Howdy partners! Y’all ready to embark on a musical journey through the captivating world of country music? From alt-country to honky-tonk, outlaw to Americana, there’s a whole herd of unique subgenres that have emerged over the years. Each one puts its own gritty, folksy, or rebellious spin on the classic country style we know and love. So grab your cowboy boots and Stetson hat, and get ready to explore some new territory!
The Winding Road of Country Music Evolution
Country music has a richer history than a prospector striking gold. Its origins can be traced back centuries to folk songs, hymns, and ballads brought to America by immigrants. But things really picked up steam in the 1920s when artists like the Carter Family started making country records. The songs were rooted in the stories of common folks – tales of life’s hardships and heartaches with a side of hope.
As the decades rolled on, country music absorbed new influences as it evolved. Honky tonk became popular in the 40s and 50s, bringing an upbeat, electric sound about ramblin’ and drinkin’. The 60s and 70s saw the rise of slick Nashville country and the gritty, rebellious attitude of outlaw country. And over the years, country has blended with rock, pop, folk, blues, and other genres, spurring new fusions like country rock and alt-country.
But through all its shape-shifting, a few things remain at the core of country music – sincere storytelling, down-home sounds, and a spirit that can’t be tamed. The subgenres we’ll explore put their own unique spin on country while still embodying its maverick heart and soul. So let’s hit the dusty trail!
Alt-Country: Where Folk and Rock Collide with Country
Alt-country became a thing back in the 1980s when artists decided to fuse country with folk, rock, punk, and other genres. The result was a raw, rootsy spin on country that traded rhinestones for flannel shirts. Let’s lasso some of the trailblazers of this subgenre:
Uncle Tupelo: Formed in 1987, this alt-country pioneer from Illinois dished out a twangy, rockin’ sound sometimes referred to as “No Depression” after their seminal 1990 album. Songs like “Graveyard Shift” capture their gritty, working-man ethos.
Whiskeytown: Fronted by Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown blended country, punk, and folk rock influences on their 1995 debut album Faithless Street. “Drank Like a River” highlights Adams’ lyrical talents with lines like “I drank like a river since you tore me apart.”
Wilco: After Uncle Tupelo’s split in 1994, Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco and took alt-country in more experimental directions. Songs like “Misunderstood” display clever songwriting full of wordplay and wit.
|Notable Alt-Country Albums||Release Year|
|Uncle Tupelo – No Depression||1990|
|Whiskeytown – Strangers Almanac||1997|
|Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot||2002|
|Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood||2006|
|Jason Isbell – Southeastern||2013|
Alt-country may have outlier roots, but it’s got a ton of soul. These mavericks prove country music can take on new colors while still stirring your emotions. Yeehaw!
Outlaw Country: Rebels Kickin’ up Dust
The outlaw country movement came about in the 1970s when artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings rebelled against the glitzy Nashville country establishment. Outlaw country has a rough, raw sound that tells it like it is. The lyrics are often dark, confessional tales about ramblers and risky living. Let’s meet some of these honky-tonk rebels:
Willie Nelson: With his long pigtails and bandanas, Nelson embodies the outlaw image. He abandoned Nashville in the mid 70s and headed back to Texas where he recorded Honky Tonk Heroes like “Whiskey River.”
Waylon Jennings: Jennings contributed to the Outlaw album Wanted! The Outlaws which was the first country album to earn a platinum record. His song “Luckenbach, Texas” wistfully recalls a simpler life of Honky-tonkin’.
David Allan Coe: Coe proudly flaunted his jail tattoos and criminal past. His biggest hit “Take This Job and Shove It” became an outlaw, working-man anthem.
|Essential Outlaw Country Albums||Release Year|
|Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger||1975|
|Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes||1973|
|Jessi Colter – I’m Jessi Colter||1975|
|Steve Earle – Guitar Town||1986|
|Chris Stapleton – Traveller||2015|
Outlaw country sure rustled up some dust! But it gave country new grit while staying true to its independent spirit. Yee-freakin-haw!
Honky Tonk Revival: Keeping Those Jukeboxes Spinning
Honky tonk music conjures images of a jukebox blaring in a divey bar as folks two-step on the dancefloor. This classic country style emerged in the 1940s with stars like Hank Williams singing tales of ramblin’ and heartbreak. Well, honky tonk is seeing a revival thanks to contemporary artists putting their spin on it:
Turnpike Troubadours: Hailing from Oklahoma, this band excels at high-energy honky tonk anthems like “Long Hot Summer Days” and “Every Girl.” Fiddle solos gallop alongside their gritty vocals.
