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.

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Outside its handful of stars, country rock's greatest significance was on artists in other genres, including the Band, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Rolling Stones and George Harrison's solo work.[1] It also played a part in the development of Southern rock, which, although largely derived from blues rock, had a distinct southern lilt, and it paved the way for parts of the alternative country movement.[1] The genre declined in popularity in the late 1970s, but some established artists, including Neil Young, have continued to record country-tinged rock into the twenty-first century. Country rock has survived as a cult force in Texas, where acts including the Flatlanders, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and California-based Richard Brooker, have collaborated and recorded.[1][18] Other performers have produced occasional recordings in the genre, including Elvis Costello's Almost Blue (1981)[1] and the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss collaboration Raising Sand, which was one of the most commercially successful albums of 2007.[19]
Canada's first nationwide music awards began as a reader poll conducted by Canadian music industry trade magazine RPM Weekly in December 1964.[96] A similar balloting process continued until 1970 when the RPM Gold Leaf Awards, as they were then known, were changed to the Juno Awards.[96] The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences held the first Juno Award ceremony in 1975.[97] This was in response to rectifying the same concerns about promotion of Canadian artists that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission had.[96] https://www.facebook.com/robnwalker/
By the early 1950s a blend of Western swing, country boogie, and honky tonk was played by most country bands. Western music, influenced by the cowboy ballads and Tejano music rhythms of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, reached its peak in popularity in the late 1950s, most notably with the song "El Paso", first recorded by Marty Robbins in September 1959. In 1953, the first all-country radio station was established in Lubbock, Texas.[52] The country music scene largely kept the music of the folk revival and folk rock at a distance, despite the similarity in instrumentation and origins (see, for instance, The Byrds' negative reception during their appearance on the Grand Ole Opry). The main concern was politics: the folk revival was largely driven by progressive activists, a stark contrast to the culturally conservative audiences of country music. Only a handful of folk artists, such as Burl Ives, John Denver and Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot, would cross over into country music after the folk revival died out. During the mid-1950s a new style of country music became popular, eventually to be referred to as rockabilly.[53]
The Tamworth Country Music Festival began in 1973 and now attracts up to 100,000 visitors annually. Held in Tamworth, New South Wales (country music capital of Australia), it celebrates the culture and heritage of Australian country music. During the festival the CMAA holds the Country Music Awards of Australia ceremony awarding the Golden Guitar trophies. Other significant country music festivals include the Whittlesea Country Music Festival (near Melbourne) and the Mildura Country Music Festival for "independent" performers during October, and the Canberra Country Music Festival held in the national capital during November.
One of the most versatile artists on this list, McGraw's career stretches from '90s dance numbers like "Indian Outlaw" to tear-jerking ballads like "Don't Take The Girl" and the powerful "Live Like You Were Dying." He isn't afraid to expand his boundaries, either, with collaborations with such artists as hip-hop star Nelly. McGraw has also made a name for himself as an actor in Hollywood, delivering fine performances in movies such as Friday Night Lights and Oscar-winning The Blind Side, going far and beyond simply playing a singer on screen like many of his peers.
There is the C2C: Country to Country festival held every year, and for many years there was a festival at Wembley Arena, which was broadcast on the BBC, the International Festivals of Country Music, promoted by Mervyn Conn, held at the venue between 1969 and 1991. The shows were later taken into Europe, and featured such stars as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, David Allan Coe, Emmylou Harris, Boxcar Willie, Johnny Russell and Jerry Lee Lewis. A handful of country musicians had even greater success in mainstream UK music than they did in the US, despite a certain amount of disdain from the music press. The UK's largest music festival Glastonbury has featured major US country acts in recent years, such as Kenny Rogers in 2013 and Dolly Parton in 2014.
Beginning in 1989, a confluence of events brought an unprecedented commercial boom to country music. The arrival of exceptionally talented artists coincided with new marketing strategies to engage fans, technology that more accurately tracked the popularity of country music, and a political and economic climate that focused attention on the genre. Garth Brooks ("Friends in Low Places") in particular attracted fans with his fusion of neotraditionalist country and stadium rock. Other artists such as Brooks and Dunn ("Boot Scootin' Boogie") also combined conventional country with slick, rock elements, while Lorrie Morgan, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Kathy Mattea updated neotraditionalist styles.[84]
For thousands of years, Canada has been inhabited by Indigenous Peoples [Aboriginal peoples in Canada] from a variety of different cultures and of several major linguistic groupings. Each of the Indigenous communities had (and have) their own unique musical traditions. Chanting - singing is widely popular, with many of its performers also using a variety of musical instruments.[9] They used the materials at hand to make their instruments for thousands of years before Europeans immigrated to the new world.[10] They made gourds and animal horns into rattles which were elaborately carved and beautifully painted.[11] In woodland areas, they made horns of birchbark along with drumsticks of carved antlers and wood.[10] Drums were generally made of carved wood and animal hides.[12] These musical instruments provide the background for songs and dances.[12]
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."[90] 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.
