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
As one of the 20th century’s most celebrated and influential artists, Joni Mitchell is the very face of folk music and yet equally at ease in the worlds of rock, pop, jazz and blues. A fixture of the 6os folk scenes in Greenwich Village and Laurel Canyon, Mitchell first got her start during university in Calgary before busking in the streets of Toronto. With ‘Woodstock’ she created the anthem for an entire generation, even though it was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young that made it famous. Truly one of the most gifted songwriters in music, the enduring popularity of her albums Blue, Court and Spark, defy trends and convention and her music has been sampled from everyone from Janet Jackson to Prince.
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, particularly Texas, together with the blues of the American South. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys personified this music which has been described as "a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, a little bit of black and a little bit of white ... just loud enough to keep you from thinking too much and to go right on ordering the whiskey." East Texan Al Dexter had a hit with "Honky Tonk Blues", and seven years later "Pistol Packin' Mama". These "honky tonk" songs associated barrooms, were performed by the likes of Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells (the first major female country solo singer), Ted Daffan, Floyd Tillman, and the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams, would later be called "traditional" country. Williams' influence in particular would prove to be enormous, inspiring many of the pioneers of rock and roll, such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as Chuck Berry and Ike Turner, while providing a framework for emerging honky tonk talents like George Jones. Webb Pierce was the top-charting country artist of the 1950s, with 13 of his singles spending 113 weeks at number one. He charted 48 singles during the decade; 31 reached the top ten and 26 reached the top four.
Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nationwide hit in May 1924 with "Wreck of the Old 97". The flip side of the record was "Lonesome Road Blues", which also became very popular. In April 1924, "Aunt" Samantha Bumgarner and Eva Davis became the first female musicians to record and release country songs. Many "hillbilly" musicians, such as Cliff Carlisle, recorded blues songs throughout the decade and into the 1930s. Other important early recording artists were Riley Puckett, Don Richardson, Fiddlin' John Carson, Uncle Dave Macon, Al Hopkins, Ernest V. Stoneman, Blind Alfred Reed, Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers and The Skillet Lickers. The steel guitar entered country music as early as 1922, when Jimmie Tarlton met famed Hawaiian guitarist Frank Ferera on the West Coast.
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.
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." 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.
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."
One of the most versatile artists on this list, McGraw's career stretches from '90s dance numbers like "Indian Outlaw" to tear-jerking ballads like "Don't Take The Girl" and the powerful "Live Like You Were Dying." He isn't afraid to expand his boundaries, either, with collaborations with such artists as hip-hop star Nelly. McGraw has also made a name for himself as an actor in Hollywood, delivering fine performances in movies such as Friday Night Lights and Oscar-winning The Blind Side, going far and beyond simply playing a singer on screen like many of his peers.
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. Many of the artists during the latter half of the 1980s drew on traditional honky-tonk, bluegrass, folk and western swing. Artists who typified this sound included Travis Tritt, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Keith Whitley, Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, and The Judds. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVVwOl9eZdA