Soon after finishing my previous article in the early hours of Monday morning, I was following the results of the American Music Awards (AMAs).
The nominations for 'Favourite Female Country Artist' were Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert. Can you guess who won? The nominations for ‘Favourite Country Album’ were Luke Bryan with Crash My Party, Taylor Swift with Red and Florida Georgia Line with Here’s To The Good Times. Again, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble in guessing the winner.
To be honest, I was expecting Taylor Swift to win both of these awards despite the fact that Red was released in 2012 and that she has done nothing, NOTHING whatsoever in 2013. But the most worrying aspect is the fact that the winners of the American Music Awards are decided by the public. What does this say about the state of modern Country music when the winner of these awards is most certainly NOT a Country artist?
The general public perception of Country music is completely false! They do not know what real Country music is but it is not necessarily their fault. The blame really lies with the music industry’s commercial hubs – the executives and the award ceremonies who project a single image of Country music; one which is so far removed from the genre’s roots. Traditional Country music only appeals commercially to a minority of people and thus will not be represented at events like the AMAs which seek only the most commercial music. This therefore begs the question: ‘Why have a category for Country music?’ – The answer, as always, is Money.
Whilst Country-Pop, as well as the Pop of Taylor Swift, thrives at the peak of the genre; REAL Country music is being neglected. The traditional wheel of the genre is still rolling along but can be hard to find at times. 2013 has produced some absolutely fantastic Country music – so here are my picks of the best REAL Country albums of the year.
Tin Star – Lindi Ortega
Canadian Country singer Lindi Ortega moved to Nashville in 2011 to record her second album for Last Gang Records, Cigarettes and Truckstops. She has since gained all the inspiration that she needed from Music City U.S.A to produce her latest album, Tin Star. Ortega is one of the brightest young talents in Nashville’s music scene and can go far if she continues in this vein.
The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
The duo announced their hiatus in November 2012 but continued to record their eponymous album which was finally released on August 6th, 2013. One of the highlights of the album is the duo’s cover of the Smashing Pumpkins’ song ‘Disarm’.
The Highway – Holly Williams
Holly Williams comes from a very royal Country line as the granddaughter of the Country music’s biggest ever star, Hank Williams. Released in February on her own label, The Highway contains some incredible feats of song-writing. It seems that the best Country music is often the music which is produced independently, free from the hands of music executives.
Pokey LaFarge – Pokey LaFarge
LaFarge’s music is an innovative mix of early jazz, western swing and country blues from the 1920s and 30s. Pokey brings a refreshing approach to roots music, transcending the boundaries of genre and effectively creating his own style. His eponymous album is perhaps his best yet!
Bakersfield – Vince Gill
Vince Gill is a traditionalist at heart, emerging in the 1980s as part of the movement which sought to re-establish the roots of Country music. Gill is still going strong, releasing Bakersfield in July which pays tribute to the innovators of the Bakersfield sound, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.
Southeastern – Jason Isbell
Southeastern is lyricism and story-telling at its highest level – this album cuts deep into the skin with its raw emotion and painful honesty. This is a record that everyone simply must have in their collection!
Foreverly – Billie Joe + Norah
It is an unlikely pairing and an even more unlikely sound that is produced but Foreverly has to be one of the biggest records of 2013. This album is a complete and extremely faithful reinterpretation of the Everly Brothers’ 1958 album ‘Songs our Daddy Taught Us’. When Green Day frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong, first approached Norah Jones about the prospect of this album, she was naturally hesitant. But after some convincing, the duo began working on the material for the album and something seemed to click. The result is beautifully reminiscent of the duets between Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
Too Free To Live – Brett Detar
Brett Detar is not just a musician; he’s also a film composer and music producer. His second solo album, Too Free To Live, has been made available via free download from his website. It is an album which is clearly influenced by more than just Country music, taking much from Southern Rock, creating a great diversity and freshness in this record.
Ashley Monroe – Like a Rose
Ashley Monroe’s vulnerable and angelic-sounding voice reminds me of a young Dolly Parton. Her latest album, Like a Rose, was produced by Vince Gill which perhaps explains the quality of the record throughout. Monroe had a hand in the writing of every song on the album which suggests that she has the talent to go far in the industry.
There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely – Possessed by Paul James
Konrad Wert, who goes by the name of Possessed by Paul James, is a one-man band from south Austin, Texas. He is a natural entertainer with incredible musical talent (he plays the Banjo, Guitar and Fiddle) and his album ‘There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely’ also shows off his great song-writing ability.