Country Music is Not Evil. Prove it.
April 28, 2010 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Please help me stop judging all of country music as evil.

My entire life I've been convinced that I hate country music, and then I heard "Jolene" and then I kinda liked the opening song of "True Blood". So apparently I don't hate all country music.

Unfortunately, every time I start trying to expand my country experience I end up backing away very rapidly from the computer. I like clever lyrics, throaty vocals, and decent melody (but doesn't everyone?). I prefer more upbeat/less ballady about the dying dog and the trucker with a shotgun on the range. I've tried listening to more of Dolly Parton, but it's only specific songs that I like and finding them is hard. I've tried Pandora and Last FM's suggestions using the two above starting points, but there was still a lot of stuff that didn't rock my world/drove me insane.

Help me stop judging a giant genre of music. I'm not looking for a huge amount of songs, just the super awesome ones to throw into my current mix of tunes...

Current music tastes figure heavily towards Iclandic melodic rock, The Killers, Flogging Molly, Lady Gaga, and La Roux (yea a little of everything).
posted by larthegreat to Media & Arts (110 answers total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
Johnny Cash, the Live From Folsom Prison album.
posted by availablelight at 5:41 PM on April 28, 2010 [15 favorites]

Not "country" but what you are looking for -

Nanci Griffith
Iris Dement
Townes Van Zandt
posted by fire&wings at 5:41 PM on April 28, 2010

You need Lyle Lovett. And Robbie Fulks.
posted by stennieville at 5:42 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy Steve Earle - his voice is not to everyone's taste, but his songwriting is pretty damn good. Skip Copperhead Road and look at later stuff like Train A Comin' and subsequent albums.
posted by Knicke at 5:48 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your need classic Charlie Rich. Just pretend the 70s Countrypolitan stuff didn't happen.
posted by maudlin at 5:49 PM on April 28, 2010

Just watch this movie.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 5:49 PM on April 28, 2010

posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:49 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Add Flop Eared Mule to your feed reader.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:50 PM on April 28, 2010

Best answer: In my opinion, Miranda Lambert is just about the best thing in today's country scene.

Some of her favorite singles of mine are White Liar, Kerosene, Gunpowder and Lead, & Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
posted by 1901gunner at 5:50 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

*Some of my favorite singles of hers, even. Wow.
posted by 1901gunner at 5:51 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Neko Case. Her vocals, combined with her brilliant lyrics = perfection.
posted by fantine at 5:52 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would hazard a guess you might want to look into the subgenres of "alt country" or "y'allternative" or even what is termed "American Roots Music" to avoid the pop-country stuff. Maybe try Neko Case, The Sadies, or even Hank Williams Jr?
posted by pixiecrinkle at 5:52 PM on April 28, 2010

I don't like country music, but I love Patsy Cline.
posted by jocelmeow at 5:52 PM on April 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

You need Lyle Lovett. You certainly do. I challenge you to listen to his self titled album without loving it.
posted by Neiltupper at 5:53 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: - Our Mother the Mountain - Townes Van Zandt
- In my Hour of Darkeness - Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris
- like Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo
- Psychobilly like Horton Heat or Southern Culture on the Skids
- Nice ladies who sing like The Stairwell Sisters or Gillian Welch

None of these are strictly country but if you like one direction of them and salt your Pandora with them, you may find more country that you like.
posted by jessamyn at 5:53 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Tom Russell. I would recommend starting with Borderland. Any musician who uses Touch of Evil as a metaphor for a bad relationship and writes a song about William Faulkner going to Hollywood to write movies is OK in my book. Of course, he's kind of "Alt Country," but, hey.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:55 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

A country look at the Odyssey by Briane Keane. It's fucking funny, imo.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:55 PM on April 28, 2010

You might also like Lucinda Williams. She's sometimes more country, sometimes more bluesy rock. (OK, that last link isn't really country at all, so feel free to ignore it. She does do a lot of country-type things though.)
posted by frobozz at 5:57 PM on April 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Also, Outlaws of Country Music might be a useful term for you to start searching what you seem to be looking for.
posted by frobozz at 5:59 PM on April 28, 2010

I don't like country overall either, but I do like Jolene, and these songs also have that kind of sincerity:

  • You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive - Brad Paisley
  • Not Ready to Make Nice - The Dixie Chicks
  • You'll Think of Me - Keith Urban
  • What Hurts the Most - Rascal Flatts
  • Boondocks - Little Big Town

  • posted by headspace at 6:01 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

    Even though I don't really like his style, Townes Van Zandt is an amazing lyricist.

