Alternative country is a term used to describe a number of country music subgenres that tend to differ from mainstream or pop country music. The term is sometimes known as Alt. country and has included country music bands that have incorporated influences ranging from american roots music, bluegrass, rock & roll, rockabilly, acoustic music, americana, honky-tonk, punk rock and alt auctioneer.
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.
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."
Canada's music industry is the sixth largest in the world, producing many internationally renowned artists. Canada has developed a music infrastructure, that includes church halls, chamber halls, conservatories, academies, performing arts centres, record companies, radio stations and television music video channels. Canada's music broadcasting is regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences administers Canada's music industry awards, the Juno Awards, which first commenced in 1970.
Ultimately, country music’s roots lie in the ballads, folk songs, and popular songs of the English, Scots, and Irish settlers of the Appalachians and other parts of the South. In the early 1920s the traditional string-band music of the Southern mountain regions began to be commercially recorded, with Fiddlin’ John Carson garnering the genre’s first hit record in 1923. The vigour and realism of the rural songs, many lyrics of which were rather impersonal narratives of tragedies pointing to a stern Calvinist moral, stood in marked contrast to the often mawkish sentimentality of much of the popular music of the day.
The beginning of the 19th century Canadian musical ensembles had started forming in great numbers, writing waltzes, quadrilles, polkas and galops. The first volumes of music printed in Canada was the "Graduel romain" in 1800 followed by the "Union Harmony" in 1801. Folk music was still thriving, as recounted in the poem titled "A Canadian Boat Song". The poem was composed by the Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779–1852) during a visit to Canada in 1804. "The Canadian Boat Song" was so popular that it was published several times over the next forty years in Boston, New York City and Philadelphia. Dancing likewise was an extremely popular form of entertainment as noted In 1807 by the Scottish traveler and artist George Heriot (1759–1839), who wrote...
A diminished CBC comes at a great loss to the Canadian music community. For musicians, regardless of genre, there is no media outlet that will provide them the same coverage and audience reach as the CBC. For music fans, it could mean hearing far less homegrown talent at a time when Canada is creating more noteworthy music than ever. Canada has long had a reputation for punching above its weight with regards to exporting music, and the CBC has been a very big part of that success over the decades.
This multiple JUNO award winning singer-songwriter is the clear heir apparent to The Tragically Hip, both in terms of writing energetic folk-rock with lyrical homage to Canada and for in his relative obscurity outside of the country. Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Plaskett has a prolific output that spans more than 20 years and includes 17 studio releases both with his 90s hard-rock band Thrush Hermit, his solo recordings and then with his band, the Joel Plaskett Emergency.
Another subgenre of country music grew out of hardcore honky tonk with elements of Western swing and originated 112 miles (180 km) north-northwest of Los Angeles in Bakersfield, California, where many "Okies" and other Dust Bowl migrants had settled. Influenced by one-time West Coast residents Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell, by 1966 it was known as the Bakersfield sound. It relied on electric instruments and amplification, in particular the Telecaster electric guitar, more than other subgenres of the country music of the era, and it can be described as having a sharp, hard, driving, no-frills, edgy flavor—hard guitars and honky-tonk harmonies. Leading practitioners of this style were Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, Gary Allan, and Wynn Stewart, each of whom had his own style.
Country music has enjoyed mainstream exposure and success throughout the '60s and '70s in the United Kingdom. However, this somewhat diminished in the '90s and 2000s. Though, there have been exceptions such as Garth Brooks and Shania Twain in the '90s (particularly the latter) and Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum and the Dixie Chicks in the 2000s. Crossover hits (in terms of singles and albums) within the country genre are few and far between and have been since the '80s. There are some British country music acts and publications. Although radio stations devoted to country are among the most popular in other Anglophone nations, none of the top 10 most-listened-to stations in the UK are country stations, and national broadcaster BBC Radio does not offer a full-time country station (BBC Radio 2 Country, a "pop-up" station, operated four days each year between 2015 and 2017). The BBC does offer a country show on BBC Radio 2 each week hosted by Bob Harris. UK Country music is overseen by the British Country Music Association.
Canada has a long tradition of singer-songwriters and that’s partly in thanks to its own “folksong laureate”, Gordon Lightfoot. Coming out of the Toronto 60s folk music scene, Lightfoot’s native country would become his lifelong muse, penning such classics as ‘Canadian Railroad Trilogy’ and ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ and yet universal enough to appeal worldwide, turning him into Canada’s most successful contemporary folk artist. A beloved cultural icon, he’s been the beneficiary of countless awards and honours including the Companion of the Order of Canada – Canada’s highest civilian honour.
