Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In Defense of Country Music

It recently came to my attention in the comments section of another site that country music is pretty unpopular among many of my peers, friends and associates. It's an unfortunate trend, bred mostly out of ignorance. I don't say ignorance to be insulting, mind you, but instead use the word in its true sense - people are simply ignorant of what good country music sounds like. The fact is, when the average person thinks of country music, they think of Big and Rich, Billy Ray Cyrus, or (God forbid) Toby Keith. Big, dumb pop stars with little or no respect for the genre's roots other than the occasional fiddle and a southern accent.

The truth is, country music is so much more. As it's grown and evolved over time, country music has been a vehicle for protest and change, not the rabid, propagandist "America, Fuck YEAH!" bullshit that they have bastardized it into. Country music, in all its forms, can be in equal parts beautiful, funny, dark, subversive, clever, scary, sad, romantic and tearful. More importantly, it, like most types of music, is more than just one type of sound. It's changed over time, drawing influence from bluegrass, blues, rock, metal, pop, you name it. It's impossible to nail down country anymore, and that's why I get so irate when people slam it wholesale.

So. A challenge was issued (well, I kind of volunteered for it) - create a list of good country music, that those who denied its appeal would enjoy. And since I a) love a challenge, b) love music in general and c) love lists, I picked up the gauntlet and ran with it.

Only one small problem: I realized, after looking at the thousands of songs in my collection, that I own a fuckload of country/alt-country/country rock/ etc. music. Because make no mistake: the purpose of this exercise is not to create a list of country songs. That's boring, not to mention that inevitably some jerkoff is going to come along and say that they're not the "best" songs, only my "favorite" songs. No, instead the purpose is to demonstrate the reach and influence of country music, and to show that it has something for everyone. Now the dilemma: what to leave off the list? Because the original list was literally over 100 songs.

In the end, I decided, sadly, to leave out the classics. Hank Williams, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings - I figured people (hopefully) knew those reasonably well. Besides, like I said, the point is to see what the genre is capable of, not where it came from. The more roots-oriented stuff can be part of another list - a list, to be honest, that others are probably more qualified than me to generate (it should be noted that probably 50% of this would never be in my library were it not for my friend Ervie, a true country junkie).

So, here's the list. It's still long as hell - 50+ songs at last count. But I guess that's the point - there's that much out there. More importantly, there's something for everyone. Like Punk rock? Try Tenderloin. More into the hardcore stuff? Mule. How about Metal? Maylene and the Sons of Disaster. OK, like the female sound? Alison Krauss, Beth Orton (a former Chemical Brothers collaborator), Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, even the Dixie Chicks. Dig Alt-Country? There's Uncle Tupelo, not to mention it's offshoots - Son Volt & Wilco, as well as Whiskeytown, The Patrons and dozens of others. Hell, even techno is represented with A3 and Andrew Bird. There's literally something for everyone.

Please to enjoy, and thanks for indulging me. And Bethy, should you read this - consider your challenge answered.

