Not-Lame Country Music
January 19, 2005 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Not-Lame Country Music: I understand that some Alice in Chains, Nirvana, etc. , songs have a strong "country" flavor, deep guitars, slow vocals, tons of mood, while still rocking. I know nothing about country music, and most of what I've heard doesn't do it for me. What dark, slow and moody Country music would you recommend?
posted by signal to Media & Arts (60 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Johnny Cash. Billy Joe Shaver. Townes Van Zant. Some of Bonnie Owens stuff. Hank Sr.
posted by jonmc at 10:44 AM on January 19, 2005

Neko Case.
posted by driveler at 10:45 AM on January 19, 2005

the transmissionary six who are much like the cowboy junkies but less country.

you might try jolie holland, too.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:48 AM on January 19, 2005

There's a band called Tarnation out of the SF Bay Area - probably the darkest country ever recorded.
posted by luriete at 10:50 AM on January 19, 2005

Kathleen Edwards occasionally gets placed in the alt-country genre. I have her placed at the top of my playlists currently.
posted by tumble at 10:51 AM on January 19, 2005

Also check out Emmylou Harris (I'd recommend Pieces of the Sky and her newest album, Stumble into Grace) and the Drive-By Truckers (I'd recommend Decoration Day and Dirty South).
posted by driveler at 10:53 AM on January 19, 2005

Seconds on the Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams Sr., and Billy Joe Shaver.

I'll also suggest Son Volt (semi-country; semi-dark), various stages in George Jones's career (the times when he was feeling especially low about boozin' and losin' Tammy), and The Handsome Family (semi-country; extra-Gothic).

I bet I can think of some more, too. Hang on.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:57 AM on January 19, 2005

Worth checking out some Alejandro Escovedo as well, although the linked-to mp3s are hardly representative. I'd get his More Miles Than Money live CD first.
posted by blueshammer at 11:00 AM on January 19, 2005

I'll second Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Sr.

I don't know where the boundaries of Country begin or end when it comes to alt-country and roots music, but here's some stuff that I think is primarily alt-country which you may find helps you ease-in to country music: Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams, Old Crow Medicine Show, Uncle Tupelo. There's a lot more to mine in the alt-country realm, but I'll let others add to it. Roots: Doc Watson, the Carter Family. You can even chart the line from Social Distortion to the Carter Family with some imagination.

On preview: no longer seconding, but thirding...
posted by safetyfork at 11:02 AM on January 19, 2005

More in the category of alt-country, but Steve Earle's "I Feel Alright" might suit you -- especially "CCKMP" ("Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain"), "Billy and Bonnie" and "South Nashville Blues." Emmylou Harris' "Red Dirt Girl." Gillian Welch's "Hell Among the Yearlings" and "Revival" (go safetyfork) will take care of moody alt-country. I third jonmc's Hank Sr., and raise him a Hank Jr. (believe it or not, there are a few gems among the crap -- "Whiskey on Ice," "The Ride" and "A Country Boy Can Survive" come to mind. )
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:06 AM on January 19, 2005

Hell, Jimmie Rodgers himself gets pretty damn bleak. Some other oldtime stuff, like Dock Boggs and Bascom Lamar Lunsford, have truly strange, Gothic sensibilities -- creepy as all hell, at times.

The Johnny Cash albums on American are probably exactly what you're looking for, and I'd recommend starting there; use those as a bridge to his earlier stuff (some of which is dark, nearly all of which is great).

Semi-alt-country, and an artist I don't know too well but who sounds like he might appeal to you, is Sparklehorse. I like what little I know, and it's definitely dark and moody, and semi-countryish.

I'll keep thinking on this.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:12 AM on January 19, 2005

Response by poster: So far loving Transmissionary Six. Forgot to mention guitars: I like guitars, any intricate or cool guitar work is a definite plus.
Keep 'em coming!
posted by signal at 11:21 AM on January 19, 2005

The Blacks, Raspertina (sp?)

