Country music for a classical musician snob?
August 20, 2009 8:47 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend, a classical bass musician, is a music snob when it comes to country music. What country music should I make him listen to in order to prove that the actual music arrangements behind country music are just as good as other genres?
posted by quodlibet to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Neko Case, Calexico, Lambchop, old Wilco.
posted by proj at 8:52 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Let me second Lambchop and Calexico. In particular the "What Another Man Spills" record from Lambchop is great and their best IMHO.
posted by sleepytako at 8:56 AM on August 20, 2009

Um, k.d. lang?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:56 AM on August 20, 2009

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.

There's nothing the least bit edgy or experimental about them. They're just talented.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:56 AM on August 20, 2009

Owen Bradley's sessions were as carefully crafted as many jazz groups (easy choices would be Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn or k.d. lang), but they're definitely producer-heavy. The Bakersfield groups, especially Buck Owens' early work and most of Merle Haggard, are less... producer-y, but still really good musically. And of course the alt-country and bluegrass choices above are great, but seem to dodge the question a bit.
posted by Shotgun Shakespeare at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2009

Hank Williams. Hank Williams Jr. Johnny Cash. Merle Haggard. Emmy Lou Harris. Nickel Creek. Bill Monroe. Loretta Lynn. Tanya Tucker. Carter Family. The Tractors.

Music snobs just annoy the heck out of me, but my guess is he's not so much a music snob as someone who thinks country music is what you hear at the Country Music Awards.
posted by nax at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2009

Chuck Klosterman has a decent essay on anti-country music snobberry in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. He focuses more on lyrics than on music and I usually find his writing to be insufferable, but I think the essay does a good job of calling out those who insist that they "like all music except for country."
posted by Xalf at 9:01 AM on August 20, 2009

Junior Brown.
posted by anti social order at 9:02 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lyle Lovett.
posted by fixedgear at 9:03 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

15 year old Tanya Tucker singing Delta Dawn. It really doesn't get any better than that. (My husband is also a classical musician and he doesn't get it either.)
posted by nax at 9:03 AM on August 20, 2009

To clarify, we both enjoy jazz, alternative, and blue grass music as some of the suggestions are hinting at above. Those suggestions are great, but not what I'm really looking for.
For more classic country suggestions - specific songs help better than entire artists, if possible.
He isn't a horrible snob who rants and raves by any means. He just rarely listens to country (unless I'm around), and he was the one who suggested I come up with some country that he might like.
posted by quodlibet at 9:07 AM on August 20, 2009

Johnny Cash!
posted by sunshinesky at 9:07 AM on August 20, 2009

It would be helpful to have a definition of "music snob" here. I'm a music snob about country music. I don't care for the timbre, instrumentation, vocal affectations/accents, and subject matter of country music - the same way the vast majority of my friends don't care for the timbre, instrumentation, vocal affectations/accents, and subject matter of opera. But it is also conceivable that your boyfriend is merely a theoretical snob, and thinks that country music is amateurish and lacks musical rigor.

Finding out what music your boyfriend LIKES would help us find something that has suitable intersection with the music that he does like. If your boyfriend is the theoretical type of snob, our responses will be entirely different, and will be more dependent on performers/groups that show at least a modicum of musical talent.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:10 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

With the exception of Nickel Creek and Bill Monroe, my list above is about as classic a list of country music royalty as you're going to get and there's a reason. Throw George Jones in there for good measure. All abundantly available on You Tube.
posted by nax at 9:13 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Neko Case. Deep Red Bells is a beautiful alt-country song.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:15 AM on August 20, 2009

Patsy Cline. Glorious string arrangements.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:22 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Junior Brown.
posted by proj at 9:26 AM on August 20, 2009

Dare I mention Hayseed Dixie? Although they're considered sort of a "joke" band, they're very skilled musicians and their rearrangements of some popular songs are awesome.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:26 AM on August 20, 2009

Although not great arrangements, the virtuosity of Brad Paisley on guitar is impressive. I really don't care for country music but his strumming is quite something.
posted by bz at 9:27 AM on August 20, 2009

Oh, preview button. Why don't I use you more often?

