By Spencer. A recent article in GQ Magazine profiled three country artists who are shaking up the Nashville establishment: Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, and Sturgill Simpson. We’ve raved about all three on S&N, but the truth is, they’re just the tip of the spear. There are dozens of other songwriters out there defying the cheap conventions of Nashville country. You know what I’m taking about—hokey, jokey, manufactured pop songs about sexy tractors and beer-drinking horses, dressed up in a little steel guitar and just enough contrived twang to appeal to the goatee-wearing NASCAR crowd. It’s this brand of “bro country” that has given the genre a bad name among music lovers, turning a once-thriving strain of quintessentially American art into a punchline (at least outside of the South).
Then came Chris Stapleton, who struck a major blow last year when his album, Traveller, came out of nowhere to sweep the 2015 Country Music Awards—taking down more established (and embarrassing) mainstays like Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, and Jason Aldean along the way. It was hailed as a possible turning point for country music after years of decline. Meanwhile, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell have each enjoyed adulation even among the indie rock press for recent albums that re-embraced a truer songwriting and a more faithful devotion to vintage country sounds.
And they’re not alone. Margo Price, the much-hyped first country artist signed to Jack White’s record label, just put out the ingenious Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, doing country with a refreshing garage rock flair. Kacey Musgraves has released two recent albums of clever lyrical twists that straddle the pop/country divide. Sam Outlaw’s Angeleno explores a California-influenced brand of country heavy with strings and dive bar romance, while John Moreland’s fierce, folk-laced songwriting seems vibrantly vulnerable in comparison with his peers. Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and Aubrie Sellers are picking up where the best of the Dixie Chicks left off, doing feminist country with strength and swagger. Randy Rogers Band, Pat Green, and Mike And The Moonpies are representing Texas with a blend of western and rock sounds. Mandolin Orange gives life to the quieter side of bluegrass, while Honeyhoney, Lindi Ortega, and Caleb Caudle might be considered “indie country.” Across it all, you’ll hear one common thread: country music doesn’t have to be a joke, not when it’s in the hands of artists with a care for craft and something timeless to say.
You can sample all of these artists and a whole lot more on S&N Mix 23: Back In The Old Country.
- Sturgill Simpson – Life Of Sin
- Chris Stapleton – Fire Away
- Margo Price – Four Years Of Chances
- Jason Isbell – 24 Frames
- Sam Outlaw – Angeleno
- Kacey Musgraves – Dime Store Cowgirl
- Randy Rogers Band – San Antone
- Ashley Monroe – From Time To Time
- Aubrie Sellers – Sit Here And Cry
- Mandolin Orange – Blue Ruin
- Honeyhoney – Yours To Bear
- Lindi Ortega – Run-Down Neighborhood
- Ryan Culwell – Amarillo
- Caleb Caudle – Borrowed Smiles
- Angaleena Presley – Ain’t No Man
- Mike And The Moonpies – Mockingbird
- Sunny Sweeney – Bad Girl Phase
- Brandy Clark – Get High
- Pat Green (ft. Lyle Lovett) – Girls From Texas
- John Moreland – Hang Me In The Tulsa County Stars
Or listen on Spotify: