Often compared to fellow Canadians, The Band, Blue Rodeo are a Canadian country-rock institution. Since forming in 1984, the Toronto-based quintet were a huge hit in Canada in the 90s thanks to their dynamic mix of American pop, country and blues and two-part harmonies reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. With a solid roots-rock sound and two-part harmonies, their 1990 album, Casino, did achieve some stateside success due in part to their hit single, ‘Til I Am Myself Again’. Since then, they’ve become one of Canada’s renowned legacy acts that tour worldwide.
The first American country music video cable channel was The Nashville Network, launched in the early 1980s as a channel devoted to southern culture. In 2000, after it and CMT fell under the same corporate ownership, the channel was stripped of its country format and rebranded as The National Network, then Spike, and finally Paramount Network. TNN was later revived from 2012 to 2013 after Jim Owens Entertainment (the company responsible for prominent TNN hosts Crook & Chase) acquired the trademark and licensed it to Luken Communications; that channel renamed itself Heartland after Luken was embroiled in an unrelated dispute that left the company bankrupt.
Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered to be important early country musicians. Their songs were first captured at a historic recording session in Bristol, Tennessee, on August 1, 1927, where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist. A scene in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? depicts a similar occurrence in the same timeframe. Rodgers fused hillbilly country, gospel, jazz, blues, pop, cowboy, and folk, and many of his best songs were his compositions, including "Blue Yodel", which sold over a million records and established Rodgers as the premier singer of early country music. Beginning in 1927, and for the next 17 years, the Carters recorded some 300 old-time ballads, traditional tunes, country songs and gospel hymns, all representative of America's southeastern folklore and heritage.
Edward Balthasar Moogk (1975). Roll Back the Years: History of Canadian Recorded Sound and Its Legacy, Genesis to 1930. National Library of Canada. N.B.: In part, also, a bio-discography; the hardback ed. comes with a "phonodisc of historical Canadian recordings" (33 1/3 r.p.m., mono., 17 cm.) which the 1980 pbk. reprint lacks. ISBN 0-660-01382-7 (pbk.)
There’s a long tradition of African-Americans playing old-time music, from blues legends Blind Blake, the Reverend Gary Davis and Josh White to artists such as the Mississippi Mud Steppers and Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, whose early ragtime outfit, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, has provided a lasting influence—and this modern-day act with its name. The Carolina Chocolate Dropsformed in 2005 at the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, N.C., and since then the young trio has been determined to prove that “black folk were a huge part of the stringband tradition.” What they’ve also done is dust off a musical form seen today as either a novelty or the exclusive provenance of ethnomusicologists. To paraphrase Rakim’s immortal words, these Drops ain’t no joke: Their enthusiasm for the tradition is obvious even as the trio spans from traditional arrangements (the rollicking fiddle rave-ups “Trouble in Your Mind” and “Cindy Gal”) to self-penned works (the particularly terrific “Kissin’ and Cussin’”) and stringband makeovers of modern-day works (a hip-hop influenced cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ’em Up Style (Oops!)” and Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose”). Several generations removed from the origins of their chosen idiom, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are nonetheless the genuine article.—Corey DuBrowa
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.
In the 2010s, "bro-country", a genre noted primarily for its themes on drinking and partying, girls, and pickup trucks became particularly popular. Notable artists associated with this genre are Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, and Florida Georgia Line whose song "Cruise" became the best-selling country song of all time. Research in the mid-2010s suggested that about 45 percent of country's best-selling songs could be considered bro-country, with the top two artists being Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. Albums by bro-country singers also sold very well—in 2013, Luke Bryan's Crash My Party was the third best-selling of all albums in the US, with Florida Georgia Line's Here's to the Good Times at sixth, and Blake Shelton's Based on a True Story at ninth. It is also thought that the popularity of bro-country helped country music to surpass classic rock as the most popular genre in America in 2012. The genre however is controversial as it has been criticized by other country musicians and commentators over its themes and depiction of women, opening up a divide between the older generation of country singers and the younger bro country singers that was described as "civil war" by musicians, critics, and journalists." In 2014, Maddie & Tae's "Girl in a Country Song", addressing many of the controversial bro-country themes, peaked at number one on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.
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, particularly Texas, together with the blues of the American South. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys personified this music which has been described as "a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, a little bit of black and a little bit of white ... just loud enough to keep you from thinking too much and to go right on ordering the whiskey." East Texan Al Dexter had a hit with "Honky Tonk Blues", and seven years later "Pistol Packin' Mama". These "honky tonk" songs associated barrooms, were performed by the likes of Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells (the first major female country solo singer), Ted Daffan, Floyd Tillman, and the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams, would later be called "traditional" country. Williams' influence in particular would prove to be enormous, inspiring many of the pioneers of rock and roll, such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as Chuck Berry and Ike Turner, while providing a framework for emerging honky tonk talents like George Jones. Webb Pierce was the top-charting country artist of the 1950s, with 13 of his singles spending 113 weeks at number one. He charted 48 singles during the decade; 31 reached the top ten and 26 reached the top four.
