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.
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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
By the early 1950s a blend of Western swing, country boogie, and honky tonk was played by most country bands. Western music, influenced by the cowboy ballads and Tejano music rhythms of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, reached its peak in popularity in the late 1950s, most notably with the song "El Paso", first recorded by Marty Robbins in September 1959. In 1953, the first all-country radio station was established in Lubbock, Texas.[52] The country music scene largely kept the music of the folk revival and folk rock at a distance, despite the similarity in instrumentation and origins (see, for instance, The Byrds' negative reception during their appearance on the Grand Ole Opry). The main concern was politics: the folk revival was largely driven by progressive activists, a stark contrast to the culturally conservative audiences of country music. Only a handful of folk artists, such as Burl Ives, John Denver and Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot, would cross over into country music after the folk revival died out. During the mid-1950s a new style of country music became popular, eventually to be referred to as rockabilly.[53]

Australian country music has a long tradition. Influenced by American country music, it has developed a distinct style, shaped by British and Irish folk ballads and Australian bush balladeers like Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. Country instruments, including the guitar, banjo, fiddle and harmonica, create the distinctive sound of country music in Australia and accompany songs with strong storyline and memorable chorus.

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History's Greatest Country Duos The Best Men in Country Music in 2019 2019's Best Female Country Singers The Best Country Artists of 2019 The Best Country Albums of 2019 The Very Best Country Pop Singers & Bands The Greatest Female Country Singers of All Time Great Upbeat Country Songs The Top Men in Country History The Best Classic Country Songs The Best Country Songs by Women The Top Country Artists of All Time The Best New Country Artists Country Songs about Growing Up The Greatest Country Songs of the 1980s The Very Best Country Songs of the 2000s Top Country Songs of the 1970s Country Songs About Missing Someone Fast Songs The Greatest Country Songs of the 1990s

For a relatively small country (roughly 36 million), Canada continues to punch above its weight when it comes to musical contribution. The sheer volume of notable acts that were left off the list is impressive enough. From bonafide legends (Neil Young and Joni Mitchell) to 80s hit machines (Bryan Adams and Corey Hart) to 00’s chart toppers (The Weeknd and Grimes) Canada boasts some serious homegrown talent that they’re nice enough to share with the rest of the world. To celebrate Canada Day, we’ve assembled a list of the country’s greatest musicians that cross all genres, eras and provinces (excluding the many talented French-Canadian artists and Glenn Gould, Lenny Breau, and Oscar Petersen (they’re above lists).

Funding for Country Music was provided by Bank of America, the Annenberg Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Belmont University, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Rosalind P. Walter and by members of ‘The Better Angels Society,’ including: The Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Schwartz/Reisman Foundation, the Pfeil Foundation, Diane and Hal Brierley, John and Catherine Debs, the Fullerton Family Charitable Fund, the Perry and Donna Golkin Family Foundation, Jay Alix and Una Jackman, Mercedes T. Bass, Fred and Donna Seigel, Gilchrist and Amy Berg, James R. Berdell Foundation, David Bonderman, Deborah P. and Jonathan T. Dawson, Senator Bill and Tracy Frist, Susan and David Kreisman, Rocco and Debby Landesman, Lillian Lovelace, John and Leslie McQuown, Mindy's Hope Foundation, the Segal Family Foundation, Michelle Smith. Major funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.
Even though her hit album 1989 has taken her on a pop path, you simply can’t argue the impact of the singer on the country format. The moment the industry heard her debut single “Tim McGraw,” it was apparent that she was onto something. Swift also displays a strong awareness of who she is as a songwriter –- knowing also who her audience is. She is as much of a juggernaut as Garth Brooks in terms of her success – and how she treats people in the industry. 
By the end of the 1970s, punk and new wave pushed country rock out of the pop charts and the media limelight. The 1980s saw a resurgence of the genre, more geared to rockabilly force than folk and country balladry. Christened “roots rock,” it yielded underground champions like Nashville’s Jason and the Scorchers, ultimately manifesting itself in the mainstream work of Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and others. Also by the end of that decade, country music in Nashville had begun to adapt some of the riskier guitar tones and rhythms for its less traditional artists. Elsewhere a new wave of young country rockers, notably Son Volt and Wilco, lumped together under the banner “alternative country” in the 1990s, tried to resurrect the less glitzy side of the movement. But country rock in the most popular sense became a period style, left to evoke the 1970s, a time when artists dressed up deep aesthetic and personal concerns in music that only sounded soft.

