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
Formed in 2001, when Win Butler, Josh Deu and Régine Chassagne met while at university in Montreal, Arcade Fire went from being local favourites to the toast of the music press in the space of only three albums. Blending baroque pop with harder indie rock sounds, the Canadian outfit gained international fandom with new-classic hits, ‘No Cars Go’ and ‘Wake Up’ and now headline festivals around the world.
With titles like “encyclopaedia of popular music” and a “roving troubadour”, this renowned Canadian folksinger is considered one of the country’s most talented and underrated songwriters. With a meticulous gift for lyricism and innovative folk style, Al Tuck came to prominence during the Halifax pop explosion of the mid-’90s. While originally from Prince Edward Island, Tuck is now considered one of Halifax’s own and is something of a musician’s musician, thanks to a stellar set of eight studio albums including his excellent early releases, Arhoolie and Brave Last Days.
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.
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.
The music of Canada has reflected the diverse influences that have shaped the country. Indigenous Peoples, the Irish, British, and the French have all made unique contributions to the musical heritage of Canada. The music has subsequently been heavily influenced by American culture because of the proximity and migration between the two countries. Since French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1605 and established the first permanent Canadian settlements at Port Royal and Québec in 1608, the country has produced its own composers, musicians and ensembles.
Regional Mexican is Mexico's version of country music. It includes a number of different subgenres, depending on where they originated, and in what regions they are popular. One specific song style, the ranchera, found its origins in the Mexican countryside and was first popularized with mariachi, and has since also become popular with banda, norteño, Duranguense and other regional Mexican styles. The corrido, a different song style with a similar history, is also performed in many different regional styles. Other song styles performed in regional Mexican music include ballads, cumbias, boleros, among others. American country music is also popular in Mexico, but most prominently in the northern regions of the country, where a number of artists perform the genre while singing in Spanish. Tejano (also known as "tex-mex" in English) is popular in Spanish-speaking areas of the United States, particularly in and near Texas, and in northeastern areas of Mexico.
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.
The music of the 1960s and 1970s targeted the American working class, and truckers in particular. As country radio became more popular, trucking songs like the 1963 hit song Six Days on the Road by Dave Dudley began to make up their own subgenre of country. These revamped songs sought to portray American truckers as a "new folk hero", marking a significant shift in sound from earlier country music. The song was written by actual truckers and contained numerous references to the trucker culture of the time like "ICC" for Interstate Commerce Commission and "little white pills" as a reference to amphetamines. Starday Records in Nashville followed up on Dudley's initial success with the release of Give me 40 Acres by the Willis Brothers.
Country rock was a particularly popular style in the California music scene of the late 1960s, and was adopted by bands including Hearts and Flowers, Poco (formed by Richie Furay and Jim Messina, formerly of the Buffalo Springfield) and New Riders of the Purple Sage. Some folk-rockers followed the Byrds into the genre, among them the Beau Brummels and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. A number of performers also enjoyed a renaissance by adopting country sounds, including: the Beatles, who re-explored elements of country in their later albums, like "Rocky Raccoon" and "Don't Pass Me By" from their eponymous "White Album" (1968), and "Octopus's Garden" from Abbey Road (1969); the Everly Brothers, whose Roots album (1968) is usually considered some of their finest work; former teen idol Ricky Nelson who became the frontman for the Stone Canyon Band; John Fogerty, who left Creedence Clearwater Revival behind for the country sounds of the Blue Ridge Rangers(1972); Mike Nesmith, who had experimented with country sounds while with the Monkees, formed the First National Band; and Neil Young who moved in and out of the genre throughout his career. One of the few acts to successfully move from the country side towards rock were the bluegrass band the Dillards.
Canada's first independent record label Compo Company built a pressing plant (the largest of its day) in 1918 at Lachine, Quebec. Compo was originally created to serve the several American independent record companies such as Okeh Records which wanted to distribute records in Canada. The 1920s saw Canada's first radio stations, this allowed Canadian songwriters to contribute some of the most famous popular music of the early 20th century. Canada's first commercial radio station CFCF (formerly XWA) begins broadcasting regularly scheduled programming in Montreal in 1920, followed by CKAC, Canada's first French language radio station, in 1922. By 1923, there were 34 radio stations in Canada and subsequently proliferated at a remarkable rate, and with them spread the popularity of jazz. Jazz became associated with all things modern, sophisticated, and also decadent.
