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.
In 1980, a style of "neocountry disco music" was popularized by the film Urban Cowboy, which also included more traditional songs such as "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band. 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.
A self-described “torch and twang singer”, k.d. lang was never going to be a traditional country star. With her androgynous looks and tear-in-the-throat vocals that could make a man cry, this Canadian singer-songwriter from Edmonton, Alberta was propelled to fame in the 90s with her breakout album, Ingénue. Since starting out in a Patsy Cline tribute band, Lang was a true country kid with hits like ‘Crying’ and ‘I’m Down to My Last Cigarette’ before finding crossover success with the pop single, ‘Constant Craving’. She also has collaborated with the likes of Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett and even Cline’s former producer, Owen Bradley on 1989’s Shadowland.
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.
Borrowing a page from the textbook of Dolly Parton, the former elementary school teacher from Oklahoma became one of the first female artists to sell albums and concert tickets on a level with the male artists. In addition to her music, she helped to shape the format with ground-breaking videos such as “Whoever’s In New England.” Along the way, she built an empire called Starstruck that is one of the biggest success stories the format has ever seen -- for any gender.
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.
While rappers like Dream Warriors and K-os were underground upstarts in the 90s to early 2000s, no Canadian artist was able to achieve mainstream popularity until former child-actor-turned-rapper, Drake, put Canada on the hip-hop map – becoming one of the biggest-selling and influential rap stars in the world. From co-founding Canadian record label OVO (October’s Very Own) Sound to coining the city’s unofficial nickname, “The 6”, Drake is Canada’s biggest hypeman. Not only did he use the CN Tower for his Views album art, he even has a tattoo of the iconic Toronto landmark on his arm and helped to introduce fellow Canadian, The Weeknd, to the rest of the world.
Though some younger fans might not truly appreciate just what Eddy Arnold brought to the format, his down-home personality along with his slightly more sophisticated tone made him one of the format’s most bankable crossover stars. With a reign on the country top 40 that lasted for close to four decades, Arnold managed to keep a career going from the days of 78 RPM to the digital age.
Few albums truly exhibit the inscrutable mystery and inescapable desperation of the world as Folklore. Somehow, David Eugene Edwards and his band explored the edges of those vanished territories of the American folk music tradition, channeling the fear of now lost pastorals.The most meditative, haunting release of 16 Horsepower’s Holy Ghost-haunted catalog, Folklore takes further the shiver-inducing despondency of past releases, here relying on droning cellos, wheezy accordions, spindly banjos and Edward’s eerily double-tracked vocals to create an atmosphere of despair and impending doom. Stripping away most of the electric guitars and rhythmic drive of their previous work, the album rarely breaks from the dirge-like ruminations on God, judgment, love and murder. That only four of the 10 tracks are original doesn’t inhibit the authenticity with which they’re presented. Folklore speaks with the earthward metaphors of those who lived in the shadow of unseen pursuers and confronted their worst suspicions with music as their weapon.—Matt Fink
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. They used the materials at hand to make their instruments for thousands of years before Europeans immigrated to the new world. They made gourds and animal horns into rattles which were elaborately carved and beautifully painted. In woodland areas, they made horns of birchbark along with drumsticks of carved antlers and wood. Drums were generally made of carved wood and animal hides. These musical instruments provide the background for songs and dances.
Folk songs sung in Australia between the 1780s and 1920s, based around such themes as the struggle against government tyranny, or the lives of bushrangers, swagmen, drovers, stockmen and shearers, continue to influence the genre. This strain of Australian country, with lyrics focusing on Australian subjects, is generally known as "bush music" or "bush band music". "Waltzing Matilda", often regarded as Australia's unofficial national anthem, is a quintessential Australian country song, influenced more by British and Irish folk ballads than by American country and western music. The lyrics were composed by the poet Banjo Paterson in 1895. Other popular songs from this tradition include "The Wild Colonial Boy", "Click Go the Shears", "The Queensland Drover" and "The Dying Stockman". Later themes which endure to the present include the experiences of war, of droughts and flooding rains, of Aboriginality and of the railways and trucking routes which link Australia's vast distances. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj5JQNLFSgA