Often compared to fellow Canadians, The Band, Blue Rodeo are a Canadian country-rock institution. Since forming in 1984, the Toronto-based quintet were a huge hit in Canada in the 90s thanks to their dynamic mix of American pop, country and blues and two-part harmonies reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. With a solid roots-rock sound and two-part harmonies, their 1990 album, Casino, did achieve some stateside success due in part to their hit single, ‘Til I Am Myself Again’. Since then, they’ve become one of Canada’s renowned legacy acts that tour worldwide.
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.
Country influences can be heard on rock records through the 1960s, including the Beatles' 1964 recordings "I'll Cry Instead", "Baby's in Black" and "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party", the Byrds' 1965 cover version of Porter Wagoner's "Satisfied Mind", on the Rolling Stones "High and Dry" (1966), as well as Buffalo Springfield's "Go and Say Goodbye" (1966) and "Kind Woman" (1968).[1] According to The Encyclopedia of Country Music, the Beatles' "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party", their cover of the Buck Owens country hit "Act Naturally" and their 1965 album Rubber Soul can all be seen "with hindsight" as examples of country rock.[5] In 1966, as many rock artists moved increasingly towards expansive and experimental psychedelia, Bob Dylan spearheaded the back-to-basics roots revival when he went to Nashville to record the album Blonde on Blonde, using notable local musicians like Charlie McCoy.[6] This, and the subsequent more clearly country-influenced albums, John Wesley Harding (1967) and Nashville Skyline (1969), have been seen as creating the genre of country folk, a route pursued by a number of, largely acoustic, folk musicians.[6]
If Cold Roses, his double-disc gatefold set, was Adams’ Exile on Main St., Jacksonville City Nights finds the singer back in his tear-stained Gram Parsons duds. As always, Adams does a smashing job recreating Parsons’ heartrending lyrical and tonal nuances—the strained crack in the voice, the sobbing plea, the sweet, melancholic sigh. He doesn’t so much return to his Whiskeytown roots here as he canters straight past them into sad-eyed, Bakersfield barroom shuffles. Add a touch of post-acid-test Grateful Dead acousticism plus Adams’ breathtaking lyrics and you got a modern C&W classic.—Paste Staff

From the opening song, which finds Steve doing his best Dylan impersonation in calling for the spirits of Woody Guthrie and Jesus to return and scour the land free of crooked politicians, to the last song, “Fort Worth Blues,” which finds Steve spinning a heartbreaking tale of wanderlust and an unnameable malaise, El Corazon shot like a bullet to my heart. Earle slides effortlessly between folk, Neil Young-like guitar anthems, country weepers, bluegrass workouts and bone-crunching rock ‘n’ roll. And throughout he writes brilliantly, offering up story songs with remarkable economy, using not a single wasted word.—Andy Whitman

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.
Shania Twain became the best selling female country artist of the decade. This was primarily due to the success of her breakthrough sophomore 1995 album, The Woman in Me, which was certified 12x platinum sold over 20 million copies worldwide and its follow up, 1997's Come On Over, which was certified 20x platinum and sold over 40 million copies. The album became a major worldwide phenomenon and became one of the world's best selling albums of 1998, 1999 and 2000; it also went on to become the best selling country album of all time. Unlike the majority of her contemporaries, Twain enjoyed large international success that had been seen by very few country artists, before or after her. Critics have noted that Twain enjoyed much of her success due to breaking free of traditional country stereotypes and for incorporating elements of rock and pop into her music. In 2002, she released her successful fourth studio album, titled Up!, which was certified 11x platinum and sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Twain has been credited with breaking international boundaries for country music, as well as inspiring many country artists to incorporate different genres into their music in order to attract a wider audience. She is also credited with changing the way in which many female country performers would market themselves, as unlike many before her she used fashion and her sex appeal to get rid of the stereotypical 'honky-tonk' image the majority of country singers had in order to distinguish herself from many female country artists of the time.
The earliest written record of violins in Canada comes from the Jesuit Relation of 1645.[17] The Jesuits additionally have the first documented organ sale, imported for their Québec chapel in 1657.[1][17] Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral, built in 1647, is the primatial church of Canada and seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Quebec. It is the oldest Catholic "Episcopal see" in the New World north of Mexico and site of the first documented choir in Canada.[18]

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.