Here goes (from someone who really can't cope with most country music):

- Lorrie Morgan: "Something in Red" or "Best Woman Wins" with Dolly Parton.
- Dixie Chicks: "Travelin' Soldier"
- (more) Dolly Parton: "Both Sides Now" or "Jolene" or, um, anything she's every done?
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:29 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sit him down with (as mentioned above) Junior Brown's "Rock and Roll Medley" and his "Surf Medley." Then go on a long drive and pop in Steve Earle's excellent bluegrass record, "The Mountain." Ray Wylie Hubbard's version of "This Mornin' I Was Born Again" is well worth your time, as are James McMurtry's "We Can't Make It Here Anymore" and --God help me, it's my favorite song when I drive with the kids-- "Choctaw Bingo." Seconding Lyle Lovett, particularly "If I Had a Boat," "Walk Through the Bottomland" and "L.A. County." What, no love for Emmylou Harris? "Red Dirt Girl" is a heartbreaker. Then there's her duet with Steve Earle, "Goodbye," and her work with Linda Ronstadt--esp. "All I Left Behind," a gorgeous, gorgeous song, as are "Western Wall"and "Raise the Dead." Lucinda Williams' "Pineola" is a knockout. (I'm thinking about the studio versions of these songs--links are for sampling purposes.)

On preview: Hank Williams, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive."
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:35 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

The problem is that if he's looking for virtuosic arrangements, he's going to be disappointed. As much as the Nashville sound obscures this connection, country music has its roots in folk traditions like cowboy song. He'll probably be disappointed by the fact that the bass always has the root with the exception of a few embellishing runs, and that even more than bluegrass the big three chords are I, IV, and V. Of course, if you're rejecting country for those reasons, you're not really appreciating country on its own terms. If the terms don't end up appealing to him then there is little that will change his mind about the genre. In any case, if that ends up not being the case, my recommendations for some great country:

The Flatlanders (Definitely alt-country. Includes musical saw.)
The Flying Burrito Brothers (somewhat rock-oriented. Gram Parsons was a member, and his side-projects are worthwhile.)
Jerry Jeff Walker (in the singer-songwriter vein)
Townes van Zandt (all of his best stuff sounds a lot more folk than country, but that doesn't stop country types from loving him just the same)

I'm not sure if your boyfriend will enjoy the rough edges of Steve Earle, but he's still making music today. So is Todd Snider, who is more bard than musician and marvelous fun to listen to. I'd wait on those two, but if he takes to the stuff above, who knows?
posted by invitapriore at 9:39 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

As far as intriguing arrangements go, how about The Gourds? Lots of very weird, very interesting stuff on their album "Stadium Blitzer."

Also, seconding Buck Owens' Bakersfield stuff. If you can find it, look for anything by Owens' guitarist Don Rich. Lots of great instrumentals.

And I'm surprised no one has mentioned Chet Atkins yet. He bridges the gap between country and jazz.
posted by DeWalt_Russ at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2009

Some samples from nax's list:

Hank Williams, "Move It On Over"
Hank Williams, Jr., "A Country Boy Can Survive"
Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire"
Merle Haggard, "Mama Tried"
Emmylou Harris, Boulder to Birmingham
Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner's Daughter
The Carter Family, Wabash Cannonball

Plus: Nanci Griffith, Love at the Five and Dime
posted by kirkaracha at 9:44 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Second Bob Wills. Great bandleader.
Asleep at the Wheel has a great fiddler and steel guitarist if he thinks all "country" bands do is strum and whine.
There's a lot of musicianship involved in this genre of music (called "Western swing").
posted by FergieBelle at 9:45 AM on August 20, 2009

I should preface this list by saying that I listen to country more for the lyrics than the music. Something about hearing the words "my brother Bill an' my other brother Jack, belly full o'beer and a possum in a sack, fifteen kids in the front porch light, Louisiana Saturday night!" just makes me happy. So the following list are not country songs with a lot of musical complexity, but just country songs I think are good and that I think other people would think are good.

