Country Music for Dummies (or, "recommend something")

I don’t care for country music. I like a few Garth Brooks songs, and I like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”… and back in my dancing days I occasionally heard a country song here and there that I liked. But generally speaking, not my cup of tea.

So if I were to listen to country music, what would I probably like more than the rest? Anyone have suggestions? Country music for non-country-music fans…

I guess it varies largely on what your personal tastes are now. For example, if I listen to any country song recorded after 1995, I want to do the recording artist physical harm after I puncture my eardrums to stop the horrible noise.

However, I find most country music pre-1995 quite enjoyable.

You may want to check out George Straight. Pure Country is a good album, and I like Ten Straight Hits. Alan Jackson isn’t bad, though he was never my favorite. Mary Chapen-Carpenter has some great songs–my personal favorite is The Song Remembers When. Tricia Yearwood and Patty Loveless also have some decent songs that don’t have too much twang or too much pop. I also enjoy John Anderson–John Deere Green, Seminole Wind, Straight Tequila Night, and Black Sheep are my favorite. Blackhawk had a decent album, but I can’t remember what it was called…probably Blackhawk heh. Of course, there’s always Hank Williams Jr, Hank Williams, George Jones, and Patsy Cline.

I grew up listening to traditional country and western from the mid-late 60’s:

Conway Twitty (try listening to “Hello Darlin” and NOT start drinking)
Loretta Lynn
George Jones
Tammy Wynette
Charley Pride (the rare black country singer)
Merle Haggard

This is good ol’ boy shit-kickin’ music.

Sometime in the 70’s, country went pop with Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and groups like Alabama crossing over to the pop charts. That kinda stuff might be a little easier to listen to for a beginner.

Oh, you could also go into sub-genres like bluegrass, then I would highly recommend Alison Krauss + Union Station.

My favorite country group is Alison Krauss and Union Station. I think that they would have a lot of appeal to the non-country fan or casual fan of country because they don’t have cowboy hats and sequined shirts; it’s more contemporary bluegrass. Also, they have great musicians and Alison has a voice so smooth you could play a hockey game on it.

I didn’t think I liked Country & Western, but the new bf has me listening to it. Some of my new favorite songs.

Redneck woman by Gretchen Wilson.

Dust on the Bottle, not sure who sings this.

Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks.

The Rodeo Song, not sure who sings this either.


David Lee Murphy

Moe Bandy (according to AMG, assuming it’s the same song)

I was too polite to say it, so thanks for that. The post before yours names the very songs that makes many people despise the entire genre.

Other contemporary gateway country artists you might like are Gillian Welch, Iris Dement, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle (esp. The Mountain, which features a great Bluegrass Band), the Flatlanders, and Lyle Lovett. Then there’s the whole “alt country” movement with bands like The Jayhawks, Wilco, Whiskeytown, and Uncle Tupelo (my favorite band from the 1990’s).

Then there’s the classics… beginning with Jimmie Rodgers back in the dusty beginnings of country, then Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, then Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, etc. Any of their “greatest hits” or “essential” type CD’s is money well spent.

I’m going to list artists and songs you might like. Try sampling them and then digging deeper where you find something you like.

Well, I love Alan Jackson’s Three Minute Positive Not-too-Country Up-tempo Love Song, a scathing critique of the country/pop crossover genre. But then I also love Garth Brooks’ Ain’t Goin’ Down (Til The Sun Comes Up), which is an unabashedly predictable four-chord honky-tonk rocker. When I’m feeling really maudlin, the newest country I can tolerate (that I still consider country) is Brooks & Dunn’s Neon Moon.

If you like “older” country, try Merle Haggard’s Mama Tried or David Allen Coe’s You Never Called Me By My Name. And of course, Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues and Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again are all classics. Johnny Cash’s death garnered him (well deserved) publicity and attention from the “rock” community. His covers of Trent Reznor’s Hurt and of Personal Jesus (originally by Depeche Mode, IIRC) are both great.

If you like bluegrass (different from country, but generally lumped into the same category by outsiders) then try Old and In The Way, which is Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, and several other guys you’ve never heard of (who are nonetheless excellent musicians). Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs (Flatt & Scruggs when they play together), are all “founding fathers” of bluegrass and are excellent starting points. Find out who they played with, and you’ll probably find good music. Within bluegrass, songs aren’t as important as style, so you’ll hear hundreds of versions of the same “standards” like Pig in a Pen and Orange Blossom Special. If you don’t like a particular song, don’t give up on the guys playing it – you might prefer their work on a different song.

