The Mixologist: Back In The Old Country

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.

  1. Sturgill Simpson – Life Of Sin
  2. Chris Stapleton – Fire Away
  3. Margo Price – Four Years Of Chances
  4. Jason Isbell – 24 Frames
  5. Sam Outlaw – Angeleno
  6. Kacey Musgraves – Dime Store Cowgirl
  7. Randy Rogers Band – San Antone
  8. Ashley Monroe – From Time To Time
  9. Aubrie Sellers – Sit Here And Cry
  10. Mandolin Orange – Blue Ruin
  11. Honeyhoney – Yours To Bear
  12. Lindi Ortega – Run-Down Neighborhood
  13. Ryan Culwell – Amarillo
  14. Caleb Caudle – Borrowed Smiles
  15. Angaleena Presley – Ain’t No Man
  16. Mike And The Moonpies – Mockingbird
  17. Sunny Sweeney – Bad Girl Phase
  18. Brandy Clark – Get High
  19. Pat Green (ft. Lyle Lovett) – Girls From Texas
  20. John Moreland – Hang Me In The Tulsa County Stars

Or listen on Spotify:

5 thoughts on “The Mixologist: Back In The Old Country

  1. @Spencer. Great mix. We’ve been having some of these conversations over email for the last couple of months. I like what you chose for the mix. You picked two beauties that are hard to ignore: Ryan Culwell’s “Amarillo” and the Moreland track. But even with the albums of things that aren’t my speed, you chose a great song that works well in the mix.

  2. I avoid new country more than any other genre of music but you make me think I should reconsider. Interesting that country and rap have the same dilemma.

  3. @Alex. I totally agree with the rap comparison. I think both genres really changed pop music, but then pop music (like Moloch, that capitalist beast it serves) absorbed them much to the genres’ harm.

  4. @Alex: Yes, I agree with the hip-hop comparison too. Pop ruins everything! When you think about it, it’s really a testament to rock that it’s the rare genre to avoid this trap. Sure, there have been crappy pop rock bands all along, but there has pretty much always been a constant process of self-reinvention and a segment within the rock community strongly devoted to what they see as artistic integrity. I’m not sure you can legitimately say that about any other genre aside from jazz.

    @Antony: Which of the albums represented on the mix did you like the most as albums? Aside from the first four headliners on the mix, the sleepers for me are Sam Outlaw (whose album I just love) and Lindi Ortega (who is kind of quirky in comparison with the others—in a good way). Really dig the last two albums from Randy Rogers too, though that’s because it really is quintessentially Texas country and it makes me feel like I’m back home. He’s not doing anything particularly special—in Austin, you can hear bands like that in a dozen bars on a given night—but I still like his vibe.

  5. Yes, the Sam Outlaw is excellent. I like John Moreland’s record a whole lot. I didn’t like the Musgraves as much as I liked her first one…but it’s still solid.

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