Fishin' in the Dark - The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
All the Gold in California - The Gatlin Brothers
Feed Jake - Billy Dean
Let Me Be There - Olivia Newton John
Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses - Kathy Mattea
Lay You Down - Conway Twitty
Baby I'm Burning - Dolly Parton
I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink - Merle Haggard
Third Rate Romance - Amazing Rhythm Aces
Lonely Women Make Good Lovers - Bob Luman
Heavens Just a Sin Away - The Kendalls
Silver Wings - Merle Haggard
I Believe in Love - Don Williams
Mountain Music - Alabama
I Love a Rainy Night - Eddie Rabbitt
Why'd You Come in Here Looking Like That? - Dolly Parton
Love's Been a Little Bit Hard on Me - Juice Newton
Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For? - Crystal Gayle
My Baby is American Made - Oak Ridge Boys
Love Will Turn You Around - Kenny Rogers
Why Not Me? - The Judds
Seven Year Ache - Rosanne Cash
A Lesson in Leaving - Dottie West
Love is on a Roll - Don Williams
Seven Spanish Angels - Ray Charles and Willie Nelson
Dixieland Delight - Alabama
Amy - The Marshall Tucker Band
Timber I'm Falling in Love - Patty Loveless
Louisiana Saturday Night - Mel McDaniel
Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On - Mel McDaniel
Deeper Than the Holler - Randy Travis
Shake the Sugar Tree - Pam Tillis
Dinosaur - Hank Williams Jr.
Fancy - Reba Macintire
Don't it Make My Brown Eyes Blue - Crystal Gayle
Help Me Make it Through the Night - Willie Nelson
A Good Year for the Roses - George Jones
Please Come to Boston - Harry Chapin
Slide off Your Satin Sheets - Johnny Paycheck
Little Rock - Reba McEntire
Crystal Chandelier - Charlie Pride
Tight Fitting Jeans - Conway Twitty
The Door Is Always Open - Waylon Jennings

Some of those have more complex musical arrangements than others, and most are available on Youtube. Finally, as someone said above, Dolly Parton is all that is great and all that is wrong with mainstream pre-Garth country music rolled up into one person. If your boyfriend likes Dolly, then he will probably like a lot of country music. If he doesn't like Dolly then it just may not be for him. Also FYI not liking Dolly is squarely in DTMFA territory.
posted by ND¢ at 9:51 AM on August 20, 2009 [8 favorites]

I cannot recommend Hot Rize enough. I was a classical music snob myself, and my now-husband introduced them to me. Their music is just amazing, without being twangy in the way that I don't like my Country (and, in fact, had turned me off to country for years.)
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:58 AM on August 20, 2009

I would take him through the back way with Declan Patrick McManus, aka Elvis Costello. Elvis runs through every genre with abandon, but his heart belongs to Country. His latest album attests to that and captures a great spirit.

My vote instrumentally would be Hank Garland, Chet Atkins, and Vassar Clemmens.
posted by effluvia at 10:07 AM on August 20, 2009

Obviously, as I am about to use to "GD" word, some people will think this suggestion is stupid.

But, for a great reconstruction of a lot of country standards with intense arrangements and great instrumentation, one can do a lot worse than the country catalog of the Grateful Dead. Album-wise, check out "Reckoning." Or if he is already not-Dead-averse, try some live stuff from their fall run in '80 (it's the source material for "Reckoning").

The Dead play dozens of country, folk and other traditional American standard tunes, and very rarely kept their arrangements to chords, root notes, and melody.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:11 AM on August 20, 2009

Alison Krauss. That woman has a voice like an angel. Here she doing a Dolly original; here she is doing bluegrass; here she is singing one of her own.
posted by pised at 10:13 AM on August 20, 2009

To clarify, we both enjoy jazz, alternative, and blue grass music...