    Do you like bluegrass? A lot of urban/coastal liberal NPR-listening* type people seem to think bluegrass doesn't quite count as country music. A great "alternative" bluegrass band is Crooked Still. They're from Boston and play for more of a "folk" audience. And there's Béla Fleck and the Flecktones: not exactly traditional bluegrass either, but they're great.

    *Speaking of NPR, Prairie Home Companion features country music pretty often. Personally I'm not a fan, but you could try listening to that.
    posted by k. at 6:04 PM on April 28, 2010

    Bourbon and Rosewater
    posted by phrontist at 6:05 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Iris DeMent.

    So good I could almost wonder whether she's not just a wishful delusion I came up with to help me get along in this dark world (but that would be a feat far, far beyond my paltry imagination).
    posted by jamjam at 6:08 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

    The Old97's may fill the bill. They started out being dubbed, though I wouldn't apply that label to most of the songs on most of their albums past the first two or three. Hitchhike to Rhome and Wreck your Life are probably the "twangiest."

    And yeah, definitely check out Lyle Lovett, Nancy Griffith, Johnny Cash. Maybe some Don Walser too.
    posted by Good Brain at 6:10 PM on April 28, 2010

    Nthing these might not be country, but some of my choices for country-ish mood:
    Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison
    Be good tanyas - Chinatown
    Sera Cahoone - Only as the day is long
    Hank III - Broke, Lovesick, Driftin
    Drive By Truckers - The Dirty South
    Uncle Tupelo - No Depression
    Wye Oak - Wye Oak
    Rosa - i mississippi you
    Emmylou Harris - Roses in the Snow
    posted by yeoldefortran at 6:12 PM on April 28, 2010

    Best answer: John Prine, "Crazy as a Loon"
    Bright Eyes, "Make War"
    Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins, "Rise Up With Fists"
    The Avett Brothers, "The Ballad of Love and Hate"
    AA Bondy, "When the Devil's Loose"
    Townes van Zandt, "Pancho and Lefty"

    As a counterpoint to all the "dumb redneck" stereotypes being thrown around, everyone on this list is a world-class lyricist. Each one puts anyone currently working in rock or pop music to shame. Bonus: They're all liberals.
    posted by drjimmy11 at 6:13 PM on April 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

    Van Lear Rose by Loretta Lynn is a really great album.
    posted by thirteenkiller at 6:15 PM on April 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

    Listen to the duet Darling Companion, by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. If that does not make you weep inside, then you may be a replicant.
    posted by KokuRyu at 6:19 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Not a recommendation, but a tip to help you get over your "judging" like you asked for. Country music is big. BIG. There is a world of difference between music from Nashville and Texas, between Bob Wills and Bill Monroe, canyons of time and style between Hank I, II and III. There are so many sub-genres and time periods and they cover 100 years of music (this is just a start). You will find country music that sounds like jazz, or blues, or folk, or top 40. Little Milton, Ray Charles, and Taylor Swift all did time playing country music. Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and even Bill Haley all came out of country music to bring you rock and roll.

    Anyone who out-of-hand dismisses something with the breadth of country music is just plain ignorant of American music in it's entirety. You have a lot of listening and a lot of musical fun ahead of you.
    posted by quarterframer at 6:19 PM on April 28, 2010 [12 favorites]

    Seconding Johnny Cash (particularly "Live at Folsom Prison"). And Lyle Lovett.
    And how about some Willie Nelson (maybe one of his newer collaborations, either "Two Men With the Blues" or "Asleep at the Wheel").
    How about Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys?
    Patsy Cline?
    posted by browse at 6:19 PM on April 28, 2010

    Its entirety. End of rant.
    posted by quarterframer at 6:20 PM on April 28, 2010

    Oh, apparently the song at the end of True Blood is Ain't No Grave by Crooked Still.
    posted by k. at 6:21 PM on April 28, 2010

    Actually you should probably go ahead and head over to When You Awake. It's a truly outstanding contemporary country blog.
    posted by drjimmy11 at 6:24 PM on April 28, 2010

    Chris Isaak
    Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
    posted by rhizome at 6:26 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Kathleen Edwards might be a good gateway drug. And nthing Neko Case.
    posted by yellowbinder at 6:29 PM on April 28, 2010

    Whiskeytown. Listen to Whiskeytown.
    posted by faeuboulanger at 6:32 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Justin Trevino
    Dale Watson
    Willie Nelson
    Merle Haggard

    forget alt country. Go for the good stuff.
    posted by fourcheesemac at 6:37 PM on April 28, 2010

    Help me stop judging a giant genre of music.

