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Posted by: nice at May 6, 2008 10:04:22 AM

Chris Knight and Slaid Cleaves ar"White Man's Blues" btw.

Posted by: Bob at May 6, 2008 10:44:06 AM

Corb Lund? As an ex-Edmontonion, I was a bit surprised to see that name pop up. Glad to see he's making it big.

If this list and comment thread tell us anything, it's that modern mainstream (i.e., commercial) contry music sucks dead donkey. Almost every act listed abouve is either dead or outside the country mainstream. Most Garth Brooks or Tim McGraw fans wouldn't have the first clue who Robert Earl Keen or Gillian Welch are. Most of the modern artists listed above get dumped into the "folk" or "roots" categories, and get almost no play on commercial radio.

It's true that 90% of everything stinks, but about 99% of modern "Country" music stinks out loud.

Otherwiase, I'm down wioth most of this list and suggestions.

Townes Van Zandt - e.g. Delta Momma Blues.
Patsy Cline

Posted by: Amit at May 6, 2008 7:47:00 AM

Perhaps a more interesting question is "Why has Country Music gotten so much worse?"
oo), and Willie Nelson - Red-Headed Stranger.
e musts.

Also, for whatever its worth, let me second the acclaim given to the late great TVZ, Steve Earle, Whiskeytown, The Jayhawks and especially G.P.

And if you can do Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens, you should give The Derailers a go.

Posted by: Kiel Stone at May 6, 2008 10:09:44 AM

Townes van Zandt & his buddy Guy Clark
Johns Hiatt, Gorka, Prine, t suit.

George Jones and Bob Willis and Merle Haggard are all in my view somewhat overrated.

3. Louvin Brothers, Tragic Songs of Life (some call it bluegrass), Dolly Parton, Dock Boggs, Patsy Cline, the essential Johnny Cash (there's lots of it), and the country/gospel of Elvis Presley. Dylan's country music is good but is not his stronges
Posted by: Tyler Cowen at May 6, 2008 9:09:44 AM

Robert Earl Keene. James McMurtry.

Posted by: greg at May 6, 2008 9:13:19 AM

You're all freaks. If Chet Atkins isn't on your list, you simply aren't qualified to make a list. Additionally, Dolly Parton should be on every one of your lists. There's just no excuse for these two omissions.

Posted by: Selfreferencing at May 6, 2008 9:57:42 AM

Judging from your picks I bet yt's not forget Delbert McClinton!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard at May 7, 2008 7:03:29 PM

I agree with the first comment that Gram's GP is just as good as Greivous Angel. Horray for mentioning the Louvin Bros. Others that ought to have gotten their due here (and that I dont think I saw in the comments): Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys, Emmdiscs and don't look back.

2. The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Flying Burrito Brothers (the first two albums), plus Gram Parsons's Grievous Angel.

Posted by: Dave at May 6, 2008 7:40:57 AM

If you rom Bill Russell, a loyal MR reader, and yes I will get soon to more of your requests. I'm no expert, but my picks are as follows:

1. Hank Williams Sr., get both
Posted by: Tom Paine at May 7, 2008 2:55:27 PM

Le by: k at May 6, 2008 10:28:56 AM

You might give the "" genre a try. It goes by a lot of other names but essentially it captures the classic country "feel." I'll second the Drive By Truckers nomination and throw in props for Hank III (Who sounds eerily like his granddad in voice and song.)

I like your concept of
Otherwise go for individual songs on iTunes. Favor the 40s and 50s. Don't miss Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose" or Ray Price's "Crazy Arms." Lefty Frizzell had some great songs too.

Other than Merle Haggard and Willie, the 70s are generally a wasteland.

Don't forget Kris Kristofferson.

Posted by: Chuck at May 6, 2008 8:26:11 AM

I forgot Lonnie Mack --
Did the best artists fuse with other genres? Has it gotten worse? Is there really only so much you can say about getting drunk, driving a pickup, and patriotism?

Posted by: Nat Almirall at May 6, 2008 8:03:33 AM

If Adams is game, I would look more to his work before he went on his own - Whiskeytown is great. Also, early Wilco? Jayhawks? Son Volt?

Posted by: Brad Allen at May 6, 2008 8:03:54 AM

If you like Austin honky tonk, Joe Ely is your man.