Mike and the Moonpies: Based in Texas, this group evokes old school honky tonk on toe-tappers like “Road Crew.” Their album CHeap Silver and Solid Country Gold is a honky-tonk tour de force.
Colter Wall: This Canadian singer-songwriter cut his honky-tonk teeth playing small-town prairie bars before making it big. “Sleeping on the Blacktop” showcases his smooth baritone and cowboy poetry.
|Honky Tonk Revival Albums||Release Year|
|Turnpike Troubadours – Diamonds & Gasoline||2010|
|Mike and the Moonpies – Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold||2017|
|Colter Wall – Imaginary Appalachia||2015|
|Tyler Childers – Purgatory||2017|
|Charley Crockett – Lil’ G.L.’s Blue Bonanza||2015|
These neo-traditionalists prove there’s still gold in them old honky-tonk hills! So grab your cowboy hats and get ready to two-step. Yeehaw!
Americana: Where Country, Folk & Roots Rock Meet
Americana is a broad camp where country mingles with folk, bluegrass, blues, and southern rock. The lyrics often reflect on family, life’s struggles, and nostalgia. Let’s meet some stars who embody the Americana spirit:
John Prine: This singer-songwriter is considered one of the pioneers of Americana.Albums like Bruised Orange and Sweet Revenge muse on life’s simple struggles with empathy and wit.
Alison Krauss: A renowned bluegrass musician, Krauss has bridged into Americana fusion projects like Raising Sand, her 2007 album with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant.
Jason Isbell: As a solo artist and former member of the Drive-By Truckers, Isbell writes vivid story-songs about everyday characters, like “Elephant” and “Cover Me Up.”
|Influential Americana Albums||Release Year|
|Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline||1969|
|Emmylou Harris – Wrecking Ball||1995|
|Wilco – Being There||1996|
|Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road||1998|
|Shovels & Rope – By Blood||2015|
Americana music has some real ramblin’ roots! These artists bottle lightning in their lyrics. Yee-and-haw!
Where Genres Cross Paths: Blending Country with Other Sounds
Country music has always been a blend of influences. But recently, we’re seeing more seamless fusions between country and other genres like pop, rock, and hip hop:
- Country Pop: Artists like Taylor Swift, Lady A, and Kacey Musgraves are putting a pop sheen on country melodies and themes.
- Country Rock: The Cadillac Three fuse southern rock and country on party anthems like “The South.”
- Country Rap: Colt Ford coined the term “country rap” on hits like “Dirt Road Anthem.” Lil Nas X brought the country-trap fusion mainstream with “Old Town Road.”
- Indie Country: Musicians like Maren Morris and Kelsey Waldon bring indie singer-songwriter sensibilities to country lyrics and instrumentation.
- Cosmic Country: Kacy & Clayton’s album Carrying On twangs with country tones while incorporating psychedelic folk-rock.
This cross-pollination keeps country evolving while holding onto its roots. Yee-and-haw!
Saddle Up and Find Your Sound! Tips for Exploring Country’s Subgenres
Ready to dig into these different country styles? Here are some tips as you embark on your musical trail ride:
- Start with a country legend: Listen to an essential album by Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash or Hank Williams. This grounds you in core country themes and sounds.
- Dive into a subgenre: Pick an alt-country, outlaw, or honky-tonk album from our lists and let it be your gateway to similar artists.
- Listen to crossover collaborations: Find projects where country artists collaborate with other genres, like Sturgill Simpson’s rockin’ album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.
- Let playlists be your guide: Follow Spotify or Apple Music playlists for subgenres like outlaw country to hear curated selections and discover new artists.
- Go to shows: Attend concerts and festivals to fully soak in different country styles live. Seeing an artist’s performance can unlock their music.
- Talk country with fellow fans: Discuss favorite artists and subgenres with other country music lovers. Their perspectives can further enrich your exploration.
So get on out there and start riding the range of country music’s vibrant landscape. Happy trails, y’all!
Wrap Up: A Musical Trek through Country’s Backroads and Main Streets
Whew doggies! We really hoedown through the pastures of country music, didn’t we? We stomped our boots through iconoclastic alt-country, gritty outlaw rebel yells, honky-tonk sawdust dancehalls, cross-genre blends and more. But these only scratch the surface of country’s diverse musical maps.
As long as artists keep fusing country’s twangy tones with the stories of common folks, new variations on the genre will emerge. That’s the pioneer spirit that makes country music forever bold and captivating.
I hope this tour has awakened y’all to new artists and sounds within country’s vast horizons. Now get on out there and explore more undiscovered territory! Happy trails friends, and till we meet again here at Digital Rodeo!