    You need to etch Sturgeon's Revelation on the inside of your forehead. Turning off the radio when it's playing crap is healthy and helpful; paying attention to what kind of crap you just turned off is not.
    posted by flabdablet at 6:40 PM on April 28, 2010

    Carter Family, Ernest Tubb and Carl Perkins. And for crying out loud Willie Nelson.

    And the "O Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack, featuring Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and T-Bone Burnett, is a great way to dip your toe in.
    posted by toodleydoodley at 6:43 PM on April 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

    Listen to WNCW. I cannot stress this enough. There is more to country music than Nashville.
    posted by rikschell at 6:43 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

    Ernest Stoneman
    posted by box at 6:44 PM on April 28, 2010

    OK. I started surfing all through all of YouTube to build a play list of links for you. I started with this and got all the way to this and more in between, but there is just too much.

    Country is a lot of thing you don't think it is, like Janis singing Gershwin. It's Dylan singing a song needed for a movie. (If you really think Joplin wasn't country, here's something from one of her mentors).

    It's the bridge between the Blues and Appalachian folk music and what became Rock and Roll. It isn't the over produced stuff of the seventies and eighties. It was around before that. In the mines and the fields. It's the music of the working class and the dreaming class of the forties and fifties, a time when Hank Williams out drew Benny Goodman, play right across the street and out sold Sinatra. But it is not evil.

    Start with Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, the Carters -- all before multitracks and studios and producers invaded the genera. Then listen to Willy and Waylan and Kristopherson and Jerry Jeff and Townes van Zant and Rita as they fought off those pressures (but sometimes lost). And we still have Lyle and Emmylou putting up the good fight.
    posted by Some1 at 6:45 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Umm, Gary Allan. Just Gary Allan. (yes I know the second one is a cover)

    His songs tend to be a bit melancholy but I can't get enough of his voice and his guitar.
    posted by magnetsphere at 6:47 PM on April 28, 2010

    The Jayhawks
    posted by kirkaracha at 6:52 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Ooops, I forgot the Threadgill link. And I got to see him once! And if Janis called him an old man, you can tell how lucky I was. The bar is still there, don't think it's the same as it was in Janis's time, but they've still got great fried okra
    posted by Some1 at 6:52 PM on April 28, 2010

    Country music is not evil.

    Have a listen to James McMurtry (son of novelist Larry McMurtry), particularly "We Can't Make It Here" (trenchant social commentary) and "Choctaw Bingo" (guns, gals, trucks).

    Steve Earle is an excellent suggestion. Try his version of Springsteen's "State Trooper" (dark and somehow more gothic than the original) and his absolutely excellent blugrass album, "The Mountain" ("Harlan Man" kicks butt. See also Levon Helm covering "The Mountain," as well as his "Growin' Trade.")

    Heck, as long as we're talking old pros...Kris Kristofferson's "Closer to the Bone" is gritty and wise.

    Emmylou Harris is a national treasure and her duet album with Linda Ronstadt, "Western Wall," is outstanding and feels like, well, the West. This is not the best cut but it's a sample. Her duet with Steve Earle on "Goodbye" is such a moving thing...

    Band of Heathens doesn't always do it for me, but "Hallelujah" has been my go-to driving song for the last few weeks. Likewise, Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Snake Farm," "Wanna Rock and Roll" and "This Morning I Was Born Again" (sadly, link is not RWH, but Slaid Cleaves; the RWH version is a cappella gospel and utterly amazing).

    Gillian Welch, "Tear My Stillhouse Down" is spooky and funky. "Hell Among the Yearlings" and "Revival" are great albums. See the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack for more. Also see Crooked Still, "Come on In My Kitchen," which is slinky and sexy (men's version here, courtesy of The Deadly Gentlemen, a side project of a Crooked Still member).

    But I digress...

    Alt-country music is *not* evil.
    posted by MonkeyToes at 6:56 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Lots of great stuff mentioned already (and let me echo that country is a vague term for lots of music) but I'm baffled no one's mentioned David Allan Coe. Here's a few songs: If That Ain't Country, Take This Job and Shove It, Long Haired Redneck and Willie, Waylon, and Me.

    And yeah, Gillian Welch is one of the greatest songwriters of our times.
    posted by Kattullus at 7:00 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Kattallus, how could I forget Coe's "Cheap Thrills"?
    posted by MonkeyToes at 7:03 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Cash's "American" albums might be a good way to ease into his stuff; lots of covers and also lots of more Traditional/Country/Western songs.
    posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:04 PM on April 28, 2010

    Oh, for a three-minute edit window...