Steve Earle's Guitar Town may be one of the greatest country albums ever.

And if you can find the first Lone Justice CD, it is quite good.

IMHO, Johnny Cash's Hurt is probably the greatest country song/video.

Posted by: subrosa at May 6, 2008 8:16:56 AM

Hank goes without saying.

Dwight Yoakam, especially his first album, as well as If There Was a Way, This Time, and Population Me. His recent Buck Owens album is also very good. Early Buck is also a must.

Alternatively, the best collections from the 20s and 30s are mind-blowingly good; for instance try American Primitive on John Fahey's Revenant label, or the Harry Smith collections. That's some of the best American music period though in some ways the blues shouts are closer to rock and roll than to country.

I might add the whole list comes from someone who was initially allergic to country music, so if that is you give some of these recommendations a try. Just think of it as White Man's Blues.

Posted by Tyler Cowen on May 6, 2008 at 06:40 AM in Music | Permalink


What, no love for "G.P."? I think it's Parsons' better album, if only marginally. The first five tracks are about as near to perfection as a country album can get.

Posted by: John Payne at May 6, 2008 7:11:31 AM

I'm probably hair-splitting but I'd call Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams country-influenced rockers. Williams owes as much to the blues--and pays just as much outright homage to it--as she does country. I'd add Dwight Yoakam to the list (though he, too, might be a 'tweener) as well as Jimmie Dale Gilmore and The Flatlanders. Nobody today does the high lonesome sound better than Gilmore.

Does bluegrass count as country? If so, there's much to praise there, starting with Bill Monroe, though it, like rap, can all sound the same to the "closed ear."

Posted by: Tim Gray at May 6, 2008 7:22:29 AM

I second the Marty Robbins recommendation. The other albums I would especially recommend would be Johnny Cash - Live at Folsom Prison, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Will the Circle Be Unbroken (the first one, although Vol. 3 is very good tWham of that Memphis Man -- plus some of the country experiments of The Rolling Stones. Sorry!
Alison Krauss,Nanci Griffith, Laurie Lewis, Patty Griffin,Gillian Welch
Pure Prairie League, Doug Sahm
Barry & Holly Tashian, Tim & Mollie O'Brien
I like Waylon better than Willie

Posted by: bob mcmanus at May 6, 2008 10:27:48 AM

Posted by: Bartman at May 6, 2008 10:49:44 AM

Adolf Hofner; and the Tom Waits song "Blind Love."

Posted by: Raymund at May 6, 2008 10:51:18 AM

Cash, Townes, Willie, Guy, Lyle, e

That is a request f Street" is a great one too.

Gillian Welch and her husband David Rawlings are sublime. Time is my favorite, but Soul Journey has some good tracks on it as well (see "Wayside/Back In Time").

Lucinda Williams' World Without Tears is magnificent.

The Everybodyfields, a more recent band out of Johnson City, TN, sing harmonies that will haunt your soul.

Posted by: Charlie at May 6, 2008 10:57:46 AM

I'm genuinely surprised you didn't include Bill Frisell's "
Don't forget about Loretta Lynn - her most recent CD, produced by Jack White, was one of her best.

Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown is country music. Heartbreaker, Adams' first, is a masterpiece. "Oh My Sweet Carolina" is one of the better country songs written in a quite some time. The title track from Whiskeytown's "Faithlesshaven't heard Corb Lund Band, you haven't experienced how good country music can be. Lyrically and musically, he and his band are just plain great.

Postedou'd be quite fond of Adam Arcuragi.

Arguably the best songs of Ryan Adams (alas they are scattered but "Amy" and "La Cienega Just Smiled" are two places to start; does anyone know a more general sourcing?) are as good as anything in the genre. I like Lucinda Williams as well plus Shelby Lynne, most of all I Am Shelby Lynne.

Do you ever find it strange that people look to you for your wisdom on such a variety of subjects? Just curious.

Posted by: liberty at May 6, 2008 7:23:11 AM

Marty Robbins, The Gunfighter Ballads. My absolute favorite.

Posted by: Mark Denovich at May 6, 2008 7:35:24 AM

As someone mostly country-averse, I really dig Guy Clark (especially The Dark) and Jim White.