In the early 1970s, Jennings fought Nashville for creative control to make his music the way he saw fit. Though he had been a consistent hitmaker for close to a decade by this point, you could hear a difference on such songs as “This Time” and “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” He was called an outlaw, though he tended to rebel against that word as well over the years. Looking back, Jennings simply wanted to be himself –- ranging from covers of such current hits as “Can’t You See” to stunning ballads like “Dreaming My Dreams With You.”
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
Canada during the Second World War produced some patriotic songs, but they were not hits in the music industry sense. 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. Most notable from the 1940s is contralto singer Portia White (1911–1968). She achieved international fame because of her voice and stage presence. 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. In 1964 she performed for Queen Elizabeth II, at the opening of the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
Prior to the development of the gramophone, Canadian songwriters' works were published as sheet music, or in periodicals in local newspapers such as The Montreal Gazette and Toronto Empire. Most recordings purchased by Canadians in the early days of the gramophone were made by American and British performers, behind some of these international hits were Canadian songwriters. Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943) was among the first Black Canadian composers during the early years of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. His works often appeared among the programs of William Marion Cook's New York syncopated Orchestra. Dett himself performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Boston Symphony Hall as a pianist and choir director. Following quickly on the gramophone's spread came Canada's involvement in the First World War. The war was the catalyst for the writing and recording of large numbers of Canadian-written popular songs, some of which achieved lasting international commercial success. The military during World War I produced official music such as regimental marches and songs as well as utilitarian bugle calls. The soldiers had a repertoire of their own, largely consisting of new, often ribald, lyrics to older tunes.
During the mid-1970s, Dolly Parton, a successful mainstream country artist since the late 1960s, mounted a high-profile campaign to cross over to pop music, culminating in her 1977 hit "Here You Come Again", which topped the U.S. country singles chart, and also reached No. 3 on the pop singles charts. Parton's male counterpart, Kenny Rogers, came from the opposite direction, aiming his music at the country charts, after a successful career in pop, rock and folk music with The First Edition, achieving success the same year with "Lucille", which topped the country charts and reached No. 5 on the U.S. pop singles charts, as well as reaching Number 1 on the British all-genre chart. Parton and Rogers would both continue to have success on both country and pop charts simultaneously, well into the 1980s. Artists like Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell would also find success on the pop charts with their records. In 1975, author Paul Hemphill stated in the Saturday Evening Post, "Country music isn't really country anymore; it is a hybrid of nearly every form of popular music in America."
The Kentucky band’s sprawling major-label debut did nothing to alter the independent spirit of singer-songwriter Jim James and his cohorts. The country-rock base retained elements of Memphis soul, classic ’70s rock and neo-psychedelic sounds, all drenched in salubrious washes of reverb. Besides, nothing says complete artistic freedom like 12 songs that average six minutes in length, many of which were recorded in a grain silo to give the reverb more reverb. Styles mix wantonly, songs meander but never go quite where you expect them to. What begins as an acoustic-driven folk song (“Magheeta”) morphs into a hard-rocking power ballad; a funkified homage to R&B clubs (“Dance Floors”) becomes an Exile on Main Street-era block party, powered by a propulsive horn section straight out of “Tumbling Dice”; and the minor-key melancholia of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse epics (think “Cortez the Killer”) forms the backbone of “Run Through” until it mutates at the chorus into the early ’80s Manchester sound reminiscent of New Order. Is it alt-country? That’s as good a descriptor as anything else.—John Schact
Described by AllMusic as the "father of country-rock", Gram Parsons' work in the early 1970s was acclaimed for its purity and for his appreciation for aspects of traditional country music. Though his career was cut tragically short by his 1973 death, his legacy was carried on by his protégé and duet partner Emmylou Harris; Harris would release her debut solo in 1975, an amalgamation of country, rock and roll, folk, blues and pop. Subsequent to the initial blending of the two polar opposite genres, other offspring soon resulted, including Southern rock, heartland rock and in more recent years, alternative country. In the decades that followed, artists such as Juice Newton, Alabama, Hank Williams, Jr. (and, to an even greater extent, Hank Williams III), Gary Allan, Shania Twain, Brooks & Dunn, Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Dolly Parton, Rosanne Cash and Linda Ronstadt moved country further towards rock influence.
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.