On her first record, the throaty Kathleen Edwards sounded like Lucinda Williams with far fewer miles on the odometer, mining similar veins of hard living and love gone wrong for her lyrics. But Edwards doesn’t sound like an acolyte. She’s got moxie, but a refreshingly fragile honesty in her writing tones down the bravado. On “Hockey Skates,” when Edwards asks “if the ‘boys’ club’ will “crumble just because of a loud-mouthed girl,” the swagger and self-effacement form a neat balance. She’s aware of the cost, but not afraid to confront it. That symmetry pervades Failer. Edwards slips comfortably between song styles—from straight-ahead rockers (“One More Song the Radio Won’t Like,” “12 Bellevue”) to country and folk-tinged tunes (“Mercury,” “National Steel”)—without suggesting that she’s trying on any of them. Right from the beginning, she sounded like she’d been at it for decades. The arrangements help. The 10 songs include a nice range of instrumentation (organs, alto/baritone/soprano saxophones, vibes, banjo and pedal steel) all expertly done. But ultimately Edwards’ voice and lyrics stand out.—John Schact
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.
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
Alternative country-rock is often simply referred to as alternative country, but the two styles are actually somewhat distinct from one another -- simply put, alternative country performers come from the country side of the equation, whereas alternative country-rock is rooted more in rock. It's considered a branch of alternative rock -- even though it may not always sound that way on the surface -- because it doesn't fit any mainstream sensibility, and also because its bands usually get their start as part of the American indie-label scene. In contrast to alternative country, which pushes the boundaries of country music from the inside, alternative country-rock is music made by outsiders who love the sound and spirit of country. They faithfully preserve traditional sounds, but reinterpret the spirit in personal, contemporary, and idiosyncratic ways that rarely appeal to straight country fans. The godfather of alternative country-rock was Gram Parsons, the single most important figure in the invention of country-rock and an enduring cult legend for his deeply emotional records. Neil Young's varying musical personalities were also an important influence, as was the progressive country movement of the '70s, particularly an Austin, TX-centered group of highly literate singer/songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others. The man who heralded the birth of alternative country-rock was Lyle Lovett, whose wit and eclecticism seemed to revitalize country's possibilities in the minds of many rock fans. But the first true alternative country-rock band was Uncle Tupelo, who at the start of their career fused punk and country in a far more reverent way than any band in the short-lived '80s cowpunk movement. Their cover of the A.P. Carter spiritual "No Depression" gave its name to their seminal 1990 debut album, the premier fanzine chronicling the alt-country scene, and a nickname to the movement in general. Uncle Tupelo soon became a more tradition-minded country-rock outfit, and following their 1993 landmark Anodyne split into two different bands, the staunchly revivalist Son Volt and the more pop-inflected Wilco; by that time, alternative country-rock itself had begun to split into several strains. One school was chiefly dedicated to reviving the Parsons/Young sound of the early '70s, sometimes adding elements of Beatlesque pop to their crunchy rockers and aching ballads. Others were sincere traditionalists, drawing from the most haunting qualities of old-time country and Appalachian folk while updating the lyrical sensibilities just enough. A related school made that old-timey sound into a soft, spare, ethereal hybrid of country and indie rock, usually featuring a female vocalist. Still other alt-country-rock bands brought a sense of humor to their traditionalist work, whether it was the good-natured wit of a twangy, rollicking bar band, or the flat-out weird irony of Lambchop. Alternative country-rock continued to produce new, critically acclaimed hybrid acts into the new millennium, with an increasing indie-rock flavor.
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.
In the early-mid-1990s, country western music was influenced by the popularity of line dancing. This influence was so great that Chet Atkins was quoted as saying, "The music has gotten pretty bad, I think. It's all that damn line dancing." By the end of the decade, however, at least one line dance choreographer complained that good country line dance music was no longer being released. In contrast, artists such as Don Williams and George Jones who had more or less had consistent chart success through the 1970s and 1980s suddenly had their fortunes fall rapidly around 1991 when the new chart rules took effect.
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.
The early 2000s saw Canadian independent artists continue to expand their audience into the United States and beyond. Mainstream Canadian artists with global recorded contracts such as Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne, Michael Bublé, Drake, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber reached new heights in terms of international success, while dominating the American music charts.
In the 2010s, the alt-country genre saw an increase in its critical and commercial popularity, owing to the success of artists such as The Civil Wars, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Lydia Loveless and Margo Price. In 2019, Kacey Musgraves - a country artist who had gained a following with indie rock fans and music critics despite minimal airplay on country radio - won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for her album Golden Hour.
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).
According to Lindsey Starnes, the term country music gained popularity in the 1940s in preference to the earlier term hillbilly music; it came to encompass Western music, which evolved parallel to hillbilly music from similar roots, in the mid-20th century. In 2009 in the United States, country music was the most listened to rush hour radio genre during the evening commute, and second most popular in the morning commute.