For me it's like mainstream pop. Can't stand the heavy commercial stuff for the most part but there is good stuff if you dig. The genera lines get awfully blurred once you venture off the top 40 (even them sometimes)
posted by edgeways at 11:24 AM on January 19, 2005

Lots of good suggestions so far... here are some more that haven't come up:

Pre-1996 Jayhawks
Merle Haggard
Roger Miller
Johnny Horton

The Bottle Rockets are somewhere between country and rock, and their guitar honcho, Brian Henneman, can really throw down. Their more recent albums suck hard, but their first three (The Bottle Rockets, The Brooklyn Side, and 24 Hours a Day) are gems.
posted by COBRA! at 11:36 AM on January 19, 2005

On the edge, try the alt-pop band Cake or the blues-jazz-folk singer Tom Waits.
posted by NickDouglas at 11:36 AM on January 19, 2005

Will Oldham, or "Bonnie Prince Billy" which he usually goes by on his albums. He also has albums under the name Palace, as well as Palace Brothers.
posted by fabesfaves at 11:41 AM on January 19, 2005

Seconding Cash, Townes, Hank Sr., Neko, Will Oldham. Oh Susanna sounds up your alley, particularly the album Johnstown.
posted by transient at 11:43 AM on January 19, 2005

Also worth checking out--I forgot to mention--Ryan Adams and also his band, Whiskeytown (both more along the lines of alt-country than just plain old country).
posted by fabesfaves at 11:44 AM on January 19, 2005

Nobody's mentioned Gram Parsons. The albums Gp and Grievous Angel are great as is his work on Sweetheart of the Rodeo with the Byrds. He was sort of the first alt-country artist, twenty years before Uncle Tupalo. Emmylou Harris put together a very good tribute album to him a few years ago called "Return of the Grievous Angel" that is very worthwhile also.
posted by octothorpe at 11:44 AM on January 19, 2005

Freakwater - they've written some of the saddest country songs ever. Check out the album End Time for a good introduction.
I'll also second Neko Case, especially the album Furnace Room Lullabye.
Kelly Hogan has a great voice, and her most recent album, Because It Feel Good, has plenty of dark songs to bum you out.
Calexico is occasionally sort of country - they have a really great spaghetti western sound sometimes.
More folk than country, but I've been unable to stop listening to Iron & Wine lately - and if you want mood he has it by the truckload.
posted by smartyboots at 11:52 AM on January 19, 2005

Seconds on The Bottle Rockets. Although I think the newer albums are actually OK, but not up to the standard of the first 3.

Also, some of The Band's more countryish material ("Jawbone," "Rockin' Chair," "King Harvest," "Rag Mama Rag") is some stupendous stuff. Merle Travis and some of Johnny Paycheck's eary stuff fits the bill, too.
posted by jonmc at 11:54 AM on January 19, 2005

Lucero, especially the first CD (haven't heard much of the later stuff). They suck live (everytime I see them live they are way too fast and "rock"), but their first CD is awesome
posted by KirTakat at 12:05 PM on January 19, 2005

Bloodshot Records, which is a great resource for this type of music, used to also have a great description of this type of music. It seems, alas, to have gone away.

In any event, they deem it "insurgent country," a term that might help your search results. There is also this article that you might find interesting and/or informative.
posted by occhiblu at 12:46 PM on January 19, 2005

This is a fantastic thread.

I'll just add Old 97's. Their earlier stuff can get pretty dark, in a hard-drinking kinda way. Satellite Rides is shite, but what I've heard of the latest album seems like a return to form.
posted by felix betachat at 12:52 PM on January 19, 2005

You should definitely check out Blanche. They're kind of a Detroit garage country band, but definitely dark and moody. They're contemporary but they've got a whole country gothic aesthetic thing going on.
posted by isthisthingon at 1:00 PM on January 19, 2005

The Mekons are British country crossed with punk, a peculiar-seeming mix, and though some of their albums are tough to get into if you're not a fan of punk, one in particular, Journey to the End of the Night, is such an amazing, mournful tribute to the dying British empire & also to unrealized dreams..

