The Kentucky band’s sprawling major-label debut did nothing to alter the independent spirit of singer-songwriter Jim James and his cohorts. The country-rock base retained elements of Memphis soul, classic ’70s rock and neo-psychedelic sounds, all drenched in salubrious washes of reverb. Besides, nothing says complete artistic freedom like 12 songs that average six minutes in length, many of which were recorded in a grain silo to give the reverb more reverb. Styles mix wantonly, songs meander but never go quite where you expect them to. What begins as an acoustic-driven folk song (“Magheeta”) morphs into a hard-rocking power ballad; a funkified homage to R&B clubs (“Dance Floors”) becomes an Exile on Main Street-era block party, powered by a propulsive horn section straight out of “Tumbling Dice”; and the minor-key melancholia of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse epics (think “Cortez the Killer”) forms the backbone of “Run Through” until it mutates at the chorus into the early ’80s Manchester sound reminiscent of New Order. Is it alt-country? That’s as good a descriptor as anything else.—John Schact
From within the UK, few country musicians achieved widespread mainstream success. Tom Jones, by this point near the end of his peak success as a pop singer, had a string of country hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Bee Gees had some fleeting success in the genre, with one country hit as artists ("Rest Your Love on Me") and a major hit as songwriters ("Islands in the Stream"); Barry Gibb, the band's usual lead singer and last surviving member, acknowledged that country music was a major influence on the band's style. Singer Engelbert Humperdinck, while charting only once in the U.S. country top 40 with "After the Lovin'," achieved widespread success on both the U.S. and UK pop charts with his faithful covers of Nashville country ballads such as "Release Me," "Am I That Easy to Forget" and "There Goes My Everything." The songwriting tandem of Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway wrote a number of country hits, in addition to their widespread success in pop songwriting; Cook is notable for being the only Briton to be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler initially started her career making country albums and was even nominated for Top New Female Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards before her huge crossover hit "Total Eclipse of the Heart" lead her towards more commercial pop and rock. In 2013, Tyler returned to her roots, blending the country elements of her early work with the rock of her successful material on her album Rocks and Honey which featured a duet with American country icon Vince Gill. Tyler subsequently announced that she was making a new country rock album in Nashville with John Carter Cash, son of country music legends Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, slated for release in 2018.
Fourth generation (1970s–1980s) music included outlaw country with roots in the Bakersfield sound, and country pop with roots in the countrypolitan, folk music and soft rock. Between 1972 and 1975 singer/guitarist John Denver released a series of hugely successful songs blending country and folk-rock musical styles. During the early 1980s country artists continued to see their records perform well on the pop charts. In 1980 a style of "neocountry disco music" was popularized. During the mid-1980s a group of new artists began to emerge who rejected the more polished country-pop sound that had been prominent on radio and the charts in favor of more traditional "back-to-basics" production; this neotraditional movement would dominate country music through the late 1980s and was typified by the likes of George Strait. Attempts to combine punk and country were pioneered by Jason and the Scorchers, and in the 1980s Southern Californian cowpunk scene with bands like the Long Ryders and Mojo Nixon.
Sometimes it takes a bunch of Canadians to write some of the most quintessential American songs in music history. While the band is 80 per cent Canadian (with one Arkansan in drummer Levon Helm), they remain one of the most influential acts in 60s rock and their concert film, The Last Waltz, stands as one of the greatest moments in rock history. With their 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink, the Canadian troubadours (Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel) gave definition to the genre of ‘Americana’ with their blues-meets-country-infused R&B. Even the most casual music fan knows the chorus to ‘The Weight’ and their song, ‘The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down’ is one of the best rock songs ever put to tape about the Civil War.
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!
Restoring funding for the CBC and allowing it to continue being an incubator of Canadian music is not a controversial policy. A 2014 Nanos Research poll showed that a very large majority of Canadians, 87 per cent, oppose funding cuts to the CBC. Then-candidate Justin Trudeau took note of this and made a promise to reverse funding cuts and even add additional funding for the public broadcaster.