By the early 1950s a blend of Western swing, country boogie, and honky tonk was played by most country bands. Western music, influenced by the cowboy ballads and Tejano music rhythms of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, reached its peak in popularity in the late 1950s, most notably with the song "El Paso", first recorded by Marty Robbins in September 1959. In 1953, the first all-country radio station was established in Lubbock, Texas.[52] The country music scene largely kept the music of the folk revival and folk rock at a distance, despite the similarity in instrumentation and origins (see, for instance, The Byrds' negative reception during their appearance on the Grand Ole Opry). The main concern was politics: the folk revival was largely driven by progressive activists, a stark contrast to the culturally conservative audiences of country music. Only a handful of folk artists, such as Burl Ives, John Denver and Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot, would cross over into country music after the folk revival died out. During the mid-1950s a new style of country music became popular, eventually to be referred to as rockabilly.[53]
In the fall of 1985, The New York Times proclaimed traditional country music as “dead.” Just a few months later, this North Carolina native burst upon the scene that owed as much to Lefty and Hank as it did anyone currently on the radio. His Always and Forever album stayed at the top of the Billboard Country Albums chart for an astonishing 43 weeks -– and hit the top 20 on the Billboard 200 long before Soundscan -– unheard of for a traditional-based artist. Randy Travis rewrote the rules for the format – with a pen of classic-inspired ink.
Hailed by Rolling Stone as “the most important record producer to emerge in the 80s”, Lanois is one of Canada’s distinguished producers-composers and has worked with the likes of Brian Eno (Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks), Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Emmyous Harris and is the man behind U2’s Joshua Tree and The Unforgettable Fire. In his famous studio in Hamilton, Ontario, he produced records for Canadian artists such as Martha and the Muffins and Ian and Sylvia. As a solo artist, the multi-instrumentalist and singer released a string of albums that featured his wonderfully atmospheric textures and poetic songwriting.
Derived from the traditional Western and honky tonk musical styles of the late 1950s and 1960s, including Ray Price (whose band, the "Cherokee Cowboys", included Willie Nelson and Roger Miller) and mixed with the anger of an alienated subculture of the nation during the period, outlaw country revolutionized the genre of country music. "After I left Nashville (the early 70s), I wanted to relax and play the music that I wanted to play, and just stay around Texas, maybe Oklahoma. Waylon and I had that outlaw image going, and when it caught on at colleges and we started selling records, we were O.K. The whole outlaw thing, it had nothing to do with the music, it was something that got written in an article, and the young people said, 'Well, that's pretty cool.' And started listening." (Willie Nelson)[65] The term outlaw country is traditionally associated with Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker,[66] Hank Williams, Jr., Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Joe Ely,[67] Steve Young, David Allan Coe, John Prine, Billy Joe Shaver, Gary Stewart, Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Martin Murphey, Tompall Glaser, Steve Earle, and the later career renaissance of Johnny Cash, with a few female vocalists such as Jessi Colter, Sammi Smith, Tanya Tucker and Rosanne Cash. It was encapsulated in the 1976 album Wanted! The Outlaws.
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
The alt-country movement had plenty of pre-cursors in the folk-rock of Gram Parsons and the renegade country of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. But 1985 was really a watershed moment for the genre with Green on Red, Jason & The Scorchers and Mekons all exploring traditional country through the lens of punk rock. The ’90s kicked off with the first album from Uncle Tupelo, No Depression, which became synonymous with “alt-country” thanks to the magazine of the same name.
One of the most commercially successful country artists of the late 2000s and early 2010s has been singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. Swift first became widely known in 2006 when her debut single, "Tim McGraw," was released when Swift was only 16. In 2006, Taylor released her first studio album, Taylor Swift, which spent 275 weeks on Billboard 200, one of the longest runs of any album on that chart. In 2008, Taylor Swift released her second studio album, Fearless, which made her the second-longest Number One charted on Billboard 200 and the second best-selling album (just behind Adele's 21) within the past 5 years. At the 2010 Grammys, Taylor Swift was 20 and won Album of the Year for Fearless, which made her the youngest artist to win this award. Swift has received ten Grammys already. Buoyed by her teen idol status among girls and a change in the methodology of compiling the Billboard charts to favor pop-crossover songs, Swift's 2012 single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" spent the most weeks at the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart of any song in nearly five decades. The song's long run at the top of the chart was somewhat controversial, as the song is largely a pop song without much country influence and its success on the charts driven by a change to the chart's criteria to include airplay on non-country radio stations, prompting disputes over what constitutes a country song; many of Swift's later releases, such as "Shake It Off," were released solely to pop audiences.[101][102][103]
Distinctive music scenes have been an integral part of the cultural landscape of Canada. With Canada being vast in size, the country throughout its history has had regional music scenes, with a wide and diverse accumulation of styles and genres from many different individual communities, such as Inuit music, music of the Maritimes and Canadian fiddle music.[131]
By the end of the 1970s, punk and new wave pushed country rock out of the pop charts and the media limelight. The 1980s saw a resurgence of the genre, more geared to rockabilly force than folk and country balladry. Christened “roots rock,” it yielded underground champions like Nashville’s Jason and the Scorchers, ultimately manifesting itself in the mainstream work of Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and others. Also by the end of that decade, country music in Nashville had begun to adapt some of the riskier guitar tones and rhythms for its less traditional artists. Elsewhere a new wave of young country rockers, notably Son Volt and Wilco, lumped together under the banner “alternative country” in the 1990s, tried to resurrect the less glitzy side of the movement. But country rock in the most popular sense became a period style, left to evoke the 1970s, a time when artists dressed up deep aesthetic and personal concerns in music that only sounded soft.
The Tamworth Country Music Festival began in 1973 and now attracts up to 100,000 visitors annually. Held in Tamworth, New South Wales (country music capital of Australia), it celebrates the culture and heritage of Australian country music. During the festival the CMAA holds the Country Music Awards of Australia ceremony awarding the Golden Guitar trophies. Other significant country music festivals include the Whittlesea Country Music Festival (near Melbourne) and the Mildura Country Music Festival for "independent" performers during October, and the Canberra Country Music Festival held in the national capital during November.
Significantly, however, the style occurred not in a city alive with the values of contemporary art but in Los Angeles, which during the previous decades had attracted many rural Southerners. Moreover, country rock’s rise to prominence paralleled the rise of the big-budget Hollywood recording studio ethic, the desire to compete with London in the effort to make pop recordings of the most highly advanced sonic clarity and detail then imaginable. Country rock had begun by insisting that the sources—and not the means—of popular music were of signal importance. Yet in the end the movement succeeded by adopting the same exacting production techniques pioneered by the Beatles and their producer George Martin.
Singer/songwriter Bill Mallonee changed lineups to his Athens, Ga., outfit like some frontmen change hairstyles, and with the personnel moves came a variety of styles from alt-folk to indie rock and even Americanized Brit-pop. But one of the band’s best album’s was a straight-up alt-country gem. Audible Sigh benefitted from Kenny Hutson’s versatility on mandolin, guitar, pedal steel and dobro, production from Buddy Miller and backing vocals from Emmylou Harris on standout track “Resplendent.” It’s Mallonee’s vivid songwriting that elevates the album to “overlooked classic” status, though. Audible Sigh trades in Dustbowl imagery more than most of his catalog, but he can’t stay completely away from the personal demons he’s spent a career turning into confessional songs, like on “She Walks on Roses”: “They say that pride, well it’s the chief of sins/Well I know all of his deputies, I’m well acquainted with them.” Song titles like “Hard Luck and Heart Attack” and “Black Cloud O’er Me” fit well on the twangiest album of his impressive catalog.—Josh Jackson
If Cold Roses, his double-disc gatefold set, was Adams’ Exile on Main St., Jacksonville City Nights finds the singer back in his tear-stained Gram Parsons duds. As always, Adams does a smashing job recreating Parsons’ heartrending lyrical and tonal nuances—the strained crack in the voice, the sobbing plea, the sweet, melancholic sigh. He doesn’t so much return to his Whiskeytown roots here as he canters straight past them into sad-eyed, Bakersfield barroom shuffles. Add a touch of post-acid-test Grateful Dead acousticism plus Adams’ breathtaking lyrics and you got a modern C&W classic.—Paste Staff
In the early-mid-1990s, country western music was influenced by the popularity of line dancing. This influence was so great that Chet Atkins was quoted as saying, "The music has gotten pretty bad, I think. It's all that damn line dancing."[90] By the end of the decade, however, at least one line dance choreographer complained that good country line dance music was no longer being released. In contrast, artists such as Don Williams and George Jones who had more or less had consistent chart success through the 1970s and 1980s suddenly had their fortunes fall rapidly around 1991 when the new chart rules took effect.
Fourth generation (1970s–1980s) music included outlaw country with roots in the Bakersfield sound, and country pop with roots in the countrypolitan, folk music and soft rock. Between 1972 and 1975 singer/guitarist John Denver released a series of hugely successful songs blending country and folk-rock musical styles. During the early 1980s country artists continued to see their records perform well on the pop charts. In 1980 a style of "neocountry disco music" was popularized. During the mid-1980s a group of new artists began to emerge who rejected the more polished country-pop sound that had been prominent on radio and the charts in favor of more traditional "back-to-basics" production; this neotraditional movement would dominate country music through the late 1980s and was typified by the likes of George Strait. Attempts to combine punk and country were pioneered by Jason and the Scorchers, and in the 1980s Southern Californian cowpunk scene with bands like the Long Ryders and Mojo Nixon.
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