I also really dig Roseanne Cash, Lyle Lovett, and will listen to Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard sing Pancho & Lefty (ctrl+f to find it) over and over again for the rest of my life.
posted by soviet sleepover at 1:02 PM on January 19, 2005

Willie Nelson's Stardust isn't really country at all, but it is a great great album.

Be very careful which mastering you get though... If you can't hear the sweat beading on his brow you haven't found the right version yet. The Columbia Mastersound edition is good.
posted by Chuckles at 1:03 PM on January 19, 2005

Califone, Boxharp, Jesse Sykes & The Sweethereafter..

Incidentally Epitonic's Folk Section has a nice selection of free mp3s for your perusal.
posted by m0nm0n at 1:06 PM on January 19, 2005

Unbelievable. All these great posts and no mention of the true genius of country music, Kris Kristofferson.
posted by billysumday at 1:13 PM on January 19, 2005

The Silver Jews are a favourite. And I'm amazed noone's mentioned Wilco (at least the older albums).
posted by Evstar at 1:15 PM on January 19, 2005

More folk than country, but I've been unable to stop listening to Iron & Wine lately - and if you want mood he has it by the truckload.

I too am addicted.

Townes is god. Lucinda Williams is good. John Hiatt is country-tinged rock. Flying Burrito Brothers.

If I had my CD case with me, I could give you a serious list.

How come no one's mentioned Wilco?
posted by mudpuppie at 1:33 PM on January 19, 2005

Oops, sorry Evstar.

And yes, that's supposed to be "Townes is God."
posted by mudpuppie at 1:34 PM on January 19, 2005

Vic Chesnutt is mighty fine, though not pure country, per se.
posted by picea at 1:45 PM on January 19, 2005

I second the Jesse Sykes recommendation. Also consider Richmond Fontaine. Their latest album, Post to Wire is dark, well-written, well-performed, and has lots of Paul Brainard playing pedal steel. Richard Buckner's Devotion and Doubt and The Hill are both moody and dark as well as very, very good. The former has Lloyd Maines on steel, IIRC, and the second is based on the death poems of Edgar Lee Masters.

Also, pretty much anything Bobby Bare Jr. touches is gold. You might prefer Young Criminal's Starvation League to From the End of Your Leash as it has more weepers.
posted by stet at 1:54 PM on January 19, 2005

Guy Clark.
posted by enrevanche at 2:06 PM on January 19, 2005

Did you mean Rasputina, the goth ladies' cello society?

I'd second Dock Boggs. His songs are violent and weird, and he himself was a very violent and weird man.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:28 PM on January 19, 2005

Some of my favorite country singers that haven't been mentioned yet are Lonsome Bob, Allison Moorer, Mike Ireland, and Buddy Miller.
posted by whatideserve at 4:22 PM on January 19, 2005

Lonesome Bob. That'll teach me not to hit "spell check."
posted by whatideserve at 4:23 PM on January 19, 2005

I will Third Gillian Welch. She is our absolute favourite. It's old-timey stripped back 2-part harmony and Guitar. If you are a musician at all, it's a great way to start out playing the blue grass.

I would also recommend The Waifs from Western Australia. They are dark and moody but slightly alt-country.

And my other favourite, the Steel Wheels on a Gravel Road album by Lucinda Williams
posted by Dag Maggot at 4:56 PM on January 19, 2005

Patsy Cline can be pretty spooky. (see Walking After Midnight, although the Cowboy Junkies version outdoes it i think...maybe i should be submitting to the 'covers better than the original' thread)
posted by softlord at 5:12 PM on January 19, 2005

I'm glad youse guys came up with Kristofferson and Guy Clark, whom I've been listening to recently but whose names I couldn't for some reason summon. They are both fantastic.

just to nitpick (for anyone interested in obtaining this great album), Lucinda's record is called Car Wheels on a Gravel Road ... though I hear the bootleg version has a killer cover of "Between a Rock and a Hard Place."
posted by Dr. Wu at 5:14 PM on January 19, 2005

Gillian Welch! (her concert in Wellington was a great night out). Jolie Holland is pretty good too.

