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
Just as Loretta Lynn sang about female empowerment in the 1960s, so did Tammy Wynette. The one-time hairdresser turned her marital strife into musical gold via such classics as “Apartment # 9,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” and “Stand By Your Man” –- and that was before she married George Jones. No other female singer sang about heartbreak with as much conviction and power -- influencing generations to come in the process.
The influence and innovations of Canadian hip hop came to the foreground in Canada when Music videos became an important marketing tool for Canadian musicians, with the debut of MuchMusic in 1984 and MusiquePlus in 1986. Now both English and French Canadian musicians had outlets to promote all forms of music through video in Canada. The networks were not just an opportunity for artists to get their videos played—the networks created VideoFACT, a fund to help emerging artists produce their videos.
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.
Artists from outside California who were associated with early alternative country included singer-songwriters such as Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, the Nashville country rock band Jason and the Scorchers and the British post-punk band The Mekons. Earle, in particular, was noted for his popularity with both country and college rock audiences: He promoted his 1986 debut album Guitar Town with a tour that saw him open for both country singer Dwight Yoakam and alternative rock band The Replacements.
The third generation (1950s–1960s) started at the end of World War II with "mountaineer" string band music known as bluegrass, which emerged when Bill Monroe, along with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were introduced by Roy Acuff at the Grand Ole Opry. Gospel music remained a popular component of country music. 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. By the early 1950s a blend of Western swing, country boogie, and honky tonk was played by most country bands. Rockabilly was most popular with country fans in the 1950s, and 1956 could be called the year of rockabilly in country music, with Johnny Cash emerging as one of the most popular and enduring representatives of the rockabilly genre; rockabilly was also a starting point for eventual rock-and-roll superstar Elvis Presley, who would return to his country roots near the end of his life. Beginning in the mid-1950s, and reaching its peak during the early 1960s, the Nashville sound turned country music into a multimillion-dollar industry centered in Nashville, Tennessee; Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves were two of the most broadly popular Nashville sound artists, and their deaths in separate plane crashes in the early 1960s were a factor in the genre's decline. The late 1960s in American music produced a unique blend as a result of traditionalist backlash within separate genres. In the aftermath of the British Invasion, many desired a return to the "old values" of rock n' roll. At the same time there was a lack of enthusiasm in the country sector for Nashville-produced music. What resulted was a crossbred genre known as country rock.
Brooks shattered the blueprint for what a country singer should sound like -– on stage and off. His music was a fusion of George Jones and James Taylor, and his concerts are like nothing a country fan has seen before or since. Brooks also changed the way that the format was thought about from a sales standpoint -– selling well over 100 million copies of his music, making a Brooks release date seem something akin to a national holiday for retailers across the globe.
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."
Still think country music’s all about Rhinestone Cowboys, Stetsons and the Grand Ol’ Opry? Then think again, because for the past five decades or so, country-loving artists of all persuasions have kicked against the Nashville mainstream and joined the broad church we now refer to as either Alternative Country (usually shortened to Alt Country) or simply Americana. In this Top 10, uDiscover rides the range with 10 seminal alt country acts who have thrown everything from rockabilly, folk-rock and punk into their radical, roots-rock stews.
With the exception of a few artists, modern country has taken a hard left turn for the worse over the past two decades. Ask some people, and they might even say country’s become a shell of its former self. Sturgill Simpson is not one of those people—mostly because he doesn’t seem to care what is happening within the confines of the country music world. Instead the Kentucky-born singer looks to more far-out places on his second full-length, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. One of the first things you’ll notice is Simpson’s voice, which conjures the ghost of Waylon Jennings. Producer Dave Cobb’s warm production can’t be overstated—it holds the entire thing together and also makes Metamodern Sounds a shelf-worthy addition next to the greats. If you don’t like country music, don’t bother. But if you do have an ear for Waylon and Willie and the boys, then you’ll find plenty to love. Simpson may reside in Nashville these days, but he’s operating on a completely different plane. Here’s hoping his own mind-expanding experiments will expand the minds of listeners as well.—Mark Lore
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.
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