Posted by: efp at May 6, 2008 7:36:05 AM

To the extent that southern rock counts (and I would suggest that it has to), give a try to the Drive By Truckers, basically a thinking man's Lynrd Skynrd.
hat is the best country music?Nashville."

Posted by: Sanjay at May 6, 2008 11:11:07 AM

Great Moderns: Gillian Welsh, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams... and Jolie Holland, if you're feeling woozy.

Posted by: MattF at May 6, 2008 11:17:59 AM

Also, nobody has raised the name of Iris Dement, who is most definitely deserving of mention.

Posted by: bartman at May 6, 2008 11:19:56 AM

Just think of it as White Man's Blues.

Thanks for this -- I intend to use it next time my musically snobbish friends scoff at the Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson on my ipod.

Posted by: LP at May 6, 2008 11:44:51 AM

Sorry, but the phrase "best country music" is an oxymoron.

Posted by: LogicRules at May 6, 2008 11:45:31 AM

Ryan Adams's solo stuff is, in general, an order of magnitude worse than his work with Whiskeytown, which is incredible.

Posted by: Mike at May 6, 2008 11:47:20 AM

"George Jones and Bob Willis and Merle Haggard are all in my view somewhat overrated."

Wills, not Willis. And this sentence proves that not only are you no expert, you're an idiot.

Posted by: johnshade at May 6, 2008 11:54:43 AM

Check out Joe Maphis' Fire on the Strings. Hot damn!

Posted by: TGGP at May 6, 2008 12:08:11 PM

Yes, I agree that you absolutely can NOT leave out Marty Robbins.

Also....doesn't Jim Reeves count as country? "He'll Have To Go" is one of the best songs ever.

Posted by: Jens Fiederer at May 6, 2008 12:13:05 PM

Every time you answer one of these, I think, "He might do mine too!" I'm not saying I want you to do mine -- I'm saying that every time you respond to your commenters, I feel like you care about us.

Posted by: at May 6, 2008 12:21:46 PM

How about Blue Rodeo, give those Canadian some love.

Posted by: Rolo Tomasi at May 6, 2008 12:27:21 PM

Dale Watson. Honky tonk and bakersfield sound. Old time country. Nashville isn't interested in that sound any more.

Posted by: Mike at May 6, 2008 12:30:45 PM

Tammy Wynette
Willie Nelson
Buck Owens
Patsy Cline
Hank III
Eddy Arnold
Ernest Tubb
Just to name a few...

Posted by: Kylis at May 6, 2008 12:57:46 PM

Blue Rodeo lost everything that made them interesting when Bob Wiseman left, but their first two albums are fantastically eclectic. I especially like the neo-psychedelia bit in the middle of Diamond Mine.

Posted by: bartman at May 6, 2008 1:05:39 PM

I like Ryan Adams, but any list of modern country that includes Ryan Adams and not Uncle Tupelo (which gave birth to Wilco) and Son Volt has grievous shortcomings.

Posted by: Interloper at May 6, 2008 1:10:14 PM

Many good suggestions. I didn't see Dallas Wayne or Robbie Fulks.

P.S. I think "best country music" would, on a hostile view, be less of an oxymoron than an empty set.

Posted by: Clyde at May 6, 2008 1:18:47 PM

Two of the best and definitely the two most underrated of all time have to be:

Jerry Jeff Walker
Robert Earl Keen, Jr.

In addition, George Strait is amazing (although he could have written a few songs...) as is Willie Nelson, the two of them if for nothing else than for their longevity

Posted by: Adam at May 6, 2008 1:38:04 PM

I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do.

...and for the people who like country music, 'denigrate' means 'put down'.

-- Bob Newhart

Posted by: david at May 6, 2008 1:50:02 PM

I will not put down anybody else's list, but I am joining in because at least one person should mention the two other Hanks, Hank Thompson and Hank Snow.

Both have influenced a wide array of rock 'n roll and country musicians. Hank Snow in particular has been memorably covered by everyone from the Rolling Stones ("I'm Movin' On") to Bob Dylan ("90 Miles an Hour") to Johnny Cash ("I've Been Everywhere"). But the originals are still the best.

In general, rock fans who think they don't like country will like Hank Snow.

Posted by: Stan Greer at May 6, 2008 2:30:09 PM

ditto Lefty Frizzell. For sources I'd also suggest the Alan Lomax _Southern Journey_ set: stunning, window-into-time stuff.

