Tag Archives: alt-country

Establishment Music: WTF ever happened to Country & Western?

If C&W had a soul Jason Isbell would be the biggest thing in Nashville.

Keith Urban is a judge on American Idol. Blake Shelton is on The Voice. Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and the rest of these prancing pinup models are the stars of the moment.

Meanwhile, down in Alabama, Jason Isbell has produced as good a set of back-to-back records as anybody in country (C&W, alt.Country, Thunder Country, you name your sub-genre) history – maybe as great as any consecutive albums in any popular music genre – and Nashville treats him like something it scraped off its diamond-spangled distressed ostrich boots. Read more

What the hell happened to country music?

Friend: Hey, Yogi, I think we’re lost.
Yogi Berra: Yeah, but we’re making great time! 

It’s probably clear to anybody who pays attention that I’m a rock & roll guy. But I was raised by my grandparents, two country folks who were born in 1913 and 1914 respectively and grew up through the Great Depression. There were two kinds of music in my house, country and gospel, and those aesthetics – the melodies and harmonies, the minor chord dips and the aching they signify, the constant battle between ignorant hope and blunt despair – they shaped my relationship with music in ways that will accompany me to my grave.

We listened to gospel quartets on Channel 12 Sunday mornings. The rest of the time, if there was music in the house, it was the likes of Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Roy Acuff & the Smoky Mountain Boys or Cowboy Copas. Granddaddy and Grandmother liked to watch The Porter Wagoner Show (with Dolly Parton, of course) and Saturday nights meant Hee Haw, with Buck Owens, Roy Clark and some of Nashville’s greatest stars. Read more

Dr. Sammy’s Best CDs of 2011, pt 4: the CD of the Year

Previously: I hope you took a few minutes to explore the outstanding recipients of this year’s Gold and Platinum LP awards. Honorable Mentions, too.

I don’t think many readers will find much controversy in the assertion that things have been hard over the past few years, and 2010 and 2011 were especially hellish in my neck of the woods. So it’s no surprise to find artists focusing on the difficulties they see (and often live themselves). It’s rare, though, to find someone who’s singing about the bad times with as much depth and empathy as we find in Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s Here We Rest, my 2011 CD of the Year. Read more

The Best CDs of 2009, pt. 1: the Gold LPs

Best-CDs-of-2k92009 was arguably the best year for new music since 1979, and that’s saying a lot, even if I’m wrong. For whatever reason, this year was just packed with incredibly great CDs from bands we knew were great, bands we didn’t know were this good, bands we hadn’t heard from in a long time and bands we’d never heard of, period. The result – it was all I could do to keep up, and I fully expect to spend the next couple of years tripping over even more awesome releases from 2009 that I missed this year. So in advance, apologies to those artists I didn’t find my way to in 2k9.

So here’s the format. There are usually three tiers: Gold LP, Platinum LP and CD of the Year. (The LP is taken from my personal site, Lullaby Pit, which is where this annual tradition started several years ago. And the fact that albums used to be LPs. Get it?) This year the glut of outstanding CDs have necessitated the addition of a new level – SuperPlatinum – because a few of those platinum discs are a notch above the rest. Over the next few days, then, the Scholars & Rogues/Lullaby Pit Best CDs of 2009 will be rolled out in four installments.

Up first, in roughly alphabetical order… Read more