Songs by a world-weary cowboy/girl required...
March 14, 2013 5:47 AM   Subscribe

I have recently discovered that I really love the kind of music that is heartfelt, lyrically strong, with a wistful and melancholic vibe. The type that conjures up images of a world-weary cowgirl/boy (cowperson?) passing on words of wisdom as the sun sets in the distance... and I am looking for more!

This realisation was bought on by finding the album Post War by M. Ward (YouTube example) thanks to Mefite breccia's answer to this question on great albums. I like everything about it and the best way I can describe it (badly) is a mix of Elvis, Johnny Cash, country and western, blues, and a sprinkle of Fleetwood Mac. The challenge is that, as a dude from England, I have no understanding of this musical style or how I might go about finding more of the same. It is so far off my usual taste-radar. I had thought of Johnny Cash as a first route to explore, but I honestly don't have the first clue. Can any fans of this style recommend me male and female singers, groups, albums or songs that are the really great examples of this genre? Up-tempo numbers or slowies are equally great.

Many thanks in advance. As a thank you I will attempt to cobble together a Spotify playlist of any recommendations you guys throw out.
posted by 0 answers to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should go and listen to some Laura Cantrell
posted by pipeski at 5:51 AM on March 14, 2013

This might be a bit folkier than you're after, but Bright Eyes has gotten like this in the past few years, and there are a bunch of associated artists (Rilo Kiley/Jenny Lewis; Lullaby for the Working Class; First Aid Kit; Son, Ambulance; Tilly and the Wall) that sound a little like that too. I would call this the Saddle Creek sound.
posted by pullayup at 5:53 AM on March 14, 2013

Desperadoes Waiting for a Train by The Highwaymen fits your description.

(The Highwaymen are Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson)
posted by jquinby at 6:00 AM on March 14, 2013

First and foremost, and above all else, Townes Van Zandt

Guy Clark
Jimmie Dale Gilmore
John Prine

And,of course, Willie Nelson
posted by neroli at 6:01 AM on March 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Lucinda Williams.
posted by mareli at 6:04 AM on March 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, there's also The Gambler by Kenny Rogers. This version is live and lively - the album version is a little more subdued.
posted by jquinby at 6:04 AM on March 14, 2013

Not making any assumptions about what you are or aren't familiar with, other possibilities include Iron & Wine, Fleet Foxes, Andrew Bird, and Wilco.

Lucinda Williams is a great idea too!
posted by pullayup at 6:05 AM on March 14, 2013

Strangely enough, I think a lot of music by Sweden's Christian Kjellvander really hit that lonely country bullseye dead on.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:08 AM on March 14, 2013

You might love love you some Dave Alvin. Here he is playing Dry River.
posted by rtha at 6:12 AM on March 14, 2013

Came in to say Townes. He got me through my 20s.

You might look into the two albums of covers Nanci Griffith put out. Not just for the songs and arrangements themselves, but as a launching point. She covered a lot of really great writers - Townes, Guy Clark ("Desperadoes..." mentioned above). Lyle Lovett also did a (double) album of covers, Step Inside This House. "Texas River Song" will break your heart.

For that matter Lyle's first couple albums are perfect for this. The Large Band stuff is great for what it is. But listening to "Pontiac" on repeat while driving through the high mountains of Colorado was an experience that almost overshadowed the whitewater rafting trip we were driving to.
posted by notsnot at 6:12 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest the new Phosphorescent album. In fact, I'd suggest it for anything. Need a song for a bar mitvah? Try Phosphorescent! Need a wedding song? Try Phosphorescent! It's not out yet but if you pre-order you get an immediate download. It's 176% worth it.

Maybe try Shovels and Rope as well. And perhaps some Hayes Carll. (Awesome fact: Cary Ann Hearst is part of Shovels and Rope AND sings that song with Hayes! She is my spirit animal.)
posted by youandiandaflame at 6:14 AM on March 14, 2013

It's almost a loving parody of this genre rather than a true example of it, but I love The Magnetic Fields song "Papa Was a Rodeo."
posted by HeroZero at 6:19 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lucinda Williams (covering Gram Parsons)

Polly by Dillard and Clark
posted by caek at 6:20 AM on March 14, 2013

Also, I don't know if it's as good as it was in the 90s, but the UK magazine 'Uncut' tends to feature reviews and articles that lean quite heavily in the direction of Americana, Country, Folk, Blues etc. I used to find it quite useful before we had things like Spotify, and the rest.
posted by pipeski at 6:22 AM on March 14, 2013

I love this stuff, and hope to learn of a few more artists.