Most of the Mefite suggestions here lean heavily towards the bluegrass and blues genres - your boyfriend probably does like a lot of what falls under the industry definition of the "country" umbrella.

In his case, it sounds like he's using "country" as a perjorative: "country" is the country music that he doesn't like. One of my employees has a radio on her desk, and some days it's loud enough to hear it..what I don't like is the simplistic "pop" music structure, underlying an annoying blend of "your life sucks, and there's nothing you can do about it", borderline jingoism, and sometimes not-so-subtle misogyny. After the fourth time you've heard "Rockin' the Beer Gut," Rodney Atkin's "America", "You're Gonna Miss This", "Ticks", "Jesus take the Wheel", "People are Crazy"...I've begin to really, really hate this so-called "country" genre.

A few things I've heard which I have enjoyed: Blake Sheldon's "Ol' Red" (originally a George Jones song) and Dierks Bentley's "Free And Easy (Down The Road I Go)". Like previous suggestions, they're more bluegrassy and classic Country than what pop culture considers "country" today.
posted by AzraelBrown at 10:20 AM on August 20, 2009

Fleet Foxes- White Winter Hymnal
posted by bradly at 10:51 AM on August 20, 2009

Clem Snide, especially The Ghost of Fashion album.
posted by transporter accident amy at 10:59 AM on August 20, 2009

Heroes by Mark O'Connor has a track with the classical conductor and violinist Pinchas Zukerman playing Ashokan Farewell.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is my personal favorite country record.
posted by calumet43 at 11:06 AM on August 20, 2009

Justin Trevino, a young Texas honky tonk/swing musician, is one of the best bass players working today, in my opinion. Check him out if you're a bassist. You'll learn something about groove. He's got a few CDs on Amazon.

Plus he sings like a motherf*cker (he's better known as a singer) and does it while playing the bass, which is hard in country music.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:39 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure there are words to express the awesomeness that ND¢ compressed into his list. That just became my playlist for the afternoon. If your boyfriend can't find anything that he likes in that list, then he will probably never like country.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 11:42 AM on August 20, 2009

A few of my favorites (and I'm someone who came to country music late):

Dolly Parton singing Mule Skinner Blues. This is the song that opened me up to country music.
Tennessee Ernie Ford's Cry of the Wild Goose
George Jones' Worried Man Blues
Hank Williams' Ramblin' Man
posted by Emanuel at 11:46 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please, please treat yourself to the excellent "Hank Williams' Ghost," from Darrell Scott. Award-winning country music, but also introspective and a great arrangement--far from the madding crowd of popular country. "Real Time," his collaboration with Tim O'Brien, is also well worth seeking out.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:26 PM on August 20, 2009


Sorry, I have no recommendations.

I just wanted to thank bonobothegreat for the Bob Willis Dusty Skies recommendation. I am an inveterate C&W music hater (Johnny Cash always excepted), but that song brought me to tears. Damn, now I'll have to explore C&W for the nth time, looking for stuff I may have overlooked unjustly.
posted by VikingSword at 12:40 PM on August 20, 2009

Definitely check out Gene Clark. He's best known for his 2-year stint with The Byrds, but it's his solo career where he blended country, baroque pop, folk, and rock into what is known today as alt-country. To truly appreciate his craft, you need to work your way through his solo albums. Here's a sample of YouTubery to get a taste: "Tried So Hard,", "With Tomorrow,", "Gypsy Rider", "Polly,", "Hear the Wind,", "Full Circle Song".
posted by prinado at 12:47 PM on August 20, 2009

Levon Helm's current band is great and sorta country (more folksy though that pure country).
posted by WeekendJen at 1:07 PM on August 20, 2009

I'm not a big fan of country (Except for the Man in Black) and I explaned it to my husband thusly: Country is incredibly lyric driven. The music exists to support the lyrics. Most of the time the chord progressions are incredibly simple (many times 1-4-5.) Yes there are a few exceptions but just a few. Country is basically musical storytelling.

