By the time of Canadian Confederation (1867), songwriting had become a favored means of personal expression across the land. In a society in which most middle-class families now owned a harmonium or piano, and standard education included at least the rudiments of music, the result was often an original song. Such stirrings frequently occurred in response to noteworthy events, and few local or national excitements were allowed to pass without some musical comment.
Alternative country is a term used to describe a number of country music subgenres that tend to differ from mainstream or pop country music. The term is sometimes known as Alt. country and has included country music bands that have incorporated influences ranging from american roots music, bluegrass, rock & roll, rockabilly, acoustic music, americana, honky-tonk, punk rock and alt auctioneer.
Country has always been a cornerstone of American music, but in recent years it has undergone quite a transformation. What was once brushed off as "hick music" is now being enjoyed by more people than ever before. Its audience has grown exponentially, and its songs are dominating the radio waves. While the rest of the music industry continues to struggle, country seems to be stronger than ever. If one thing is for certain, country music isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Tom Roland, from the Country Music Association International, explains country music's global popularity: "In this respect, at least, Country Music listeners around the globe have something in common with those in the United States. In Germany, for instance, Rohrbach identifies three general groups that gravitate to the genre: people intrigued with the American cowboy icon, middle-aged fans who seek an alternative to harder rock music and younger listeners drawn to the pop-influenced sound that underscores many current Country hits." One of the first Americans to perform country music abroad was George Hamilton IV. He was the first country musician to perform in the Soviet Union; he also toured in Australia and the Middle East. He was deemed the "International Ambassador of Country Music" for his contributions to the globalization of country music. Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Keith Urban, and Dwight Yoakam have also made numerous international tours. The Country Music Association undertakes various initiatives to promote country music internationally.
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.
Shania Twain became the best selling female country artist of the decade. This was primarily due to the success of her breakthrough sophomore 1995 album, The Woman in Me, which was certified 12x platinum sold over 20 million copies worldwide and its follow up, 1997's Come On Over, which was certified 20x platinum and sold over 40 million copies. The album became a major worldwide phenomenon and became one of the world's best selling albums of 1998, 1999 and 2000; it also went on to become the best selling country album of all time. Unlike the majority of her contemporaries, Twain enjoyed large international success that had been seen by very few country artists, before or after her. Critics have noted that Twain enjoyed much of her success due to breaking free of traditional country stereotypes and for incorporating elements of rock and pop into her music. In 2002, she released her successful fourth studio album, titled Up!, which was certified 11x platinum and sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Twain has been credited with breaking international boundaries for country music, as well as inspiring many country artists to incorporate different genres into their music in order to attract a wider audience. She is also credited with changing the way in which many female country performers would market themselves, as unlike many before her she used fashion and her sex appeal to get rid of the stereotypical 'honky-tonk' image the majority of country singers had in order to distinguish herself from many female country artists of the time.
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.
Canada has a long tradition of singer-songwriters and that’s partly in thanks to its own “folksong laureate”, Gordon Lightfoot. Coming out of the Toronto 60s folk music scene, Lightfoot’s native country would become his lifelong muse, penning such classics as ‘Canadian Railroad Trilogy’ and ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ and yet universal enough to appeal worldwide, turning him into Canada’s most successful contemporary folk artist. A beloved cultural icon, he’s been the beneficiary of countless awards and honours including the Companion of the Order of Canada – Canada’s highest civilian honour.