(on preview, a lot have been mentioned already)

Townes Van Zandt
Lucinda Williams - "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" especially.
Tift Merritt
Doug Paisley
Sarah Harmer - Especially "You Were Here"
Son Volt
Uncle Tupelo
Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams
Kathleen Edwards
Bry Webb
Dave Rawlings Machine
Leonard Cohen's earlier stuff
Lyle Lovett
Patty Griffin
Mark Lanegan (and his stuff with Isobel Campbell)
Richard Buckner
Ryan Bingham (the Crazy Heart soundtrack stuff is great)
Willie Nelson
Wyckham Porteus

M. Ward is the Him part of "She and Him" - it doesn't quite meet your criteria, but might be worth checking out if you were unaware.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:25 AM on March 14, 2013

Blue Rodeo.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:30 AM on March 14, 2013

"Cowgirl" and "heartfelt, lyrically strong, with a wistful and melancholic vibe" is pretty much exactly how I'd describe these songs, written and performed by another Mefite. I love them.
posted by taz at 6:30 AM on March 14, 2013

Check out Lee Hazlewood if you are unaware of him. My link is to some of his songs from "Cowbody in Sweden". This is the song of his that you will definitely know. Check out Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys perhaps too. Dolly Parton has done some great stuff that you might not be aware of - listen to " Her and the Car and the Mobile Home are Gone" for example.

Interestingly this is a genre where there are more than a few British cowboys and cowgirls have written songs. Elvis Costello is an obvious case is point - but you could also have The Boothill Foot tappers singing "Get your Feet out of my Shoes" or Helen and the Horns singing "Waiting for the Freight Train" or Hank Wangford who comes comes from the un-wild east - of Suffolk.
posted by rongorongo at 6:43 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Joe Pug.
posted by The White Hat at 6:45 AM on March 14, 2013

Don't ignore the movies and musicals: I was born under a wandering Star, Don't Fence me In and so on.
posted by rongorongo at 6:51 AM on March 14, 2013

Vintage Hank Williams (not Jr and not Hank III) also works for wistful and melancholic, depending on the song.
posted by jquinby at 6:52 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, man, the Cowboy Junkies...they'll haunt your mind.
Richard Buckner has been described as an acquired taste, but especially his older albums are just searing melancholy.
More toward the "cowboy" part than necessarily the melancholy, Calexico has some really nice stuff. The later albums are exceptional mariachi-horn-inflected pop, but their first couple albums have a lot of acid-etched desert free jazz snippets. At the very least, look up the sont "Missing". (Stylings aside, Calexico is one of the tightest and most musically adept bands I've ever heard. No two measures have the same percussion treatment.)
posted by notsnot at 7:15 AM on March 14, 2013

Response by poster: Oh my... wow, what a response! I have some playlist to make. Great answers so far - keep them coming cowgirls and boys.
posted by 0 answers at 7:22 AM on March 14, 2013

Many of Neko Case's albums sort of hit that vibe.
posted by indognito at 7:29 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Duquette Johnson
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Barton Carroll
Gob Iron

But, as many have said, you want Townes. Specifically the album Live At The Old Quarter.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:55 AM on March 14, 2013

I'm so glad Lee Hazelwood was mentioned, but I wanted to add his collaboration with Nancy Sinatra on "Sundown, Sundown." I've listened to it at least a hundred times and it is still mesmerizing to me.
posted by shortyJBot at 8:05 AM on March 14, 2013

I'd recommend basically anything off of Haley Bonar's phenomenal LP, The Size of Planets (Bandcamp), particularly "Drinking Again" and "Bless This Mess."