It's always sad when people dismiss a genre. Charlie Parker's admonition to "listen to the stories" is right: this is one of the most narrative pop forms. What Frizzell or Cash or Cline could do is put the story across.

Posted by: Colin Danby at May 6, 2008 2:35:47 PM

I'll second the Corb Lund recommendation. Much more than "the Truck Got Stuck."

I like Lyle Lovett and Dixie Chicks too.

Posted by: Charles at May 6, 2008 2:47:25 PM

Alison Krauss -- I'm not a country fan generally but I'd listen to anything she did.

Posted by: Kat at May 6, 2008 3:42:52 PM

Unknown Hinson.

Posted by: Womern Folk at May 6, 2008 3:48:37 PM

I like the trio of Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch and Fats Kaplan. Also, Kane's early 90s band The O'Kanes put out some great music. Ditto on Slaid Cleaves. Hayes Carll is another good one.

Posted by: Roland at May 6, 2008 6:41:50 PM

What is the best country music? Anything you can turn off.

Posted by: Brian Courts at May 6, 2008 7:03:45 PM

Waylon and Willie and the boyz.

Best country-crossover-standards album of all time? Willie Nelson, "Stardust."

Grittiest, most ghetto outlaw of all time? Waylon Jennings, without a doubt.


Posted by: Tim Smith at May 6, 2008 7:35:42 PM

Aside from some obvious "necessities" (like Hank Sr. etc.) in the above lists, most of the people on all the above lists are really "country music acceptable to non-country folks". In other words for poseurs who want to "appropriate the inherent hipness of the underclass" (in Daniel Clowes' words) without actually stooping to listening to what the masses really listen to.

So allow me to stand up for Hank Jr., Billy Ray Cyrus, Alan Jackson, Charlie Daniels, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and that's just the 90's. It's definitely not "best country music ever" but let's face it, Top 40 Country is a hundred times better than Top 40 Rock (which is pretty much unlistenable in its vapidness).

Posted by: notsneaky at May 6, 2008 8:10:13 PM

Yeah, what notsneaky at 8:10 PM said. Tyler's list and the comments are dominated by "country music for people who don't like country music". Tyler's comments on Jones, Haggard, and Wills being overrated confirms it. For some better examples of actual country music, take a listen to Garth Brooks' eponymous debut item or George Strait's box set or Fifty Number Ones. I'm also surprised there hasn't been any love shown for Randy Travis; I figured his gospel music would be enough to give him some credibility among people who hate country music. Then again, what do I know? It took living in Japan for me to appreciate country music.

Posted by: Tom at May 6, 2008 9:16:45 PM

"Wills, not Willis. And this sentence proves that not only are you no expert, you're an idiot."

Heh heh. Hear, hear.

How one can make the "White Man's Blues" connection and not put Haggard in the pantheon is beyond me. It's like he's trying to be some kind of redneck scene kid who puts obscurity over quality.

That said, The Louvins' praises are definitely undersung.

--Obs, That list also needs it some Ray Price, Charlie Rich, and Gary Stewart.

Posted by: Obs at May 6, 2008 9:31:59 PM

Ryan Adams was definitely more country early on (Whiskeytown) than his more recent solo work, though "Jacksonville City Nights" was both haunting and beautiful.

Definitely agree that Willie's "Stardust" is a disc that is worth a listen on any warm summer evening.

For a more recent country-rock album, I would recommend the Volebeat's "Sky and Ocean", of which the first several songs are of particular note.

Modern country music (the kind they play on commercial radio stations) generally stinks for the same reason most commercial music stinks -- making the artistic process more of an assembly line (different people writing, playing the music, singing, and producing, leading to less passion through the whole process). A large part of music's appeal is the idea that the artist is reaching out and making a connection with the audience; if the person singing the song didn't form the thoughts that feed into the lyrics, the is something fundamentally disingenuous about the entire production.

Posted by: john b at May 6, 2008 9:49:34 PM

I heartily second Hank Williams Sr., who was the greatest of all. And I also love me some Louvin Brothers, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Lucinda Williams, among others. (Is Lucinda considered country, though?). I'm also a Dolly Parton fan and recently posted a tribute to her on my blog:

I have a bone to pick with Tyler, though, on an issue that divides us far more than our (considerable) differences concerning politics and economics, and that's George Jones. The man is the greatest living singer, in any genre. And among country singers, the only one even in the same league with him is Hank Sr. Even Frank Sinatra called George Jones the second greatest male singer in the world, fer chrissakes. Tyler, you need to listen to him some more. Or clean the wax out of your ears. Or something!