Artist Song Title Album
Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins Run Devil Run Rabbit Fur Coat
Defiance, Ohio The Temperature is Dropping The Great Depression
The Legendary Shack Shakers Thin The Herd Pandelirium
The Pine Hill Haints When You Fall Ghost Dance
Old Crow Medicine Show Tear It Down O.C.M.S.
This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb Better Off Dead Three Way Tie For a Fifth
The Gourds Ringing Dark & True Dem's Good Beeble
The Little Willies I Gotta Get Drunk The Little Willies
Gram Parsons How Much I've Lied G.P. / Grievous Angel
The Reverend Horton Heat Five-O-Ford Liquor in the Front
Calexico Yours And Mine Garden Ruin
Blaze Foley Election Day Live at The Austin Outhouse
Maylene & The Sons Of Disaster Plenty Strong And Plenty Wrong II
Tenderloin Hearty Beef Party Bullseye
Blacktop Tornado Love I Got a Baaad Feelin' About This
Lazy Cowgirls Another Long Goodbye Ragged Soul
Andrew Bird Fake Palindromes Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs
Pedal Steel Transmission Maritime Glare The Angel of the Squared Circle
Norah Jones Lonestar Come Away With Me
The Bottle Rockets Get Down Hell-Bent: Insurgent Country Vol. 2
Old 97's Time Bomb Hit By a Train - The Best of Old 97's
Hillbilly Hellcats Train To Nowhere Our Brand
The Black Keys Strange Times Attack and Release
P.W. Long's Reelfoot Aw Bruiser We Didn't See You On Sunday
Gillian Welch Dear Someone Time (The Revelator)
Lucinda Williams Drunken Angel Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
The Patrons Didn't Love You Anyway All That Is Tied
Uncle Tupelo Life Worth Livin' No Depression
Alison Kraus and Union Station Find My Way Back To My Heart So Long So Wrong
William Elliott Whitmore Life My Jug (Song For Hub Cale) Ashes To Dust
Indigo Girls Three County Highway Despite Our Differences
Gob Iron Death's Black Train Death Songs For The Living
Bare Jr. Tobacco Spit Boo-Tay
Blanche The World I Used To Be Afraid Of Little Amber Bottles
Rocket From The Crypt Ball Lightning Scream, Dracula, Scream!
Lucero What Else Would You Have Me Be Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers
Dixie Chicks Lubbock or Leave it Taking the Long Way
Whiskeytown Sit & Listen to the Rain Pneumonia
Noahjohn More Like Jesus Tadpoles
Ryan Adams The Sun Also Sets Easy Tiger
Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter The Air is Thin Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul
Railroad Jerk Natalie Third Rail
Son Volt Tear Stained Eye Trace
Uncle Tupelo Moonshiner March 16-20, 1992
Jay Farrar Cahokian Terroir Blues
Drive-By Truckers Hell No, I Ain't Happy Decoration Day
Beth Orton She Cries Your Name Trailer Park
Mule Lucky Mule
A3 Speed of the Sound of Loneliness Exile on Coldharbour Lane
Sun Kil Moon Carry Me Ohio Ghosts of the Great Highway
Jackie-O Motherfucker
Beautiful September (We Are Going There)
That's Not The Issue
Fig. 5

Yeah, I know. I have too much spare time. This is what happens when Mrs. TK works overnights.

Now playing: Willie Nelson - Whiskey River
via FoxyTunes


Anonymous said...

I have quietly been reading this blog for months now, and I am delurking to say is: preach the GOSPEL, brother!

You might like Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers. I'm not sure if their new album is available on Amazon yet.

Felicia said...

I hate the mainstream country music you name in this post too. I own a lot of the albums you list here, but I guess I wouldn't categorize most of them as country. So I guess country is a subjective term, interpreted different ways by different people.

You also might like Brandi Carlile, if you don't already. One of my top favorite artists who some would label country.

TK said...

Ah, the best part! Recommendations! Feel free to drop an and all, folks. And felicia, I acquired "The Story" a few months back and quite like it.

David said...

Bad. Ass.

I'm a fan of a bunch of your choices, and I'm beyond excited to get down with the rest. Thanks for showing what's up.

david said...

If you're looking for recommendations, Old South's version of "Old Home Place" is just classic bluegrass.

Also, Alison Krauss, Tony Rice, David Grisman, Mark Schatz, J.D. Crowe's song E.M.D. (Eat My Dust). Fantastic instrumental.


Shadows of Dakaron said...

Damn you and your lists! And making me put my money where my mouth is. I'm going to check out most of this music, and get back to you. We'll see what's what then!

Nicole said...

But...but...where is Wilco?

I'm going to let Sky Blue Sky play me to sleep.

TK said...

Oops - sorry Nicole. I got wrapped up in winnowing down the Wilco songs and then ended up leaving them off altogether. Fixed.

David - and thus, new lists are born.

Shadows - trust me.

Girl With Curious Hair said...

I always say I hate country music. Unless it's Emmylou Harris. Or some Loretta Lynn. And Johnny Cash. But especially Emmylou Harris. I think I'm kind of recommending her.