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.
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.
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.
"O Canada" was originally commissioned by the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, the Honourable Théodore Robitaille (1834–1897), for the 1880 St. Jean-Baptiste Day ceremony. Calixa Lavallée (1842–1891) wrote the music, which was a setting of a patriotic poem composed by the poet and judge Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier (1839–1920). The text was originally only in French, before it was translated into English from 1906 on.
The most successful British country music act of the 21st century are Ward Thomas and the Shires. In 2015, the Shires' album Brave, became the first UK country act ever to chart in the Top 10 of the UK Albums Chart and they became the first UK country act to receive an award from the American Country Music Association. In 2016, Ward Thomas then became the first UK country act to hit number 1 in the UK Albums Chart with their album Cartwheels.
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
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.
If Cold Roses, his double-disc gatefold set, was Adams’ Exile on Main St., Jacksonville City Nights finds the singer back in his tear-stained Gram Parsons duds. As always, Adams does a smashing job recreating Parsons’ heartrending lyrical and tonal nuances—the strained crack in the voice, the sobbing plea, the sweet, melancholic sigh. He doesn’t so much return to his Whiskeytown roots here as he canters straight past them into sad-eyed, Bakersfield barroom shuffles. Add a touch of post-acid-test Grateful Dead acousticism plus Adams’ breathtaking lyrics and you got a modern C&W classic.—Paste Staff
Outside of the United States, Canada has the largest country music fan and artist base, something that is to be expected given the two countries' proximity and cultural parallels. Mainstream country music is culturally ingrained in the prairie provinces, the British Columbia Interior, Ontario, and in Atlantic Canada. Celtic traditional music developed in Atlantic Canada in the form of Scottish, Acadian and Irish folk music popular amongst Irish, French and Scottish immigrants to Canada's Atlantic Provinces (Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island). Like the southern United States and Appalachia, all four regions are of heavy British Isles stock and rural; as such, the development of traditional music in the Maritimes somewhat mirrored the development of country music in the US South and Appalachia. Country and Western music never really developed separately in Canada; however, after its introduction to Canada, following the spread of radio, it developed quite quickly out of the Atlantic Canadian traditional scene. While true Atlantic Canadian traditional music is very Celtic or "sea shanty" in nature, even today, the lines have often been blurred. Certain areas often are viewed as embracing one strain or the other more openly. For example, in Newfoundland the traditional music remains unique and Irish in nature, whereas traditional musicians in other parts of the region may play both genres interchangeably.
There’s nothing really flashy to say about the career of George Strait. He didn’t really break any musical ground nor did he become a trend-setter in how his music was made or marketed. But, he proved that there has always been a market for knowing what you do –- and doing it well. To this day, he has had more singles top the charts than any other country performer, and his recent string of sell-outs in Las Vegas for 2016 shows prove that audiences are still clamoring for hits like "All My Ex's Live in Texas."
In Iran, country music has appeared in recent years. According to Melody Music Magazine, the pioneer of country music in Iran is the English-speaking country music band Dream Rovers, whose founder, singer and songwriter is Erfan Rezayatbakhsh (elf). The band was formed in 2007 in Tehran, and during this time they have been trying to introduce and popularize country music in Iran by releasing two studio albums and performing live at concerts, despite the difficulties that the Islamic regime in Iran makes for bands that are active in the western music field.
If Johnny Cash covered one of your songs on his final albums, it automatically meant it embodied some sort of country spirit however musically disguised. Cash, of course, interpreted the title track from this 1999 record the following year on American III: Solitary Man. I See a Darkness is dark, yes. It is gothic without being goth. Yet, its confessional cries and distant, discordant layering (especially on tracks like “Nomadic Revery (All Around)”) are also subversive in a way that honors the subgenre.—Hilary Saunders
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.
Canadian women at the end of the 20th century enjoyed greater international commercial success than ever before. Canadian women set a new pinnacle of success, in terms financial, critical and in their immediate and strong influence on their respective genres. They were the women and daughters who had fought for emancipation and equality a generation before. Like Alanis Morissette and most notable is French-Canadian singer, Celine Dion, who became Canada's best-selling music artist, and who, in 2004, received the Chopard Diamond Award from the World Music Awards for surpassing 175 million in album sales, worldwide.
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.