Isn’t country music for non-country fans the same as alt-country?

Try Uncle Tupelo and early WIlco and Lucinda Williams. I’m not very knowledgeable about the current alt-country scene (lack of money seriously impedes coolness), but I love what I’ve heard and I don’t usually like mainstream country.


Another vote for Johnny Cash. Any of his greatest hits compilations would be a good place to start. Or any from the American Recordings series. Specifically, Amercan IV: The Man Comes Around has covers of several songs, including
Bridge Over Troubled Water - Paul Simon
Desperado - The Eagles
Hurt - NIN
In my Life - The Beatles

If you’re a beer drinker, Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr. have some good sitting-around-with-your-buddies-drinking-beer songs. There’s a 'Best of Hank ‘n Hank’ cd that I spent many a college night listening to with friends over beers, but I can’t find it on Amazon right now.

Here is part of a list I put together for a friend of mine a while back. He was asking prety much the same question. Looking over the list now, I can’t tell you why I chose some and not others. I did try to get in a variety of musical styles.

Deana Carter		Strawberry Wine
Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, 
	Emmylou Harris	Telling Me Lies
Don Williams		Good' Ol Boys Like Me
Earl Thomas Conley		What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)
Eric Heatherly		Countin' Flowers On The Wall
Faith Hill			This Kiss
Gary Stewart		Drinkin Thing 1974
George Jones		Choices
George Jones		I Always Get Lucky With You
George Jones		If Drinking Don't Kill Me
George Strait		All My Exes Live In Texas
George Strait		You Know Me Better Than That
George Strait		We Really Shouldn't Be Doing This
Hank Williams Jr		Texas Women
Hank Williams Jr		Women I've Never Had
Hoyt Axton		Della And The Dealer
Hoyt Axton		Evangelina
Hoyt Axton		Wild Bull Rider
Jodi Messina		I'm Alright
Joe Stampley		If You've Got Ten Minutes
Joel Sonnier		Tear Stained Letter
John Conlee		I'm Only In It For The Love
John Conlee		Rose Colored Glasses
Kenny Rogers & Dottie West	Til I Can Make It On My Own
Lacy J Dalton		Crazy Blue Eyes
Lacy J Dalton		Sixteenth Avenue
Leanne Rymes		Blue
Mary Chapin Carpenter	Passioate Kisses
Mary Chapin Carpenter	Shut Up And Kiss Me
Merle Haggard		Misery & Gin
Merle Haggard		Red Bandana
Patty Loveless		Blame It On Your Lyin,Cheatin' Heart
Patty Loveless		Timber I'm Falling In Love
Patty Loveless		You Can Feel Bad If It Makes You Feel Better
Raising Arizona		Ode To Joy (Closing Credits)
Randy Travis		For Ever And Ever
Randy Travis		Walk On Water
Ray Price			For The Good Times
Rodger Miller		King Of The Road 
Rosanne Cash		Couldn't Do Nothin' Right
Shania Twain		No One Needs To Know Right Now
Holly Dunn		Maybe I Mean Yes
Michael Martin  Murphy	Son You're Talkin' To The Wrong Man
Michael Martin Murphey	A Long Line Of Love
Tammy Wynette		Stand By Your Man
Tompall Glaser 		Put Another Log on the Fire
Vince Gill			I've Been Trying To Get Over You

skutir, I’ve with you – especially on some of the classics.

I’m from Nashville, and I still don’t particularly like country music. Never been to the Grand Ole Opry and never been inside the Ryman Auditorium (which is to my discredit.) I think the only country CD that I own is O Brother, Where Art Thou – which is not a bad place to start if you are looking for pure and true country music from an earlier era. ( Stereotypical porch-sittin’ mood music of the rural workin’ class South)

I would also suggest an anthology that would include

  1. Johnny Cash – I Walk the Line, Ring of Fire, Folsom Prison Blues, Sunday Morning Coming Down
  2. Willie Nelson – Georgia on My Mind, Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.
  3. Patsy Cline – Crazy
  4. Emmy Lou Harris – Here, There, and Everywhere (subtly country version that is really well engineered and performed)
  5. Chet Atkins – He was a genius on the guitar so take your pick. :wink: (nudge)
  6. Hank Williams, Sr. – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
  7. The Judds – There is one they sang together about a grandfather. Don’t know the name. Wynona is good on her own too. Better than most of the youngsters at being genuinely country.
  8. Sammi Smith – Saunder’s Ferry Lane (This is not considered a “classic,” but it is one incredible song!
  9. Kris Kristoffersen – Help Me Make It Through the NIght
  10. Carter Family version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken

Another classic is a good fiddler playing Orange Blossom Special.

