardom as a singing cowboy of radio, TV and film. Slim Dusty (1927–2003) was known as the "King of Australian Country Music" and helped to popularise the Australian bush ballad. His successful career spanned almost six decades, and his 1957 hit "A Pub with No Beer" was the biggest-selling record by an Australian to that time, and with over seven million record sales in Australia he is the most successful artist in Australian musical history. Dusty recorded and released his one-hundredth album in the year 2000 and was given the honour of singing "Waltzing Matilda" in the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Dusty's wife Joy McKean penned several of his most popular songs.
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.
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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1tqAmvaoyE