Some Ani DiFranco sounds pretty country in that it's so depressing you'll kill yourself (not most, but the odd song on Revelling and Reckoning album, like "Sick of me", "Your next bold move", "Old old song", "Garden of Simple").

And there's cheesy stuff like the Statler Brothers, but it's removed by your "not lame" filter.
posted by holloway at 5:27 PM on January 19, 2005

Hi, my name is socratic, and I have a music downloading problem because all these nice people suggested such awesome music. God, I need to learn to stay away from the music threads.... in a good way... heh.
posted by socratic at 6:26 PM on January 19, 2005

Oh, and, I'll third or fourth or whatever Neko Case. It's hard to believe she's also in The New Pornographers, which is about as .. un-country as you can get. And Merle Haggard, yes.. Also (here's a curveball almost like holloway's), Norah Jones' newest CD is almost shockingly country, but she's from Texas isn't she?
posted by socratic at 6:30 PM on January 19, 2005

oh, and i always recommend the jesus and mary chain darklands for people who "don't like country but want to listen to some country"--it's nothing like my earlier recommendation (the transmissionary six or the junkies), but it's pretty country.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:45 PM on January 19, 2005

16 Horsepower has a great dark country sound. Its all the Appalachia creepiness and despair you can stand. You might also try Clem Snide, although they are definitely more on the lighter, alt-country side of things.
posted by thewittyname at 7:16 PM on January 19, 2005

John Prine
posted by Wolfdog at 7:30 PM on January 19, 2005

The Handsome Family and Richard Buckner. I second the 16 Horsepower and have to mention a closely related band, The Denver Gentlemen. Not country per se, but definitely worth checking out if you like the 16HP.
posted by echolalia67 at 9:46 PM on January 19, 2005

Oh yeah on the Buckner. "Devotion + Doubt" would be in my CD changer continuously, if I had a CD changer. Me 100th on Townes, whose "Highway Kind" is the only song for which I've had to pull of the road (though Son VOlt's "Tear Stained Eye" came close), and Allison Moorer has the best voice in the bizness (you can hear her *taste* every word).
posted by notsnot at 10:11 PM on January 19, 2005

Dwight Yoakum (terrible site, sorry) is a great overlooked modern (but respectful of traditions) country artist out of Bakersfield. He does a lot of different styles: twangy Western swingy, rock-a-billyish (with great guitarist Pete Anderson), country crooner, norteno (with accordian virtuoso Flaco Jimenez). He can do many flavors of sad; "Thousand Miles From Nowhere" and "Lonesome Roads" are favorites.
posted by TimeFactor at 10:42 PM on January 19, 2005

Robbie Fulks. Even people who hate country love She Took A Lot Of Pills And Died.

Faun Fables is sort of dark and odd and countryish. Great to see her live.

If you live in the Bay Area you have to go see a Rube Waddell show, although that isn't really country. The album I have is decent but not great. It is pretty old, so maybe their sound has changed.

I happen to be a big fan of Lyle Lovett but I suspect that might not be the kind of music you are looking for. Also Steve Earle is fun, although I find his last few albums have suffered from his need to beat you over the head with his politics (and I agree with most of what he says!)

But really Robbie Fulks and Faun Fables. Can't go wrong with those two.
posted by aspo at 11:11 PM on January 19, 2005

Fred Eaglesmith's style ranges from almost punky two-chord rave-ups to slow, tearjerking heartbreakers. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the greatest country-rock band ever, Blue Rodeo, who manage to make Beatles-esque harmonies and jagged Neil Young-style lead guitar sound at home in a country framework.
posted by arto at 11:34 PM on January 19, 2005

The Carter Family's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"
Roy Acuff's "Wreck on the Highway"
Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels"
Gene Autry's "You Are My Sunshine" -- seriously. This song has been done to death but it's still one of the most effective songs about heartbreak ever.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:59 PM on January 19, 2005

I'd fall in with the recommendation of Johnny Cash, but I'd recommend you start with 'Live in Folsom Prison'. This remains easily one of my top five albums ever.