Country music often consists of ballads and dance tunes with generally simple forms, folk lyrics, and harmonies mostly accompanied by string instruments such as banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, steel guitars (such as pedal steels and dobros), and fiddles as well as harmonicas.[2][3][4] Blues modes have been used extensively throughout its recorded history.[5]
In 1980, a style of "neocountry disco music" was popularized by the film Urban Cowboy,[78] which also included more traditional songs such as "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band.[79] It was during this time that a glut of pop-country crossover artists began appearing on the country charts: former pop stars Bill Medley (of The Righteous Brothers), "England Dan" Seals (of England Dan and John Ford Coley), Tom Jones, and Merrill Osmond (both alone and with some of his brothers; his younger sister Marie Osmond was already an established country star) all recorded significant country hits in the early 1980s. Sales in record stores rocketed to $250 million in 1981; by 1984, 900 radio stations began programming country or neocountry pop full-time. As with most sudden trends, however, by 1984 sales had dropped below 1979 figures.[78]
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.
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.[85] 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,[92] making them one of the best-selling ensembles in history,[93][94][95] 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.
Country music was aided by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Docket 80–90, which led to a significant expansion of FM radio in the 1980s by adding numerous higher-fidelity FM signals to rural and suburban areas. At this point, country music was mainly heard on rural AM radio stations; the expansion of FM was particularly helpful to country music, which migrated to FM from the AM band as AM became overcome by talk radio (the country music stations that stayed on AM developed the classic country format for the AM audience). At the same time, beautiful music stations already in rural areas began abandoning the format (leading to its effective demise) to adopt country music as well. This wider availability of country music led to producers seeking to polish their product for a wider audience. In 1990, Billboard, which had published a country music chart since the 1940s, changed the methodology it used to compile the chart: singles sales were removed from the methodology, and only airplay on country radio determined a song's place on the chart.[85]
In the 2010s, "bro-country", a genre noted primarily for its themes on drinking and partying, girls, and pickup trucks became particularly popular.[105][106] 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.[21][107] 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.[108] 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.[109] 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.[109] The genre however is controversial as it has been criticized by other country musicians and commentators over its themes and depiction of women,[110][111][112] 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."[113] 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.
Country HQ showcases new talent on the rise in the country music scene down under. CMC (the Country Music Channel), a 24‑hour music channel dedicated to non-stop country music, can be viewed on pay TV and features once a year the Golden Guitar Awards, CMAs and CCMAs alongside international shows such as The Wilkinsons, The Road Hammers, and Country Music Across America.
The music of Canada has reflected the diverse influences that have shaped the country.[1] Indigenous Peoples, the Irish, British, and the French have all made unique contributions to the musical heritage of Canada.[2] The music has subsequently been heavily influenced by American culture because of the proximity and migration between the two countries.[3] 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.[4][5]
In 2007, Canada joined the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement talks,[118] whose outcome will have a significant impact on the Canadian music industry.[117][119] In 2010 Canada introduced new copyright legislation.[120] The amended law makes hacking digital locks illegal, but enshrine into law the ability of purchasers to record and copy music from a CD to portable devices.[120]
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.[85] 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,[92] making them one of the best-selling ensembles in history,[93][94][95] 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.
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.
Canada during the Second World War produced some patriotic songs, but they were not hits in the music industry sense.[62] A number of Canadian singers who learned their craft in Canadian opera companies in the 1930s went on to sing in major international opera houses.[72] Most notable from the 1940s is contralto singer Portia White (1911–1968). She achieved international fame because of her voice and stage presence.[73] As a Canadian female of African descent, her popularity helped to open previously-closed doors for talented women who followed. She has been declared "A person of national historic significance" by the Government of Canada.[73] In 1964 she performed for Queen Elizabeth II, at the opening of the Confederation Centre of the Arts.[74]
The Great Migration of Canada from 1815 to 1850, consisting largely of Irish, British and Scottish immigrants, broadened considerably the Canadian musical culture.[38] 1844, Samuel Nordheimer (1824–1912) opened a music store in Toronto selling pianos and soon thereafter began to publish engraved sheet music.[1] Samuel Nordheimers store was among the first and the largest specialized music publisher in the Province of Canada.[39] They initially had the sole right to publish copies of Alexander Muir's "The Maple Leaf Forever" that for many years served as an unofficial Canadian national anthem.[40]
By the end of World War II, "mountaineer" string band music known as bluegrass had emerged when Bill Monroe joined with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, introduced by Roy Acuff at the Grand Ole Opry. That was the ordination of bluegrass music and how Bill Monroe became to be known as the "Father of Country Music." Gospel music, too, remained a popular component of bluegrass and other sorts of country music. Red Foley, the biggest country star following World War II, had one of the first million-selling gospel hits ("Peace in the Valley") and also sang boogie, blues and rockabilly. In the post-war period, country music was called "folk" in the trades, and "hillbilly" within the industry.[46] In 1944, The Billboard replaced the term "hillbilly" with "folk songs and blues," and switched to "country" or "country and Western" in 1949.[47][48]

Quite possibly, no artist on this list manages to have the universal appeal of Willie Nelson. The legendary figure has been able to make believable his recordings of compositions from Lefty Frizzell, Irving Berlin and Paul Simon -– and sound authentic on each one. He qualifies as the ultimate curveball. You never know what to expect from him, only that it will find favor with the public.
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.[6]
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