    Gillian Welch, "Tear My Stillhouse Down"

    Levon Helm, "Growin' Trade"

    And heck, why not Lyle Lovett, "Church"? Clever country gospel fun!
    posted by MonkeyToes at 7:07 PM on April 28, 2010

    Best answer: Oh my God, I must get off Ask Metafilter and get back to my life, but before I do--

    Junior Brown. Instrumental hot guitar, to give you an idea of the man's technical prowess: "Rock & Roll Medley" and "Surf Medley." Big sexy baritone: "Highway Patrol." Mmmm. I like to pair it with Wayne Hancock's "Johnny Law" and his kick-butt version of "Brand New Cadillac."

    John Prine's duet with Iris DeMent, "In Spite of Ourselves," from Prine's album of the same name," played at my wedding reception and we all laughed:

    "She don't like her eggs all runny
    She thinks crossin' her legs is funny
    She looks down her nose at money
    She gets it on like the Easter Bunny
    She's my baby I'm her honey
    I'm never gonna let her go

    He ain't got laid in a month of Sundays
    I caught him once and he was sniffin' my undies
    He ain't too sharp but he gets things done
    Drinks his beer like it's oxygen
    He's my baby
    And I'm his honey
    Never gonna let him go

    In spite of ourselves
    We'll end up a'sittin' on a rainbow
    Against all odds
    Honey, we're the big door prize
    We're gonna spite our noses
    Right off of our faces
    There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
    Dancin' in our eyes."
    posted by MonkeyToes at 7:22 PM on April 28, 2010

    There was an awesome thread a while back about alt-country, which tends to be less sappy or irritating than current mainstream country.
    posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 7:27 PM on April 28, 2010

    Bluegrass and alt- is your way into the grand tradition. And yes, Gillian Welch: if you can see her live, especially in a smaller venue... well, the Dave Rawlings Machine is playing the Bowery Ballroom on June 2/3, and having seen both incarnations of the pairing, I'd say that you actually get more for your money from it. Call it American folk music, with a common thread linking it to blues, because that's what it is at its best.

    WNCW is a great recommendation: straight out of Isothermal Community College.
    posted by holgate at 7:31 PM on April 28, 2010

    If you want to dip your ears into some hard stuff:
    Milwaukee Here I Come, George Jones & Tammy Wynette
    Walking the Floor Over You, Ernest Tubb
    Don't Come Home A-Drinkin', Loretta Lynn
    A little bluegrass: Rawhide via Ricky Skaggs / Kentucky Thunder / Del McCoury Band
    Tiger by the Tail, Buck Owens
    (sweet memories from a youth watching Hee-Haw...)
    Streets of Bakersfield, Dwight Yoakam & Buck Owens
    And if you don't already have, pick up or download The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo -- a great rock gateway into country.
    For example: You Ain't Goin' Nowhere

    And if you're in the mood for a movie, rent "Coal Miner's Daughter," with Sissy Spacek playing Loretta Lynn, and Levon Helm as her Daddy! Entertaining bioflick and great music in the film (Sissy sings her songs herself.)
    posted by jhiggy at 7:32 PM on April 28, 2010

    Nthing Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Buck Owens. And yes, Roy Acuff and Chet Atkins.

    Also listen to The Wabash Cannonball." There are many versions; I like this one -- a great guitar player, IMO.

    Just close your eyes so you don't have to see the outfits.

    It's not my favorite genre, but I appreciate it much more than when I was forced to listen to it as a kid.
    posted by jgirl at 7:44 PM on April 28, 2010

    For years I (thought I) hated country music; I've baby-stepped my way into liking it, by way of pop-country and folk-country. Purists will hate me, but I love Shania Twain, Martina McBride, the Dixie Chicks, Patty Griffin and Sweet Talk Radio. I was able to work through some of my initial biases on these more accessible songs, and then I was able to move to more classic country artists.

    (Those links aren't necessarily the artists' best songs, just first youtube hits)
    posted by bluestocking at 7:47 PM on April 28, 2010

    Hank Williams.

    I'd been a Cash fan for years, but got waaay into Hank after watching The Last Picture Show.
    posted by TrialByMedia at 7:47 PM on April 28, 2010

    2nding Boondocks. Also consider Bobby Chitwood and Big and Rich's infamous Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.
    posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:49 PM on April 28, 2010

    I can't see anyone watching this this Townes Van Zandt video without being touched by its beauty, fragility and tragedy. Townes' older friend starts nodding his head in acknowledgement of the song's basic truth about a hard life, and then begins to cry.