With the exception of a few artists, modern country has taken a hard left turn for the worse over the past two decades. Ask some people, and they might even say country’s become a shell of its former self. Sturgill Simpson is not one of those people—mostly because he doesn’t seem to care what is happening within the confines of the country music world. Instead the Kentucky-born singer looks to more far-out places on his second full-length, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. One of the first things you’ll notice is Simpson’s voice, which conjures the ghost of Waylon Jennings. Producer Dave Cobb’s warm production can’t be overstated—it holds the entire thing together and also makes Metamodern Sounds a shelf-worthy addition next to the greats. If you don’t like country music, don’t bother. But if you do have an ear for Waylon and Willie and the boys, then you’ll find plenty to love. Simpson may reside in Nashville these days, but he’s operating on a completely different plane. Here’s hoping his own mind-expanding experiments will expand the minds of listeners as well.—Mark Lore
Authoring a song that would launch almost a 100 covers, ‘Hallelujah’ is just a small sliver of Leonard Cohen’s immense contribution to music over the past five decades. The accomplished poet and novelist was the toast of the Montreal literary scene before he turned to music to become the foremost songwriter of his era. His meditations on love, faith, despair and politics could be conveyed in even the simplest of terms. Songs like ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Bird on the Wire’ and ‘Sisters of Mercy’ would cement his reputation as a in-demand folk songwriter, spawning hits for countless other artists, but no one could replace Cohen’s deep, resonant voice.
In 1925, the Canadian Performing Rights Society was formed to administer public performance and royalties for composers and lyricists. It became known as the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada (CAPAC). Toronto-born Murray Adaskin (1906–2002) was a violinist, composer, conductor and teacher at the University of Saskatchewan. From 1923 to 1936 he was an orchestral and chamber musician with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, he was later named head of music at the University of Saskatchewan. He was a composer-in-residence at the University of Saskatchewan, the first appointment of this type in Canada.
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Another subgenre of country music grew out of hardcore honky tonk with elements of Western swing and originated 112 miles (180 km) north-northwest of Los Angeles in Bakersfield, California, where many "Okies" and other Dust Bowl migrants had settled. Influenced by one-time West Coast residents Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell, by 1966 it was known as the Bakersfield sound. It relied on electric instruments and amplification, in particular the Telecaster electric guitar, more than other subgenres of the country music of the era, and it can be described as having a sharp, hard, driving, no-frills, edgy flavor—hard guitars and honky-tonk harmonies. Leading practitioners of this style were Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, Gary Allan, and Wynn Stewart, each of whom had his own style.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the hugely influential Canadian alt-rock collective, Broken Social Scene. Since forming in 1999 with core members Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, the duo recruited the best of Toronto’s indie scene to perform on their ambient record and a burgeoning super-group was born that included drummer Justin Peroff, Charles Spearin, violinist Jessica Moss, Bill Priddle, Evan Cranley and Amy Millan from The Stars, Jason Collette and most famously Metric’s Emily Haines and Leslie Feist. The super-group would serve as the springboard for many famous alumni who started their own bands. Drew would go on help start the Arts & Crafts label as a vehicle for Broken Social Scene releases and all of BBS’s affiliated acts – effectively shaping the sound of Toronto from 2003 ‘til today.
With the introduction in the mid-1970s of mainstream music on FM radio stations, where it was common practice to program extended performances, musicians were no longer limited to songs of three minutes' duration as dictated by AM stations for decades. The most notable musicians to benefit from this and one of the largest Canadian exports is the progressive rock band, Rush. Rush have produced 25 gold records and 14 platinum (3 multi-platinum) records, making them one of the best-selling ensembles in history, and on April 18, 2013, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the classical world, homegrown talent Canadian Brass was established in Toronto 1970—they are credited with reshaping concert presentation style for classical artists, now copied and valued everywhere in the classical world.
Chad Morgan, who began recording in the 1950s, has represented a vaudeville style of comic Australian country; Frank Ifield achieved considerable success in the early 1960s, especially in the UK Singles Charts and Reg Lindsay was one of the first Australians to perform at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry in 1974. Eric Bogle's 1972 folk lament to the Gallipoli Campaign "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" recalled the British and Irish origins of Australian folk-country. Singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, whose music style straddles folk, rock and country, is often described as the poet laureate of Australian music.