Its one of the happiest grim records I've ever heard. Almost every song was tailored to his hopeless audience and covers the gamut betwen tragedy, schmaltzy memories of home, and really great dark humor, and the whole thing ends on this wonderful note of redemption with a hymn written by one of the prisoners.

Contains a great rendition of Cocaine Blues, Fulsom Prison Blues (with the inmates cheering at the murder), 25 Minutes to Go (The last 25 minutes of a condemned man's life which is terribly funny and great for campire singalongs). Even something schmaltzy like 'Green Grass of Home' can bring a tear to the eye, when you consider the audience and the unpretentious way Cash sings it.

If you try Hank Sr., get 'Alone with his Guitar' which, at times, can be happily gloomy and really brings out his songs.

Sixteen Horsepower is a great modern act which uses depression-era instruments and has nice bloody songs full of Old Testament imagery.
posted by pandaharma at 12:15 AM on January 20, 2005

James Fuckin' McMurtry. One of the best lyricists currently drawing breath on this planet and I'll fight anyone who says different.

There are lots of others: Charlie Sexton, Vic Chesnutt (you may remember him as the wheelchair bound band member in Slingblade), Butch Hancock, Steve James, The Bad Livers, The Gourds, Storyville, Toni Price, Dave Alvin, and for the love of god, we can't forget Robert Earl Keen. Michael Fracasso is sort of on the edge between blues and country or maybe between alt.rock and country, but you gotta check him out. And I'd include Trish Murphy, but she tends to do your more upbeat, country-rock type stuff. However, she does kick ass. Michelle Shocked does what she calls "minstrel music;" It sounds very much to me like country music.. circa 1880. Oh, and don't forget the weirdness that is Terry Allen. I should really do a front page post on this guy.

There's a radio station in Austin, TX called KGSR which invites (mostly, but not exclusively) type musicians to their studio to perform, then periodically releases selections from those sessions in the form of compilations CDs. I've got a couple and they contain a lot of stuff that meets the criteria you list.
posted by Clay201 at 12:46 AM on January 20, 2005

Cash, Gillian Welch, Wilco, Bonnie Prince Billy and the Silver Jews are all great suggestions.

What you also need to get is some of the genius that is Bill Callahan's Smog. Wild Love, The Doctor Came At Dawn, Red Apple Falls, Knock Knock and Dongs Of Sevotion are all fantastic.
posted by Len at 4:36 AM on January 20, 2005

Not really country, but country-influenced and incredibly beautiful in a way that you'd probably like, try Songs:Ohia's Ghost Tropic album.
posted by fuzz at 5:06 AM on January 20, 2005

Jay Farrar (ex-Uncle Tupelo, ex-Son Volt) has put out a few solo albums that, while lighter on the side than his previous work, are still quite good. "Sebastapol" is the one to start with.
posted by gsh at 7:25 AM on January 20, 2005

lots of people also put shivaree in the "slow, moody, like country-but-not" category. i find they go well in a playlist with t6 & the junkies.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:16 AM on January 20, 2005

Uncle Tupelo, the band that spawned both Wilco and Jay Farrar is definitely a good place to start. I also feel the need to mention Lambchop, who aren't particularly dark but is a great example of what makes so much better than top 40 pop country.

Just as a side note, not all of the artists mentioned are instantly accessable to someone who is unfamiliar with the genre. Bloodshot Records compilations are a good place to start - I recommend this one in particular. Other than that, start with the artists mentioned most frequently in this tread.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:41 AM on January 20, 2005

« Older phone with a digital answering machine   |   How Do Americans Use the Phrase "Later"? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.