Canadian music changed course in the 1980s and 1990s, the changing fast-paced culture was accompanied by an explosion in youth culture. Until the mid-1960s, little attention was paid to music by Canadian daily newspapers except as news or novelty. With the introduction during the late 1970s of the "Music critic", coverage began to rival that of any other topic. Canadian publications devoted to all styles of music either exclusively or in tandem with more general editorial content directed to young readers, was expanding exponentially.
The same period saw a concerted effort to recover some of country music’s root values. Mandolin-player Bill Monroe and his string band, the Blue Grass Boys, discarded more recently adopted rhythms and instruments and brought back the lead fiddle and high harmony singing. His banjoist, Earl Scruggs, developed a brilliant three-finger picking style that brought the instrument into a lead position. Their music, with its driving, syncopated rhythms and instrumental virtuosity, took the name “bluegrass” from Monroe’s band.
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.
But commercialization proved a much stronger influence as country music became popular in all sections of the United States after World War II. In 1942 Roy Acuff, one of the most important country singers, co-organized in Nashville the first publishing house for country music. Hank Williams’ meteoric rise to fame in the late 1940s helped establish Nashville as the undisputed centre of country music, with large recording studios and the Grand Ole Opry as its chief performing venue. In the 1950s and ’60s country music became a huge commercial enterprise, with such leading performers as Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Charley Pride. Popular singers often recorded songs in a Nashville style, while many country music recordings employed lush orchestral backgrounds.
During the early 1980s, country artists continued to see their records perform well on the pop charts. Willie Nelson and Juice Newton each had two songs in the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the early eighties: Nelson charted "Always on My Mind" (No. 5, 1982) and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" (No. 5, 1984, a duet with Julio Iglesias), and Newton achieved success with "Queen of Hearts" (No. 2, 1981) and "Angel of the Morning" (No. 4, 1981). Four country songs topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s: "Lady" by Kenny Rogers, from the late fall of 1980; "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton, "I Love a Rainy Night" by Eddie Rabbitt (these two back-to-back at the top in early 1981); and "Islands in the Stream", a duet by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers in 1983, a pop-country crossover hit written by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. Newton's "Queen of Hearts" almost reached No. 1, but was kept out of the spot by the pop ballad juggernaut "Endless Love" by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. The move of country music toward neotraditional styles led to a marked decline in country/pop crossovers in the late 1980s, and only one song in that period—Roy Orbison's "You Got It", from 1989—made the top 10 of both the Billboard Hot Country Singles" and Hot 100 charts, due largely to a revival of interest in Orbison after his sudden death. The only song with substantial country airplay to reach number one on the pop charts in the late 1980s was "At This Moment" by Billy Vera and the Beaters, an R&B song with slide guitar embellishment that appeared at number 42 on the country charts from minor crossover airplay. The record-setting, multi-platinum group Alabama was named Artist of the Decade for the 1980s by the Academy of Country Music.
With a voice like good claret or damp moss, Rosanne Cash’s singing is something to sink into. Surrender to the tones, mostly dark, but marked by the occasional glimmer of light, and let the emotions they contain seep inside. For Cash, the emotions on The River & The Thread are complex and tangled, especially the Grammy-winner’s own difficult relationship with the South, her roots and her own musical journey. What emerges, beyond a woman grappling with a legacy as much in the rich bottom land as her father Johnny’s iconic presence as the voice of America, is a knowing embrace of the conflicts in the things we love. The 11-song cycle is mostly a meditation on the textures and musical forms that emerged South of the Mason Dixon. Finding not just resolve, but acceptance is a gift. Cash, who’s sidestepped her heritage, and eschewed a career as a country star with 11 No. 1s, a marriage to a country writer/producer/artist Rodney Crowell and the city/industry where she found prominence, savored her wandering and the Manhattan life she built. With The River & The Thread, she comes home with the warmth reserved for knowing where we’re from. As powerful a witness for the region—Memphis, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas—as it is a lovely quilt of musicality, braiding blues, folk, Appalachia, rock and old-timey country, this is balm for lost souls, alienated creatures seeking their core truths and intellectuals who love the cool mist of vespers in the hearts of people they may never encounter.—Holly Gleason
Only one television channel was dedicated to country music in Canada: CMT owned by Corus Entertainment (90%) and Viacom (10%). However, the lifting of strict genre licensing restrictions saw the network remove the last of its music programming at the end of August 2017 for a schedule of generic off-network family sitcoms, Cancom-compliant lifestyle programming, and reality programming. In the past, the current-day Cottage Life network saw some country focus as Country Canada and later, CBC Country Canada before that network drifted into an alternate network for overflow CBC content as Bold. Stingray Music continues to maintain several country music audio-only channels on cable radio.
These Brits played weirdo punk rock for years before releasing this weirdo record whose country influences are subtle to say the least. The dystopian feel of Fear and Whiskey is definitely more “alt” than “country,” but songs like “Abernant 1984/5” and the aptly titled “Country” are boozy strolls across wind-swept plains on far way planets. Guitarist Jon Langford’s love of country music continued to grow, and he went on to form The Waco Brothers and also appeared on alt-country stalwarts Old 97’s classic Wreck Your Life album.—Mark Lore
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.
Female artists such as Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Deana Carter, LeAnn Rimes, Mindy McCready, Lorrie Morgan, Shania Twain, and Mary Chapin Carpenter all released platinum-selling albums in the 1990s. The Dixie Chicks became one of the most popular country bands in the 1990s and early 2000s. Their 1998 debut album Wide Open Spaces went on to become certified 12x platinum while their 1999 album Fly went on to become 10x platinum. After their third album, Home, was released in 2003, the band made political news in part because of lead singer Natalie Maines's comments disparaging then-President George W. Bush while the band was overseas (Maines stated that she and her bandmates were ashamed to be from the same state as Bush, who had just commenced the Iraq War a few days prior). The comments caused a rift between the band and the country music scene, and the band's fourth (and most recent) album, 2006's Taking the Long Way, took a more rock-oriented direction; the album was commercially successful overall but largely ignored among country audiences. After Taking the Long Way, the band broke up for a decade (with two of its members continuing as the Court Yard Hounds) before embarking on a reunion tour in 2016.