In discussions regarding music taste, a common opinion expressed is “I like all types of music except country.” This opinion has become so widespread that it’s almost become the default answer to discussions about music. It’s completely fine to have your own opinions when it comes to subjective mediums, such as music, but often the hatred towards country comes by default, with little logic or insufficient evidence.
Over the past two years, I’ve made a concerted effort to listen to as much music from as many genres as possible, and through that, I have developed a deep love and appreciation for country music. I’m someone who typically listens to rap, electronic, and 90s alternative music, and despite how far away these types of music are from country, I have still found myself to be an avid listener; I am confident that anyone can gain an appreciation for the genre.
I’ve found that most people’s criticism of country comes from primarily being exposed to “Bro-Country,” which is the general label used to classify modern day country stars such as Blake Shelton. Though I think “Bro-Country” has its place, it makes sense why this would lead to people not being fans of the genre. Lyrics are often corny, corporate, and often rely on the same tropes as every other song in the genre. Additionally, the music itself lacks the true richness and depth that I find is present in older country songs; it also relies on more contemporary production techniques, which leads to modern day country music sounding like weirdly made pop songs with corny lyrics. This frame helps us understand why most people are quickly dismissive of the genre; they’re only used to hearing this new type of country, which frankly is a completely different genre than the country I am referring to.
In hopes of shifting people’s view of the genre, I have compiled a list of four of my recommended country singers to check out, as well as a few songs from each. All of these artists have an incredibly unique sound, which I think illustrates how broad and expansive of a genre country actually is.
Townes Van Zandt
Townes Van Zandt’s work may be a bit closer to American folk, but his albums Roadsongs and Our Mother the Mountain perfectly encapsulate this older type of country music that I was referring to earlier. His lyricism is some of the most poetic I’ve ever listened to and matches his voice perfectly. Van Zandt’s voice is incredibly unique, with immense range; he is able to draw out these long notes that demand that the listener listens to all the thought and passion that Van Zandt puts into his pieces. I highly recommend the songs “Velvet Voices”, “Cocaine Blues”, and “Kathleen”.
Yola’s 2019 album Walk Through Fire is one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in any genre, and it has become one of my favorite country albums (though this album has a bit of everything). Walk Through Fire has fantastic instrumental arrangement, with the album drawing on bits of guitar, piano, fiddle, and jaw harp, all of which work with Yola’s voice perfectly. “I Don’t Wanna Lie” and “Shady Grove” are my favorites off the album, and both songs just make you want to get up and dance.
No proper list of country acts would be complete without mentioning Conway Twitty. Through listening to an immense amount of older country music, Twitty’s influence on the genre is undeniable, but he is worth listening to solely on his own merits. Twitty’s voice has an incredibly rich tone that he takes full advantage of and turns into pure bliss through the use of vocal layering in most of the choruses of his songs. Twitty’s steel guitar is some of the best I’ve heard and adds the perfect amount of intrigue to his songs that lead to each of them sounding incredibly unique. I Love You More Today has to be my favorite of his, and I believe it perfectly encapsulates his overall sound.
Orville Peck is one of the few contemporary artists that has managed to hone the old country sound, with an incredibly deep voice and great command over an electric guitar. Though Peck’s style is definitely similar to older forms of country, he doesn’t stray away from more modern production techniques, which leads to an incredibly “clear” form of country music; it has all the rich bliss of older acts while maintaining fantastic technical composure. Both “Dead of Night” and “Summertime” are fantastic tracks and should be given a listen.