A Bowl Of Stupid said...

Great call, kid.

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Altho I also think that by choosing to categorize this stuff as 'country' (or the other kind - 'western'), I think we limit ourselves in the EXACT manner you describe. There's got to be a better way to describe music than simply saying rock, country, jazz, etc.

That being said, I would also add to this list, in no particular order:

Patty Griffin
Ani DiFranco
Bela Fleck (with/without The Flecktones)
Cat Power
Neko Case
Chris Isaak
Ben Taylor
Ben Weaver
Bob Dylan
Molly Hatchett
Tom PETTY, for Christ's sake ...
The Allman Brothers,
etc., etc.

Bethy said...

you have risen admirable to the challenge TK, bravo

now I have to see if I have any of these songs in my iTunes....I aquired a ton of mp3s from a friend last year of college and he is a country fan, so I just might

and I will say that I own both of Brandi Carlile's albums, have seen her on concert and absolutely adore her

off to create a new playlist!
Thanks TK!
I will let you know how I like 'em

Bethy said...

that was supposed to be admirably, btw

this is what happens when I comment on blogs at quarter of 9 in the morning pre-tea

MelodyLane said...

Hank Williams Jr. or Sr.?

Seriously, nice list. I grew up with the country and have a fond appreciation for it.

I agree with Stupid that Petty is an omission. As for Ms. Krauss, my favorite is one of her older songs, When You Say Nothing At All. That is actually a cover of an old Keith Whitley song, who was an 80's country singer.

Nice list. The good, old country stuff should be mandatory listing for everyone when they are old enough to appreciate it.

MelodyLane said...

When I saw both Waylon and Johnny, it made me go listen to "The Highwayman", the song with both of them, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie.

I meant to add that to the above post.

Nicole said...

Ah, Wilco. Thanks, TK. I'm currently rocking out to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and have A.M. in my car CD player.

Great list, overall. I feel a new mix CD coming on (I resist the iPod).

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with a bowl of stupid on Patty Griffin, early Neko Case, and for another suggestion early Over the Rhine. I tend to enjoy the more singer/songwriter country.

And delurking from Pajiba just for you.

Liz said...

Wow. Awesome. How about North Mississippi All-stars?

country roads said...

Your awesomeness points just skyrocketed.

After reading the comments, old Hank Jr. is ok, but the new is too kitschy (sp?). Hank III, however...has the voice of his granddad and is a badass.

Pax said...

Hoo wee! Boy, you said it! Now all you need to do is convince people that dance floors are fer dancin'!

I gotta stump for my fellas, The Derailers. Sweet Basil McJagger, you're my hero of the piano. Some claim Jackpot as their best effort, but I prefer Reverb Delux. If you get the right version, you'll be in for a treat with their cover of Prince's Raspberry Beret. A great Bakersfield send up.

As well, Dale Watson is the King of the Austin honky tonk. Find him at Ginny's Little Long Horn, either on his residency show or standing behind the bar, serving himself Lone Stars.

Julie said...

Oh man, Rabbit Fur Coat is one of my favorite albums ever. Nice list TK, I'll have to try some of these out.

I don't know if he's considered country at all, but Grant Lee Phillips' song "Lone Star Song" sounds countryish (I really don't know what constitutes genuine country) and is incredibly gorgeous.

TK said...

You guys are the balls.

Curious - Emmylou Harris is always welcome.

Stupid - see, I knew you weren't actually stupid.

Bethy - thank you and you're welcome.

Melodylane - Highwayman. Check. I'm on it.

Nicole - ipods are good for the soul. SO MANY CHOICES!

Mia - excellent!

Liz - Check. On that too.

CR - well, you know how i crave awesomeness points.

Pax - Ladies and gentlmen, my buddy Pax! Give him a round of applause. Also, he's crazy.

Goolee - That's the whole point - country isn't just one thing.

litelysalted said...

I don't know a ton about alt-country, (although I am fond of a few on this list) but I am pretty much down with any project involving Joe Pernice. (Pernice Bros, Scud Mountain Boys, etc.) And I don't know what genre they fall under, but I just started getting into The Magic Numbers and I dig them, too.