    That line, "One time, friends, I had a ma . . . I even had a pa . . . he beat her with a belt once 'cause she cried" . . . so chilling.

    It's really folk as much as it's country (but for me, if you don't hear the folk in country, it's something else entirely), and I can hear the same old British folk sound one hears in "Jolene" (especially in the guitar part.) And like all great folk music, it's message and sentiment are undeniable and obvious. I played it once for a Romani woman who didn't speak English and she cried too.
    posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:01 PM on April 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

    There's a really great documentary about Townes called Be Here to Love Me. It's fascinating and tragic. The one part I remember, somebody with a camera asks his wife, "What's it like to live with Townes Van Zandt?" She thinks for a bit, sighs, and finally says, "It's kind of a bummer."
    posted by TrialByMedia at 8:06 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Willie Nelson's album Milk Cow Blues is pretty good. I don't generally like country, but Nelson's albums from the past ten years are my cup of tea (or can of beer).
    posted by zippy at 8:07 PM on April 28, 2010

    Kasey Chambers. (Ignore the site, just listen to the music.)

    Elizabeth Cook

    Keith Sykes

    Kinky Freidman

    Paul Thorn

    Robert Earl Keen

    A lot of these videos aren't the best, but hopefully they'll give you a sample.
    posted by MexicanYenta at 8:16 PM on April 28, 2010

    Strongly seconding Van Lear Rose. I listen to it all the time. Here's "Portland, Oregon," a duet that Lynn and Jack White (who produced it) did.
    posted by oinopaponton at 8:46 PM on April 28, 2010

    If you want an awesome radio station to ease you into great traditional, alt, and Texas country, KGSR can jump between Lyle Lovett, U2, The Beatles, Willie Nelson, Los Lobos, SRV, Nickel Creek, Robert Earl Keen, John Lee Hooker, Swell Season, and Iggy Pop in one set.
    posted by kmz at 8:49 PM on April 28, 2010

    You better move your feet
    If you don't wanna eat
    A meal that's called FIST CITY
    posted by jrossi4r at 8:50 PM on April 28, 2010

    Nthing Lucinda Williams, especially Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which is the album that made me realize I didn't hate everything country.

    Also nthing Townes Van Zandt, who was a genius, though he's more of a folk artist than a country one in my mind.
    posted by Rinku at 8:50 PM on April 28, 2010

    You, my friend, need to read Nathan Rabin's amazing Nashville or Bust series at the Onion's AV Club. Besides covering the obvious icons -- e.g., Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson (who he calls -- correctly -- "a goddamn national treasure"), Merle Haggard, et al -- he also touches on everyone from Lefty Frizzell to k.d. lang to Gram Parsons. Seriously, it's an incredibly enjoyable, eye-opening, insightful ongoing exploration of the importance and brilliance of country music -- and, like you, he comes at it with no meaningful background in country music. Great fun to read, and great fun to listen to (since he includes he audio links in every article).

    Now, beyond that, you might also enjoy the more alternative side of country -- e.g., punk-influenced bands like the Mekons (and their awesome, more straightforward country spin-off, The Waco Brothers), any of the artists on labels like Bloodshot Records (this is a great compilation), or even alt-Americana bands like Califone.

    Have fun!
    posted by scody at 8:52 PM on April 28, 2010

    Hank Williams Senior is kinda like Jesus freakin Christ, 'specially when he sings 'Angel of Death'.

    Steve Earle really covered that bagpipes/mandolins/bootlegging angle in 'Copperhead Road'.

    As did George Jones in 'White Lightning'.
    posted by ovvl at 8:55 PM on April 28, 2010

    And oh, just to emphasize, some of my favorite country artists that I've discovered mostly through KGSR, in no particular order except the first three:

    Willie Nelson
    Johnny Cash
    Patsy Cline
    Kelly Willis
    Steve Earle
    Nanci Griffith
    Slaid Cleaves
    Radney Foster
    John Prine
    Iris Dement (their duet In Spite Of Ourselves is funny and sweet)
    Patty Griffin
    Emmylou Harris
    Neko Case
    Kasey Chambers
    Robert Earl Keen
    Ray Wylie Hubbard

    and many many more.
    posted by kmz at 9:00 PM on April 28, 2010

    I flat-out can't believe nobody's mentioned the Flatlanders - More a Legend Than a Band.
    posted by Beardman at 9:04 PM on April 28, 2010

    I hated country music until the woman at the record store put a copy of Steve Earle's "El Corazon" in my hands. I highly recommend it as a starting point.