Following his Rodney Crowell/John Leventhal-produced Planet of Love – which yielded cuts for George Strait, Lee Ann Womack, Patty Loveless, Mandy Barnett and George Jones, the North Carolina-born Lauderdale seemed more in control of his progressive California-forged traditional country. With songs that were existential (“When The Devil Starts Crying,” “Three Way Conversation” “Run Like You”), Lauderdale—like Gram Parsons before him—created a Cosmic American hybrid that blurred bluegrass, Haggard, Jones, Lefty Frizzell and Ray Price with ethereal metaphors for a new kind of classicism. Producer Dusty Wakeman drew on Lauderdale’s scrappy Palomino Club band—Buddy Miller on guitars and vocals, Dr John Ciambotti on bass, Donald Lindley on drums, Greg Leisz on dobro, electric and steel guitar, Gurf Morlix on 6-string bass, mandolin, electric/acoustic/12-string/steel guitars, Skip Edwards on organ and Tammy Rodgers on mandolin and vocals—to return Truth to the lean sound Lauderdale’d developed playing South California’s post-cowpunk outposts. That the band members would become Americana forces in their own right speaks to the scene around the man who coined the phrase, “Now that’s Americana!”—Holly Gleason
That said, it's up to you to determine what are the best country rock bands. If you know country rock and notice that someone is missing from this list of country rock bands, feel free to add them. This list answers the questions "who are the best country rock bands of all time?" and "who is the greatest country rock musician ever?" If you know enough about the genre, please vote based on the quality of the band's music instead of just voting for the most popular country rock bands that you might've heard of.
While some might argue that Twitty didn’t change the rules of the format like a Haggard or Jones, his influence on the format can’t be understated. From 1968 until his passing in 1993, Twitty charted hit after hit. His 40 No. 1 hits on the Billboard charts was a record that held firm for years until George Strait broke it. From “Hello Darlin” to “Don’t Take It Away,” and all the way through to “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind,” Twitty was the perfect example of the word evolution.
For decades, CBC’s TV, radio, and online programming, along with other initiatives such as the CBCMusic.ca Festival and Searchlight competition, have provided a platform for Canadian artists to reach a larger audience. It’s often the first, and sometimes only, outlet that will play their music and conduct interviews for a national audience. It’s a vital part of the music ecosystem in this country.
With a name like The Tragically Hip, the bluesy-Canadian rock outfit sealed their fate by being cool to Canadian audiences but never cracking the US and world markets. They’ve been called “Canada’s R.E.M” (only by Americans, we suspect) for their clever lyricism and their roots-rock meets alt-country sound. With a staggering amount of hit songs and albums under their belt from the past 30 years, they are part of Canada’s cultural identity, so much so that when beloved frontmen Gord Downie performed his last concert with the band in 2016, 11.7 million Canadians tuned in to watch.
Over the past few decades, alternative country music has served as a more exciting option for fans of country music who aren't excited about what the mainstream has to offer. Alt country bands fuse together genres outside of traditional music to create a more diverse sound that retains its country roots, but at the same time, isn't exactly like what's going on. These bands have managed win over fans of other brands of alternative music because of their originality and the accessibility to their sound.
Breaking through in the traditional era of the 1960s, Lynn was anything but conventional. She wrote and performed songs that were very much different from the other women of the time. Hits like “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin” and “The Pill” spoke to a generation that was going through the same exact thing. Her success with a more feisty approach led to her becoming the first female winner of the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award -– as well as the cover of Newsweek -- and her influence can still be heard today from such artists as Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves.
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.
If Johnny Cash covered one of your songs on his final albums, it automatically meant it embodied some sort of country spirit however musically disguised. Cash, of course, interpreted the title track from this 1999 record the following year on American III: Solitary Man. I See a Darkness is dark, yes. It is gothic without being goth. Yet, its confessional cries and distant, discordant layering (especially on tracks like “Nomadic Revery (All Around)”) are also subversive in a way that honors the subgenre.—Hilary Saunders
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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.
Don Messer's Jubilee was a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based country/folk variety television show that was broadcast nationally from 1957 to 1969. In Canada it out-performed The Ed Sullivan Show broadcast from the United States and became the top-rated television show throughout much of the 1960s. Don Messer's Jubilee followed a consistent format throughout its years, beginning with a tune named "Goin' to the Barndance Tonight", followed by fiddle tunes by Messer, songs from some of his "Islanders" including singers Marg Osburne and Charlie Chamberlain, the featured guest performance, and a closing hymn. It ended with "Till We Meet Again".