Kerstin said...

Someone beat me to the Allman Brothers. And boy howdy do I love me some Patsy Cline, Alabama, and without a doubt Ray Charles singing "Woman Sensuous Woman".

kelsi said...

1) Phil Lee
2) Johnny Paycheck

but really, mostly phil lee. for serious.
also. where do you stand on trucking music v. country music?

AuntieMurray said...

Oh, TK, you rule. Mainstream country "music"... zzzzzzzzz.

And now for something really old: Lefty Frizzell "Mom and Dad's Waltz"
Bob Wills "Take Me Back to Tulsa"

And for the new:
Hayes Carll "Don't Let Me Fall"
Ryan Bingham "Boracho Station"

Pax said...

Anybody out there got their ears on?

Truckin' music is terrific. Call it a sub-genre, but it's definitely country.

In fact, rumour has it that Dale Watson is a licensed over-the-road trucker and has a great record called The Truckin' Sessions. Also, check out Junior Brown's homage to the trucker called Semi-Crazy. Both are a gear jammin' good time. And let's not forget Jerry "Guitar Man" Reed with his East Bound and Down from Smokey and the Bandit.

It's also worth remembering that rock and roll sucked at the teat of country music and trucking music gave way easily to hot rod music, way before the Beach Boys. One of my old time favorites is Cash's One Piece at a Time, and Hot Rod Lincoln is just a great rock and roll song. And for straight ahead hot rod music, check out a little outfit called The Mezcal Brothers out of Lincoln, NE. They are putting it out proper.

Also, just for good contemporary traditional country, Big Sandy and his Flyright Boys have been comin' correct for years now. If you don't know 'em, get hip like now man.

TK, I'll be burning up the chatter box on this over many beers this afternoon... Come on, come on!

MelodyLane said...

Have you ever listened to Robert Earl Keen?

Just thought that I would throw that one out there.

Missy said...

Seriously, much as I love you, I hate you right now for listing something when I am out of cash and can't download the songs I'm missing. Curses.... well, hell, I guess I COULD get the intern to limewire a bunch of them for me or however the kids are stealing music these days, but then again, when something is good and not popular, I'm kind of a snob about, oh, supporting the artist and PAYING and curse my lack of patience in waiting until pay day.


thejodester said...

I'd add Lyle Lovett to the list as well. I recently saw him in concert -- an acoustic two-man show with John Hiatt where they took turns playing songs and provided lots of witty banter between them -- and gained a whole new appreciation for the man and his music.

Anonymous said...

The Avett Brothers! Best thing country/bluegrass/American has going for it right now, hands down.

megbon said...

How about a little Steve Earl? Someone above mentioned Lyle Lovett, but his album "Step Into This House" is awesome - he covers all these amazing Texas singer/songwriters that no one has ever heard of.

Leah said...

Oh, big happy alt-country loving sigh. The biggest thrill of being a short-time nanny is passing on my love of country music to little people too sweet to be totally corrupted by pop.

I'd throw in some Eddie From Ohio (out of Virginia) into the mix, too. A little Sawyer Brown, some Grayson Capps, and a heaping spoonful of Mary Chip Carpenter and I'm set.

Anonymous said...

I came on over from Pajiba and as a long time lurker, this is exactly the kind of the topic that makes me want to comment. Execellent list but I would add one more: Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans. I live in the Texas of Canada and always thought I hated country until I got into Corb Lund. He started in a punk band that was huge in Canada and crossed over. You owe it to yourself to check him out. Five Dollar Bill is an easy album to get into.

Mary Ellen said...

Don't forget Asleep at the Wheel, or Nanci Griffith or Southern Culture on the Skids. 'Cause you got most of the rest of my country favorites, and I'd hate to see a few left out.

Andrea said...

great list!

neko case, whiskeytown, dbt, hank williams III, elvis costello... all my country faves!

Transparent World Partnership said...

Thank you! Finally a beacon of hope in a 'Oh, I like *all* music. Except country.' world.