    I second the Robbie Fulks recommendation. His lyrics are extremely clever. I think "Georgia Hard" may be my favorite of his albums.
    posted by whatideserve at 9:28 PM on April 28, 2010

    I'm just gonna reiterate that what you want to listen to is Freakwater or Catherine Irwin. Cathy Irwin writes most of Freakwater's songs and in my opinion is one of the greatest songwriters living today. I just wish she was more prolific. If I had to choose one album it'd probably be End Time, although I have a sentimental attachment to Feels Like The Third Time because it includes My Old Drunk Friend.

    Furnace Room Lullabye by Neko Case and Her Boyfriends is spectacular, and not at all like her current stuff.

    If that's not rockin' enough for you, Jesse Dayton is pretty great, as was his rockabilly band The Road Kings. You may also know his from his appearances in some Rob Zombie movies (the linked song is officially by Banjo and Sullivan).

    Also, country music is awesome, you just have to find the good stuff. Welcome to the club.
    posted by smartyboots at 10:46 PM on April 28, 2010

    I can't see anyone watching this this Townes Van Zandt video without being touched by its beauty, fragility and tragedy. Townes' older friend starts nodding his head in acknowledgement of the song's basic truth about a hard life, and then begins to cry.

    Seconding Dee Extrovert's recommendation of this clip. The fact that Van Zandt, a genius by any reasonable measure, is living in this run-down trailer park, playing for an audience of two- It's kind of a country cliche, and yet I don't think anyone would dare laugh at that scene. The pure emotion, how he makes his friend cry- that's what country music (and all music) is about.

    Btw the clip is from a film called "Heartworn Highways" that I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend if you can get your hands on it.
    posted by drjimmy11 at 10:53 PM on April 28, 2010

    Seconding Old 97's and Steve Earle. Years ago, a friend gave me a mix CD with a track from Train a Comin'. I went out and bought the album the next day, and alt-country has been one of my favorite genres ever since.

    You might also want to check out Wilco's first two albums.
    posted by arianell at 11:21 PM on April 28, 2010

    Country music isn't evil. It's just easy to conflate bad country music with All country music if your only source for it is the radio. That's true of a lot of different music genres though.

    Here are some suggestions:

    June Carter: Wildwood Flower

    Dixie Chicks: A Home

    John Denver: Take Me Home Country Roads (sappy but in a very satisfying way)

    cheerful Johnny Cash: One Piece at a Time (fairly talky, but funny).

    less cheerful Johnny Cash: cover of One by U2

    Alison Kraus and Union Station: Restless

    On the Country/Folk boundary:

    Alela Diane: Dry Grass and the Shadows (the recorded version is even better, but it's not on Youtube).

    The Be Good Tanyas: Littlest Birds (can't find a decent link)

    Crooked Still: New Railroad

    Billy Bragg and Wilco: Way Over Yonder (ignore the disorienting first 3 seconds of the clip. you're not actually being rick-rolled by the NY University Film Library)

    Gillian Welch: Elvis Presley Blues

    John Prine: Angel from Montgomery

    And then, just because I think some of the oldest stuff has the cleverest lyrics once your ears get used to a different kind of sound:

    Ola Belle Reed & Family: Old Lady & the Devil. It's possible that I have a completely perverse sense of humor, because that song makes me smile every time I hear it.
    posted by colfax at 11:42 PM on April 28, 2010

    When I was a teenager, country was almost all I listened to. Now I nearly can't stand it, save for occasionally listening to songs I listened to back then. But from my personal country back-library...

    Shania Twain sometimes sounds more like pop than country. I really like "No One Needs to Know" from the Twister soundtrack, and "I'm Holdin' Onto Love (To Save my Life)."

    If you're enjoying Dolly Parton, look up "Light of a Clear Blue Morning" from the Straight Talk soundtrack; it's a very uplifting song.

    I normally don't like Leann Rimes but I do like "Can't Fight the Moonlight" from Coyote Ugly's soundtrack.

    If you're into patriotic songs, I love Martina McBride's "Independence Day," (though it is a bit ballad-y) and there's the old standby "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood.