If you are ever in Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Fame is interesting if you do like that sort of thing. There you can pick and choose from the classics to make your own CD.

Damn. You’ve just made me want to go back.

But I really don’t care for country music.

Oh, I definitely agree with Wilco. Mermaid Avenue is fucking brilliant.


Lots of good suggestions here. The only ones I haven’t seen mentioned that I really like are Jimmie Dale Gilmore (solo, without Butch and Joe, although the Flatlanders are definitely special) and BR549.

Oh, and Rodney Crowell. Might be a bit pop for some tastes, but there’s something irresistible about I Couldn’t Leave You if I Tried.

That’s called Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout The Good Old Days).

And remember - if it ain’t country, it ain’t music.

I love the real twangy, honky-tonky classics, like Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. You can’t go wrong with them!

But lately, I’ve become a huge fan of alt-country, cowpunk, Americana, whatever you want to call these hip subgenres. People have already mentioned Wilco (fantastic band) and Son Volt, both of which evolved from the great Uncle Tupelo. I’m not a huge expert, but I know they all deserve their reputations.

Neko Case is a fantastic alt-country chanteuse, and I cannot recommend her album “Blacklisted” highly enough. It is very dark, moody, sexy, smoky, cinematic–“twang-NOIR.” OpalCat, you mentioned liking Siouxsie and the Banshees on another thread, if I’m not mistaken. While Neko Case doesn’t have much in common with Siouxsie musically, I can see how a fan of one might appreciate the other, particularly if you like Tom Waits, Nick Cave, or similar “dark” artists.

Other alt-country-esque bands I’ve enjoyed (many of whom harken back more to classic country than any of the hat-wearing flag-wavers and warbly supermodels of modern pop-country music) are the Old 97s, BR549, Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, the Mavericks, Hank Williams III (who brings a lot of punk influence to the table), and the great Mike Ness, the rockabilly-influenced singer of rootsy punk band Social Distortion.

Then there’s the entire subgenre of Western swing, popularized in the '30s and '40s by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. It’s classic cowboy music blended with big band swing, and it’s lots of fun. Asleep At the Wheel is probably the best modern Western swing band, and Lyle Lovett actually has some good Western swing on his “Large Band” albums.

The O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack should have some good rootsy-folky-American music for you, like a beautiful lullaby sung by the aforementioned Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch. Loretta Lynn, another famous country singer who was most popular in the '70s, just came out with a new album, “Van Lear Rose,” produced by Jack White of the White Stripes. I’ve heard fantastic things about that as well.

A few more alt-country recommendations:

Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter
Fred Eaglesmith–“Ralph’s Last Show”
The Walkabouts–“Satisfied Mind” (they’re not a country band, but this is a country album)
Johnny Dowd (his stuff is strange and twisted)
Laura Veirs (she’s more alt-folk than alt-country, but you might want to give it a shot)
Alejandro Escovedo (straddles the border between alt-rock and alt-country)
The Supersuckers (they do alt-rock and alt-country, so you have to pick the right album/show)
The Kitchen Syncopators (not really country, but kickass roots/blues/Americana–they’re finger-picking guitar, washboard, and washtub bass)
The Damnations
Bobby Bare Jr.
Hot Club of Cowtown
The Baptist Generals
The Hot Guitars of Biller and Wakefield
Bill Frisell is a jazz guitarist, but did a few country-flavored albums

Oh, and try listening to KEXP on Thursday nights between 6 and 9 p.m. Pacific time. And you can also try looking up bands that are listed on the Tractor Tavern schedule.

Bad Livers is another fun band… they did the soundtrack to the movie The Newton Boys, a Western from the late '90s.