My recommendations for you:

The Wailin' Jennys (I know, bad name. But they're beautiful). Check out 'Swallow' which is the purtyest country waltz I've heard in a while, and 'Starlight' off the Firecracker album.

Also, the (sadly now defunct) Sixteen Horsepower. I don't know how to describe them, except that they're dark and folker than folk and gospel and maybe a touch of punk.......Any o' ya'll don't know them, I recommend the following songs to start:

Scrawled in Sap (off Sackcloth 'n' Ashes)
Fire Spirit (off Hoarse)
Strawfoot (off Secret South)

Also, two 16 HP players went on to Woven Hand, which is also great.

The Ditty Bops are good country swing. I'm partial to Ooh La La off the self-titled album.

Anonymous said...

Great post, I just want to take some credit for introducing you to Blaze Foley.

YoungLuke said...

I would also recommend Micah p. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress for some dark and beautifully produced country music.

Gabs said...

Lubbock or Leave It is absolutely one of my favorite songs from an all around fantastic album. I'll save the list and check out some of those others, as you obviously have good taste.

Lee said...

This almost never happens, but I have a recommendation which hasn't been mentioned: Jim Roll. He's an Ann Arbor, MI musician, who hasn't put out an album in several years. "Inhabiting the Ball" (with lyrics by Rick Moody and Denis Johnson) and "Lunette" are both excellent. His first, "Ready to Hang" is also good.

Anonymous said...

Ohmahgod, you've done it now. I happen to live in like, the alt-country capital of the world! (That could be an exaggeration.)

So, how 'bout checking out my boys The Two Dollar Pistols, and then hit up Bonnie 'Prince" Billy's new album, Lie Down in the Light. Some of the most gorgeous country music I have heard in a while, my friend.

And another shout out to some awesome alt-count: Iron and Wine.

Madeleine Peyroux. Fantastic country/jazz with a hint of French.


And you should definitely do a follow up list to this from the recommendations that you enjoyed! This is great.

Anonymous said...

Also, my neighbor is gonna be in Boston this Friday at Church. His band is Brian McGee and the Hollow Speed, and they are worth the ticket price. :)

Carrie said...

I have to second the suggestion upthread for The Avett Brothers, they're fantastic. Another great one is Justin Townes Earle (Steve Earle's son). His album "The Good Life" is a lot of fun.

isabelle said...

Oh TK, I am so happy you named the Pine Hill Haints! And may I suggest Jim White? Check out "Searchin For The Wrong Eyed Jesus" It's a cool little documentary about him and a few other deep, deep South musicians. And David Johanssen is in it, also, strangely.
And why no love for Hank III?

Carine said...

He could be more readily described as folk or blues, but I think Ray LaMontagne might qualify for inclusion here. The Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album Raising Sand is pretty incredible also.

Anonymous said...

Dude, if you like Tupe, you must listen to the Whipsaws

me said...

I HATE country music...or thought I did (do the Allman Brothers or Charlie Daniels band count?) But after reading your post, I am guilty on all charges. Now I am off to find some music - thanks TK (title of post proves you were just not born in New England, not that it makes you a bad person per say...)

Vanessa said...

My friend, if you're not a fanof Paul Thorn at this point, you must check him out...

Jez said...

All good stuff. Some of it I don't know. My favorites are here, though. Some stuff that you might have heard that I would add: Slobberbone, Go to Blazes (especially "Waiting Around for the Crash"), The Buckets, and early Joe Henry (like "Kindness of the World"). Let us not forget the Jayhawks or the Gear Daddies, either.

d said...

i know i'm really late to this party, but as an avid fan of alt country/bluegrass i had to throw in a comment.

neko case. if anyone can listen to her sing and not feel a hole in their soul fill up, then they are truly dead inside.

also, and i know other people put these on their lists but i have to mention them again, avett brothers, hot club cowtown, shearwater, centro-matic and carolina chocolate drops (who're bluegrass really, not alt country, but you'd probably like.).

thanks for shouting out about country. it's an often neglected genre of really great music.

Mike Valentino said...

thank you