    Lady Antebellum right now has a hit song called "Need You Now," although I prefer their song "One Day You Will." I don't really like any of their other songs after sampling them on Lala. (The benefit of Lala being you get to listen to the entire song once, rather than 30-second clips.)
    posted by IndigoRain at 12:07 AM on April 29, 2010

    I can't recommend the music of Dave Alvin highly enough, whether with the Blasters (rockabilly), late-period X (rock), or his own solo career (country/blues/folk/rock/roots/Americana).
    posted by Guy Smiley at 12:17 AM on April 29, 2010

    Pretty much everything I'd add was nthed above, with the exception of Todf Snider.
    posted by backwards guitar at 4:44 AM on April 29, 2010

    Strong yes to Todd Snider, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Lyle Lovett. For Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, just get a best-of collection. For Lyle Lovett, his most upbeat, non-ballady collection is I Love Everybody. Live in Texas is a lot of fun, too.
    posted by waldo at 5:26 AM on April 29, 2010

    I dont' think you can base "country is evil" on anyone here's taste. Turn on a wide-variety country station, listen for an entire weekend. You'll find out what you like.
    posted by stormpooper at 6:26 AM on April 29, 2010

    The perfect country-western song should include references to mama, and trains, and trucks, and prison, and getting drunk.
    posted by kirkaracha at 6:26 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Seconding The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo: I find it hard to imagine anyone not falling in love with it. And then you'll want to check out Gram Parsons. (Obviously these are "country rock" or whatever rather than straight country, but they're an excellent gateway drug.)
    posted by languagehat at 7:20 AM on April 29, 2010

    Three Lyle Lovett songs that I like: LA County, I've been to Memphis and If I Had A Boat. The first two are definitely the upbeat kind that you asked for; the third is more childlike reverie.
    posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:20 AM on April 29, 2010

    > Turn on a wide-variety country station, listen for an entire weekend. You'll find out what you like.

    The problem with that is that the poster hates most country, thus wouldn't last an entire weekend.
    posted by languagehat at 7:20 AM on April 29, 2010

    Johnny Cash (all of it, particularly when he was strung out on speed)
    Merle Haggard (Okie from Muskogee is what hooked me)
    Conway Twitty (any of the drinking songs)

    Rev. Horton Heat is worth listening to, and if you don't already listen to Leonard Cohen, even though he's not a country artist, maybe you should start. There's never been a Leonard Cohen song that wasn't improved by someone else singing it, so that will expose you to a shit ton of singers by-the-by. Willie Nelson is similar. Both will end up with you listening to KD Lang at some point, which also isn't bad.

    But mostly, you have to remember that the real point of old school country music is ugly drunk guys getting mean and bitching about women and/or the bank. As Conway Twitty said in an interview, "I used to sing at Texas honky-tonks, and they'd check you at the door. If you didn't have a gun, they'd give you one..."

    There was a station in SW Virginia called "Big Country" which exclusively played old-school country. "Big Country (tm) -- Pretending the Judds never existed" and so forth, in their ads. I hated country until I ended up listening to that station for a 4-hour drive, and afterwards I realized that I just hated the pretty-boy Nashville fakes who can't write their own songs. Real country is good stuff.
    posted by apathy at 7:32 AM on April 29, 2010

    Iris de Ment and Lyle Lovett are also worth a listen, btw.
    posted by apathy at 7:33 AM on April 29, 2010

    You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive - Brad Paisley
    You'll Think of Me - Keith Urban
    What Hurts the Most - Rascal Flatts

    Taste is personal, but reading your question, I don't think these suggestions are what you want. Paisley, Urban, and OMG Rascal Flatts are at the forefront of country pop. In other words, the only thing country about them is their boots.

    Get off the radio and look up some of the lesser known artists mentioned in this thread. Great country music is fantastic, but you're only going to find watered down pop on the radio (for the most part).
    posted by Dennis Murphy at 8:23 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

    There are a zillion great suggestions here (I counted) but still missing is Guy Clark. You can even pick up Together at the Bluebird Cafe to get Clark, Townes, and Steve Earle all on one disc.
    posted by maurice at 9:27 AM on April 29, 2010

    Here's my short list of favorite country or country-ish singers:

    Neko Case
    Gillian Welch
    Allison Krauss
    Emmylou Harris
    Iris de Ment
    Steve Earle
    Willie Nelson
    Waylon Jennings
    Johnny Cash
    Lyle Lovett
    Merle Haggard
    John Prine
    The Old '97s
    posted by kataclysm at 9:29 AM on April 29, 2010

    Leonard Cohen does meet country on his fantastic (and reverent) remake of Tennessee Waltz
    posted by jhiggy at 10:07 AM on April 29, 2010

    Look, back when I hated beer, people kept trying to change my mind by giving me light beers, thinking that they would be inoffensive. "Crossover" beers, if you will. That didn't fly. It turns out that the kind of beer I really like is dark and thick, and tasting one of those changed my opinion forever.

