Alt-Country: the new country

I used to like country music.  It was pretty much all I listened to (I think I have my mom to thank for that!).  I was probably 10 years old or so, but I liked it nonetheless.  Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, you know, the classics!  I would have to say that what they play on the “country” stations these days does not really reflect the country and western music of yesteryear.  It has some roots, but come on, Rascal Flatts?  Seems to be more like twangy pop.

What I’m really truly getting at is this newer phase of country, folk and rock blend which is being called Alternative Country, or Alt-Country (sometimes also referred to as Americana).  Again, the alt-country is not my favourite style of music, but it has definitely grown on me, and I think that is due in part to my earlier years of listening to the aforementioned artists.  I think the reason I like the alt-country more than the “country” music of today, is that it almost feels more like the classic country and western, but with a little less “Yee-haw” and a little more oomph!

There seems to be more and more bands bringing alt-country to the mainstream, and I’m perfectly OK with this!  These bands aren’t singing about silly things such as tequila removing one’s clothing or honky-tonk bones, but about things a little less… annoying.

(Don’t mean to offend, just not my taste)

One of my favourite examples of alt-country is Matt Mays.  If you’ve heard Matt Mays on the radio, or if you own his latest album, Terminal Romance, you probably won’t really believe me.  Yes, he has strayed a little from his roots of alt-country, but he was there, folks.  (Take a listen to Long Since Gone for an example)

Matt began his musical journey with the band, the Guthries and after playing with them for a few years, he decided to do his own thing and put out a solo, self-titled album in 2003 that is pretty heavy into pedal steel guitars, some fiddles, organs and horns.  I think that fans of Mays’ newer work will still enjoy this album, but it is a lot mellower than songs like Building A Boat or Tall Trees.

Another band who has been dabbling with the alt-country genre is Band of Horses. All it takes is one listen to the song The General Specific and you will know what I’m talking about.  On the same album, Cease To Exist, the tune Marry Song is again on par with the alt-country genre, though a little slower.

On their latest album, called Infinite Arms, the band does a little more experimentation with the alt-country genre.  A great example is the song Older.  With some great vocal harmonies, particularly during the chorus, some lazy guitar plucking and a nice, slow shuffle beat, this is a fine song with obvious country roots.  It may have something to do with lead singer and co-songwriter, Ben Bridwell being from South Carolina (remarkably unnoticeable in his singing is his southern drawl).

As I said earlier, I used to like country music and on occasion, I’ll throw on some Dwight, Garth or Paisley for good measure.  With the alt-country revival that seems to be happening, I’m finding a best-of-both-worlds situation going on:  I can get the best parts of country such as the twangy guitars, banjos, vocal harmonies, and shuffle beats, yet without the silly lyrics.  Not saying all country music has the ridiculous lyric factor but from what I’ve heard on the radio as an example, a guy sings about the fact he likes rain because it causes corn to grow, and corn makes whiskey, and in turn, the whiskey puts his woman in a love-making mood… I probably just take music too seriously, and that’s my problem.

Anyway, I have a small list of some current alt-country songs by some bands you’d be surprised to find in this genre, and some you wouldn’t.  Here ya’ll are:

Kings of Leon – Trani (or Talihina Sky, for even more roots)

My Morning Jacket – Sec Walkin’


Band of Horses – Older


Wilco – I’m the Man Who Loves You


Carolyn Mark & NQ Arbuckle – The Second Time


Rah Rah – Duet for Emmylou and the Grievous Angel


Matt Mays – Downtown


Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros – Home


Robert Plant & Allison Kraus – Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On)


The Wooden Sky – My Old Ghosts


Fruit Bats – Being On Your Own

I know I haven’t listed even close to all the great alt-country examples, but that’s where I’d like to hear some suggestions from the readers.  Always looking to expand my library!

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~ by whet_hopped on June 27, 2010.

3 Responses to “Alt-Country: the new country”

  1. also very into the alt-country these days. you pretty much covered my list of faves!

    • Nice! I just got tickets for the Fruit Bats at the Media Club in Vancouver on August 9th, I’m pretty stoked! I don’t know anyone else who likes them though so I may be going alone and scalping the other ticket 😛

      Now I just need the Band of Horses and Matt Mays to come to town and I’ll be set!

  2. I would absolutley go with you if I was there! We get a few good shows here and there but, very rarely.

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