Today, the music blogger within me is out in all her glory, y’all. Keep in mind, everything I write is my opinion – I don’t intend to undercut anyone else’s musical tastes, this is just what I think. Much love, as always!
Since I was a kid, I’ve spent many hours watching music videos and live performances of my favorite artists on YouTube, primarily in the country genre. I remember listening to Brooks & Dunn, Carrie Underwood fresh off the Idol presses, Zac Brown Band, Reba, and so many other awesome artists that were creating country music that was modern, while still maintaining the authenticity that the genre often exhibits. However, with the rise of “bro-country” and the infiltration of pop, I have noticed a change in the new country being delivered on the mainstream country charts and radio. The title and inspiration for this post comes from reading the YouTube comment section; more often than not, there are almost always multiple comments underneath various music videos of the cookie-cutter mainstrean country songs – the ones presently on the radio – that lament the “death of country” and how what the industry is releasing “isn’t even country music anymore”. I have to agree to a certain extent – it just seems that so many of the mainstream country, chart-topping, radio hits these days have the same musical structure, the same subject matter, and have strayed from what country used to be. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some mainstream country artists that I love, but I still do lament with those who wish that a deeper level of country would be showcased by the mainstream. With all of that said, if you are one of those people searching for something more in today’s country, I wanted to comprise a list of my favorite contemporary country/folk artists that fulfill the genre’s traditional values in a modern way.
5 Artists That Prove Country Isn’t “Dead”
Listen To This: literally the entire Pageant Material Album
Kacey Musgraves is possibly the artist that has influenced my songwriting the most. Her genius word-play, her talent for storytelling, and the way she presents a memorable message through every song is something to admire. Her most recent album, Pageant Material, is one to listen to if you miss the classic sounds of Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, and John Prine, especially John Prine – you can hear his influence on her through every song she writes. Often sporting a sparkly cowgirl hat or some serious retro western digs, Grammy-winning Musgraves is true to herself in every aspect of her artistry as she carries on the traditions of the genre in a contemporary fashion. She’s been hinting about the process of writing/releasing her next album on social media recently, and I am so stoked for more Musgraves!
Midland is a group that is still pretty new to me, but they are actually the first artist that came to mind when I decided to write this post. Much like Kacey Musgraves, it is evident almost immediately that Midland is the epitome of new country mixed with the genre’s traditional roots. I hear a lot of George Strait-inspired country through their music, with classic tempos and crooning lead guitar. Their embroidered, retro cowboy suits lend themselves to that authentic feel as well. I highly recommend listening to the songs of theirs I’ve listed above, if not their whole album, On The Rocks!
I am a huge fan of Margo Price. I remember seeing the video for “Hands Of Time” on CMT when it first came out, and I was like “who is this chick?” Her sound was so different from most of the stuff I’d heard on the Top 20 Countdown, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Then, I listened to her album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and was taken by her voice, her sound, and her stories. From lamenting the death of her first child to dealing with her struggles through alcohol, Price’s music embodies what country music was born out of: real people singing about their real lives, with all the grit and honesty that comes along. When listening to Margo, it is evident that she is being truthful, like she’s a modern-day coal miner’s daughter, expressing her emotions and her adversity through her craft. Her second LP is set to release this month, and I could not be more excited to hear what she’ll say next.
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
A friend introduced me to Jason Isbell earlier this year, and though he rains from northern Alabama, a musically rich community around where my extended family lives, I was surprised to have never heard of him before. A Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, Isbell landed a publishing deal with FAME Studios, a highly successful recoridng studio in Muscle Shoals, AL, when he was 21, after working for them. He then became involved with the Drive-By Truckers, a southern rock group, playing with them around local shows. After releasing solo music, Isbell now fronts his band, The 400 Unit, with which he has released three records. The Nashville Sound, his latest album, grounded in honest songwriting and a gritty alt-country sound, is actually nominated for CMA Album of the Year! It makes me ecstatic to see such a unique artist being represented at an award show that is often dominated by mainstream country radio only. If you’ve never listened to Jason Isbell before, please start right now.
I wrote a whole Music Monday about Lillie Mae a month or so ago. I am such a fan of her atmospheric sound, memorable hooks, and unparalleled individuality. An artist on Jack White’s Third Man Records label, Mae is a multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, and performer. Traveling around the country making music with her family of musicians as a child, her whole life has been enriched and influenced by country/bluegrass/Americana music. You hear that influence through her debut album, Forever And Then Some, released in the spring of 2017. Being a young, female artist that is redefining modern country music is so important; her music is unique, genuine, and just plain good, which is exactly what the genre needs these days. It is evident that this is just the beginning for Lillie Mae.
I hope y’all check out all of these artists! They’ve become some of my favorites to listen to – I even have a Spotify playlist inspired by this type of country music, if you’re interested. I always want to hear y’alls thoughts, so please leave a comment below: who is your favorite country artist?
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! Much love, and happy listening.
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