Seconding Phosphorescent, especially the song "South (of America)" [MP3].
it never gets cold way down here / I can live off of watermelons and beer / and I'll never go hungry, I will never go home / never call to my lover, "lover, leave me alone" / never harden my heart like some fruit in the snow / but will walk, babe, I know this / unnoticed, unknown -- goddamn

Slightly more tenuous, but possible: Frontier Ruckus, in particular "Ogallala" or "The Latter Days."
posted by divined by radio at 8:05 AM on March 14, 2013

Seconding the Cowboy Junkies. Just sit down and listen to the Trinity Session in its entirety. You've likely heard Sweet Jane and Misguided Angel before. Here's more:

200 More Miles

To Love is To Bury

I Don't Get It

Working on a Building

Also, U2's Joshua Tree period get's pretty close to the world weary cowboy sound at times -- VanDiemen's land, for instance (actually about transportation to Australia.) It's also apparent on some of the Rattle+Hum material.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:13 AM on March 14, 2013

Also, Jim White (not to be confused with Jack White) is amazing if you've never heard him. Start with (The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted) Wrong Eyed Jesus.

A Perfect Day to Chase Tornadoes (Live, Acoustic) [Album version]

Still Waters
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:18 AM on March 14, 2013

Eilen Jewell- Where They Never Say Your Name and Santa Fe
posted by EKStickland at 9:04 AM on March 14, 2013

It's instrumental, but so wistful and melancholy: Bill, by Tin Hat Trio.
posted by rtha at 9:23 AM on March 14, 2013

Weary Kind by Ryan Bingham
posted by kuanes at 9:29 AM on March 14, 2013

You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma, by David Frizzell and Shelly West.
posted by Bourbonesque at 9:33 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check out Freakwater. Also, possibly not cowgirl enough and rather political, but Ani Difranco is pretty great, melancholy, world weary.
posted by mneekadon at 9:48 AM on March 14, 2013

Don Edwards.
posted by snowjoe at 12:08 PM on March 14, 2013

Women Drinking Whiskey on Mefi Music by Metafilter's Own Miko
posted by Blasdelb at 12:50 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Calexico - Point Vicente
Gillian Welch - I Dream a Highway

a little farther afield, but if you like that vibe I bet you would like Sparklehorse (Full album: Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot)

And Hem. Try them.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:45 PM on March 14, 2013

The 'Early Recordings' of Opal (who would later become Mazzy Star). Northern Line is a fairly representative track. It's decades out of print but you can DL it here.
posted by K.P. at 2:09 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Marissa Nadler's "River of Dirt" immediately comes to mind.
posted by wondermouse at 2:13 PM on March 14, 2013

I like to listen to Neko Case's We've Never Met and Hem's When I Was Drinking for that kind of sad cowgirl vibe.
posted by zoetrope at 2:23 PM on March 14, 2013

Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska fits your criteria, and is a great album.
posted by hootenatty at 3:01 PM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Try anything by the Drive-By Truckers, Lucero, William Elliot Whitmore or Hayes Carll. And Red At Night by Gaslight Anthem or Long Live the Queen by Frank Turner.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:32 PM on March 14, 2013

Cat Power The Greatest (the whole album really)
Wye Oak

Opal's Early Recordings is so good! "Brigit on Sunday" is a favorite of mine
posted by citron at 6:16 PM on March 14, 2013

There's this one particular Ween song...

Drifter in the Dark

(video is a still shot of the album cover, which might not be safe for work due to underboob)
posted by Brody's chum at 8:25 PM on March 14, 2013

Mary Gauthier's Mercy Now. So good. So melancholy.
posted by Cuke at 8:41 PM on March 14, 2013

Response by poster: I just wanted to say a sincere thank you to everyone who has responded with suggestions in this thread. I have just compiled a list which I will turn into a Spotify playlist and add over the coming days. In the meantime I have started dipping into the recommendations, beginning with Townes Van Zandt, Springsteen's Nebraska, Neko Case and The Highwaymen. I can say they are exactly what I was looking for! The first few seconds of Townes and 'Live at The Old Quarter' just paints a picture - incredible. If anyone thinks they know of an artist which hasn't been listed then by all means keep suggesting... Cheers for your help cowmefites.
posted by 0 answers at 5:19 AM on March 15, 2013

super late, but check out My Morning Jacket.
posted by changeling at 12:28 PM on March 18, 2013

citron (and anyone else who likes Opal), there is also the unofficial compilation of Early Recordings 2. Predictably nowhere near as consistently good but it is worth hearing.
posted by K.P. at 1:28 PM on March 21, 2013

Response by poster: Two weeks on and I am still sifting through all the recommendations! The playlist is growing and will be added shortly. Thanks changeling and K.P. for the last suggestions...
posted by 0 answers at 10:16 AM on March 30, 2013

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