I apologize in advance to anyone I offend, but most modern country music is simply terrible. I’m sorry that I don’t care about your dog or how your wife left with your truck. That said, I admit that I am a fan of alternative (alt) country, and it’s definitely worth your time to check it out.
The general consensus is that alt-country came about through two different influences. On one side we have the traditional American country music. Examples of this range from Woody Guthrie to Hank Williams, both amazing artists worthy of their own Paperhouse columns. On the other side we have the country-rock style that originated from the re-emergence of rock and roll with country. The artist best identified with this style is Gram Parsons, who released two great albums before his untimely death. As a frame of reference, I would classify the legendary Man In Black, Johnny Cash, as somewhere between the two. Skip ahead from the 1960s to 1990, when the band Uncle Tupelo released No Depression, the first widely recognized modern alternative country album. From there, alt-country began to take off. Many different groups and individuals began to embrace the style; its influence can be seen in groups like Camper Van Beethoven, whose lead singer formed another group worth a listen, Cracker. Jeff Tweedy, of Uncle Tupelo, went on to form Wilco, whose early albums are steeped in alt-country stylings.
Today there are many artists who embrace this style; Bright Eyes is one of the more well known. Other examples include the Old 97s, Whiskeytown (a now-defunct band led by Ryan Adams) and The Elected (with Blake Sennett and Jason Boesel of Rilo Kiley). Albums released in the past year include Rabbit Fur Coat, by Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) with the Watson Twins; Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, by the reigning queen of alt-country Neko Case; and more recently Post-War by M. Ward, though his style leans closer to traditional Americana.
To all the country fans out there, give alt-country a listen — trust me when I say that it’s better than what you’re listening to. And to everyone who hates on country, twangy music ain’t all that bad.