Posted by: Kathy G. at May 6, 2008 9:52:56 PM

Oh, and of course Emmy Lou. And the Carter family.

Posted by: Kathy G. at May 6, 2008 9:54:48 PM

These posts are great, because I can copy and paste in Napster and find great new stuff. Anyone know anything a Shooter Jennings fan would like- the good southern rock with a good fun sexy rock jam? Napster has not yet really helped me find much along his lines. (And no making fun, Shooter is great).

Posted by: liberty at May 6, 2008 11:01:36 PM

Gillian Welch tells the story that, after on Red, White and Blue"--remember, it's a fight song; also, for amusement, his "Weed with Willie".

Posted by: SamChevre at May 8, 2008 3:02:29 PM

You have to go back to the start and listen to Jimmie Rodgers (the Singing Brakeman) and the Carter Family. Most people today won't find the Carters an easy listen and will find Rodgers yodeling comic, but they're really where it all begins.

Recent stuff you can't miss: Emmylou is almost always great, Roseanne Cash (step-mom was a Carter), Robbie Fulks, and the Dolly Parton bluegrass albums.

Posted by: SteveH at May 8, 2008 3:56:07 PM

So let me start by saying, yes, I do reside in Austin, TX, home to some great music of all genres. Just take a peak at the Austin City Limits music festival to see the wide range of music offered over a three day weekend. We like music of all kinds here.

I think the phrase "Country Music" is not understood to the rest of the world, because it carries floating signifiers based on where you are. In Texas, its is commonly observed that every 20 or 30 years, we send a bunch of our artists up to Nashville to save country musie of her concerts, an old lady came up to her and asked "Was that a real song, or did you just make it up?"

Posted by: MattF at May 7, 2008 12:33:19 PM

The two best voices and songwriters, male and female respectively, who are still under 40 and who've come out of country/roots music are:

Shawn Mullins -

Kim Richey -
ylou Harris (though the stuff I like best is her 90s LPs that took her country voice and threw it in a Daneil Lanois setting); the alt-country female duo Freakwater; Kelly Willis; Jimmie Dale Gilmore (at least his 'Spinning Around the Sun' LP); Loretta; and Rose Maddox and the Maddox Bros. Tyler, if you liked American Primitive and the Harry Smith thing, you should also seek out Goodnight Babylon. One of the best tracks will play when you visit this MySpace page. It's Brother Claude Ely's "There Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down" -- it's startlingly great.

Posted by: BATMAN at May 7, 2008 10:12:26 PM

Iris Dement
The Tractors (only sort-of country)
The Stanley Brothers

Posted by: SamChevre at May 8, 2008 2:36:10 PM

To be more specific:
Iris Dement--good narrative songs. I'd recommend "Hotter than Mojave", "Quality Time", "Wall in Washington", and "Fifty Miles" as four excellent songs.

The Tractors, "The Tractors"--good country blues. Try "Everything We Got Is Falling Apart" and "Blue Collar Rock."

The Stanley Brothers--country gospel/bluegrass/proto-country.

Martina McBride--modern country blues. Try "Anyway", "Concrete Angel", "House of a Thousand Dreams", and "Independence Day"; then try to tell me, with a straight face, that country is saccharine music.

Also, particular songs:
Stuart Hamblen's version of "Ain't Gonna Need this House No Longer."

Hank Jr, "All my Rowdy Friends"; note the shout-outs to 60's rock-and-roll.

Johnny Horton's cover of "Battle of New Orleans".

Toby Keith's "Courtesy of thec. In fact, we don't call what we listen to as country. We call it "Texas Music". Its a blend of: blues, bluegrass, cultural southwest, southern rock, and story time. Its not uncommon to listen to one artist and hear a blues song, followed by a banjo-fiddle bluegrass number, then a tejano song, followed by some rockabilly/roadhouse jam, to a guest appearance duet all in about 30 minutes.

Since this is a somewhat math related blog lets go with:

(Country Mu