    So on that basis, let me recommend skipping the Country Lite and delving straight into Dwight Yoakam.
    posted by Knowyournuts at 10:18 AM on April 29, 2010

    Lots of good stuff already. Came here to suggest Lucinda Williams, Bright Eyes, Gillian Welch, Allison Krauss, Dwight Yoakam.

    So I'll add a few I haven't seen yet:
    Old Crow Medicine Show
    Trampled By Turtles
    South Austin Jug Band
    Dave Rawlings Machine

    And I really like the Allison Krauss/Robert Plant release a few years back and the recent Crazy Heart Soundtrack
    posted by cross_impact at 10:48 AM on April 29, 2010

    Dude. I forgot Wilco. Well, early Wilco is more country than lately. They've been busting genres in recent years.
    posted by cross_impact at 10:50 AM on April 29, 2010

    Definitely look into "outlaw country" as a genre.

    A lot of the older stuff has been recommended already (like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, etc), and anything closer to bluegrass roots (like Allison Krauss) will also scratch your itch. Stay away from pop country.
    posted by bookdragoness at 11:32 AM on April 29, 2010

    The perfect country-western song should include references to mama, and trains, and trucks, and prison, and getting drunk.

    Don't forget your coffee and your wife/girlfriend leaving you!

    "Lost mah bay-EE-bee...mmm-MMM-mmm...cuppa coffee...un-huh...prisonnnnn.....TRA-AAIINNN!!!!"

    Gramma and Grampa and Mom and Dad used to hate it when my brothers and I did that. Memories...
    posted by jgirl at 11:34 AM on April 29, 2010

    Darrell Scott: American Tune
    posted by colfax at 11:39 AM on April 29, 2010

    Please, for the love of all that is good, listen to JOHN PRINE.
    posted by triggerfinger at 11:41 AM on April 29, 2010

    Stay away from pop country.

    Lord, yes. Far, far away.
    posted by jgirl at 11:46 AM on April 29, 2010

    colfax, I'll see you a Darrell Scott and raise you his wonderful song, "Hank Williams' Ghost." I also like his work with Tim O'Brien, whose "World of Trouble" still tickles me ("So many ways to worry, what's a man to do/GMOs and BSE and avian bird flu").
    posted by MonkeyToes at 12:59 PM on April 29, 2010

    Response by poster: um wow. the response has been insane- 105 comments in under 24 hours?! wow.

    In any case, as several of you have guessed, my only exposure to country has been via radio, and that mostly, in short spurts over the last 20 years. Listening to a full day of contemporary country would not end well. Also, given that my exposure has been primarily when traveling in the western states, I'm definitely missing out on the more regional/indie country.

    I've got hours of listening/education. I'll definitely be marking answers as best, as I work through them...
    posted by larthegreat at 3:53 PM on April 29, 2010

    I am dumbfounded that nobody has mentioned Lee Hazlewood. A truly idiosyncratic and iconoclastic man. Pretty much anything by Lee Hazlewood is amazing, but if you're interested in a good entry point, his album of duets with Nancy Sinatra is a good place to start.
    posted by blucevalo at 8:51 PM on April 29, 2010

    Totally forgot to mention Canada's most successful country rock band, Blue Rodeo. Two very strong vocalists who harmonize well. Their sound has changed over the years; chances are you'll find at least one of their incarnations that suits.

    Early years, with keyboardist Bob Wiseman: Diamond Mine, House of Dreams, Try, Trust "Yourself (Letterman 1991), Rain Down on Me

    New drummer and keyboardist in the mid-90s: Blew It Again, Hasn't Hit Me Yet, It could happen to you, Till I Gain Control Again, Better Off as We Are

    More recent stuff: Losing You, Don't Let the Darkness In Your Head, C'mon, This Town
    posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:43 PM on April 29, 2010

    posted by flabdablet at 5:32 PM on May 2, 2010

    The Gourds.
    posted by batmonkey at 8:32 AM on May 4, 2010

    Like you, I wasn't a fan of country music for a long time, but my wife is fond of it, and has pulled me in to a degree. I'm fond of some sappy mainstream songs: Tim McGraw - Just To See You Smile and Garth Brooks - Wrapped Up in You. And Garth Brooks, for a mainstream artist, is pretty enjoyable on the whole. He does a lot of woopin' and hollerin' in his music, especially in his live shows.
    posted by filthy light thief at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2010

    Response by poster: So blue grass, psychobilly and random pop it is. And I've listened to a whole lot of music, much of it awesome and much of it still not to my taste, but at least I'm not as terrified of it.

    posted by larthegreat at 8:07 PM on June 1, 2010

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