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.
The Governor General's Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement are the foremost honours presented for excellence in the performing arts, in the categories of dance, classical music, popular music, film, and radio and television broadcasting. They were initiated in 1992 by then Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn, and winners receive $25,000 and a medal struck by the Royal Canadian Mint.
In a recording career that spanned over six decades, "The Cherokee Cowboy" possessed a voice that never seemed to age. If anything, his warm crooning tone only got better with time. Price's early hits were textbook performances in the honky-tonk vein, while 1967's "Danny Boy" ushered in a more uptown vibe that he expanded on in hits such as Kris Kristofferson's "For The Good Times." Price also had a keen ear for other talent, giving early jobs to Willie Nelson and Roger Miller, among others.
Dylan's lead was also followed by the Byrds, who were joined by Gram Parsons in 1968. Parsons had mixed country with rock, blues and folk to create what he called "Cosmic American Music". Earlier in the year Parsons had released Safe at Home (although the principal recording for the album had taken place in mid-1967) with the International Submarine Band, which made extensive use of pedal steel and is seen by some as the first true country-rock album. The result of Parsons' brief tenure in the Byrds was Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968), generally considered one of the finest and most influential recordings in the genre. The Byrds continued for a brief period in the same vein, but Parsons left soon after the album was released to be joined by another ex-Byrds member Chris Hillman in forming the Flying Burrito Brothers. Over the next two years they recorded the albums The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969) and Burrito Deluxe (1970), which helped establish the respectability and parameters of the genre, before Parsons departed to pursue a solo career.
Raised at the junction of Big Joe Turner, ‘50s rock and tavern country (slightly sleeker, ice clinking division), Dave Alvin left the Blasters on two bald tires with the hammer down. “Romeo’s Escape” thrashed and churned, Stratocaster stinging and drums hard-pounding down as Alvin’s oaken crag of a voice shook with fury. The lean, but unrepentant Hank Williams’ homage “Long White Cadillac,” all wristy downstroke, fulk-throttled moan and high hat slam, would eventually hit #1 for Dwight Yoakam, as the driving grind of accusation and betrayal “New Tattoo” would become a low end stripper with brio anthem with its lacerating guitar and swollen bass. Somewhere between Steinbeck and Bukowski, Alvin mined have-nots’ seediness without making them cheap: “Jubilee Train” worked jackhammer-rhythmed salvation, “Border Radio” was Mexican-tinged Haggard and “Fourth of July” swept yearning across an evaporated love trying to find a spark.—Holly Gleason
Lists are incredibly subjective but it’s impossible to deny the enormous impact Neil Young has made in the musical world for the past 50 years. From his time with Buffalo Springfield to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to his solo work with Crazy Horse, this singer-songwriter from Northern Ontario left his homeland long ago and yet never became an American citizen. With one of rock’s most productive and enduring solo careers, Young has created his own songbook of standards and continues to be a political force for action, even releasing a new protest song called, ‘Children of Destiny’.
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Truck driving country music is a genre of country music and is a fusion of honky-tonk, country rock and the Bakersfield sound. It has the tempo of country rock and the emotion of honky-tonk, and its lyrics focus on a truck driver's lifestyle. Truck driving country songs often deal with the profession of trucking and love. Well-known artists who sing truck driving country include Dave Dudley, Red Sovine, Dick Curless, Red Simpson, Del Reeves, The Willis Brothers and Jerry Reed, with C. W. McCall and Cledus Maggard (pseudonyms of Bill Fries and Jay Huguely, respectively) being more humorous entries in the subgenre. Dudley is known as the father of truck driving country.
There’s a long tradition of African-Americans playing old-time music, from blues legends Blind Blake, the Reverend Gary Davis and Josh White to artists such as the Mississippi Mud Steppers and Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, whose early ragtime outfit, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, has provided a lasting influence—and this modern-day act with its name. The Carolina Chocolate Dropsformed in 2005 at the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, N.C., and since then the young trio has been determined to prove that “black folk were a huge part of the stringband tradition.” What they’ve also done is dust off a musical form seen today as either a novelty or the exclusive provenance of ethnomusicologists. To paraphrase Rakim’s immortal words, these Drops ain’t no joke: Their enthusiasm for the tradition is obvious even as the trio spans from traditional arrangements (the rollicking fiddle rave-ups “Trouble in Your Mind” and “Cindy Gal”) to self-penned works (the particularly terrific “Kissin’ and Cussin’”) and stringband makeovers of modern-day works (a hip-hop influenced cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ’em Up Style (Oops!)” and Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose”). Several generations removed from the origins of their chosen idiom, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are nonetheless the genuine article.—Corey DuBrowa
The September 11 attacks of 2001 and the economic recession helped move country music back into the spotlight. Many country artists, such as Alan Jackson with his ballad on terrorist attacks, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)", wrote songs that celebrated the military, highlighted the gospel, and emphasized home and family values over wealth. Alt-Country singer Ryan Adams song "New York, New York" pays tribute to New York City, and its popular music video (which was shot 4 days before the attacks) shows Adams playing in front of the Manhattan skyline, Along with several shots of the city. In contrast, more rock-oriented country singers took more direct aim at the attacks' perpetrators; Toby Keith's "The Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue)" threatened to "a boot in" the posterior of the enemy, while Charlie Daniels's "This Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag" promised to "hunt" the perpetrators "down like a mad dog hound." These songs gained such recognition that it put country music back into popular culture. The influence of rock music in country has become more overt during the late 2000s and early 2010s as artists like Eric Church, Jason Aldean, and Brantley Gilbert have had success; Aaron Lewis, former frontman for the rock group Staind, had a moderately successful entry into country music in 2011 and 2012. Also rising in the late 2000s and early 2010s was the insertion of rap and spoken-word elements into country songs; artists such as Cowboy Troy and Colt Ford have focused almost exclusively on country rap (also known as hick hop) while other, more mainstream artists (such as Big & Rich and Jason Aldean) have used it on occasion.