(OTOH if the song contains some good fiddlin', all bets are off. )
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:11 PM on August 20, 2009

nthing Neko Case and Calexico. To make it a Tucson based trilogy, I would add Al Perry (these three are more alt-country).
posted by nestor_makhno at 1:13 PM on August 20, 2009

I like Bela Fleck and the Flecktones a lot. That's a group of virtuoso musicians a classical musician snob should be able to appreciate. Their music is very genre spanning, though, and a lot of it is "Jazz" so I'd guess you and your boyfriend already know and like them.

But, for instance, Cheeseballs in Cowtown (starts at 1:22) was nominated for a country Grammy, so it's definitely country. I don't see how he couldn't like and be impressed by this song. If he says it's not country, then he's just tautologically defining "country" as the subset of the country genre that he doesn't like, so of course he doesn't like "country". Not really anything you can do about that...
posted by losvedir at 1:20 PM on August 20, 2009

Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Rutledge is often characterized as a "country" act, probably because many of his songs feature slide guitar. I don't necessarily agree. A songwriter who can come up with "the hookers there read Baudelaire atop the cobblestones" is much more nuanced.

His CDs, e.g. Devil on a Bench in Stanley Park, whence came the foregoing quoted matter, are very skillfully arranged.
posted by megatherium at 2:36 PM on August 20, 2009

Best thread ever. Can't believe I left Patsy off my list. *smacks forehead*
posted by nax at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2009

blacky ranchette (and here and here). a tuscon quadrangle?

or langhorne slim, the avett brothers, jesse sykes & the sweet hereafter, slim cessna's auto club (also), the handsome family.

admittedly veering toward weirder at the end of that list.
posted by hereticfig at 2:52 PM on August 20, 2009

Is Charlie Daniels' "Devil Went Down to Georgia" still considered a classic of country fiddling?
posted by beaning at 6:55 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Late to the game here... I am not a fan of country music either. But there is a lot of it that I can appreciate, and here's what most of it has in common - you don't hear it on the radio. You have to get deeper into the albums or to the live shows to really appreciate the musical aptitude of a quality country music band. For example, George Strait really lets the Ace in the Hole band shine on several songs you don't hear on the radio. John Michael Montgomery has some tracks on his albums that bear no resemblance to the mass-market-appeal songs that went up the charts, and they're surprisingly good. Most country on the radio has become just another form of pop music, with songs that can sell to a wide audience. But when a good country music band actually gets to making music instead of making hits, then you start seeing that the genre can put out some truly great stuff.
posted by azpenguin at 10:35 PM on August 20, 2009

I recommend this album all the time, but Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose could do the trick for your boyfriend. It was produced by Jack White (who also did some guest vocals), who's a bit of a music snob himself, so even though the star of the album is Loretta's incredible voice and songwriting, the music is impeccable. Take a listen to Portland, Oregon.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:48 AM on August 21, 2009

Robbie Fulks and Lyle Lovett combined have made a country music fan out of me. If your boyfriend has a sense of humor that skews towards the bizarre, get him started with Robbie's "She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died)," "Roots Rock Weirdos," "Papa Was a Steel-headed Man," and then move on to some of the darker stuff: "You Wouldn't Do That To Me," "If They Could Only See Me Now," "Coldwater Tennessee," "South Richmond Girl." Great albums: Let's Kill Saturday Night, Georgia Hard, Revenge and 13 Hillbilly Giants. Robbie's a highly underrated and greatly unsung singer-songwriter. If you ever have any opportunity to see him live, seize it -- you will be a fan for life.

Lyle Lovett, the following entire albums are musts: Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, Joshua Judges Ruth, and Road to Ensenada. The Large Band album has a fully-orchestrated big band playing on about half the tracks, JJR has a heavy gospel feel (but country-flavored), Ensenada's just plain old kickass country.
posted by stennieville at 2:17 PM on August 21, 2009

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