Great Country Music Does Still Exist
    • THURSDAY, JUNE 05, 2014

    • Posted by: Matt Howard

    A multitude of boozed up, cowboy hat-wearing scarlet faces and pretty little blonde ladies besieged the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville last night for the CMT Music Awards where they praised their peers' pop chart accomplishments. At some point during the past few decades, the concept of a country music triumph shifted away from its Golden Age roots and became heavily focused on creating crowd-pleasing, over-produced anthems. To think that the remarkable creations of icons like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and Patsy Cline somehow paved the way for today's cliched, flip-flop-wearing, beer-chugging ballads is insulting to the monumental American genre. Unfortunately this mass-appealing pop-ification has stigmatized the word country, however, there is a growing population of unheralded young artists who are progressively preserving the legends' musical traditions without falling victim to the mainstream standards.

    Jason Isbell

    The first artist is singer-songwriter/guitarist Jason Isbell, who is actually responsible for this list's creation. Last night he tweeted:

    Alabama-born Isbell, a former member of Drive-By Truckers, has four solo studio albums under his belt, the latest being his 2013 release Southeastern, for which he is currently touring to promote. Marc Maron described the artist prior to interviewing him on his WTF podcast: "Isbell is one of these guys that just has a turn of phrase, has a sense of place, has a sense of character within the songs, and a sense of poetry that punches you right in the fucking heart. And I was astounded by it." So were we...

    Robert Ellis

    Even though last night's hoedown went down in his hometown, no one heard 25-year-old Robert Ellis' name announced in any country category at the CMT awards. And that's a hell of a shame because his latest album The Lights from the Chemical Plant is a remarkable example of the genre's progressions as his unique sound intermingles hints of R&B, bossa nova, fusion, and free jazz. Watch Ellis' recent visit to the Baeble basement below.

    Watch the full video at

    Justin Townes Earle

    Being the son of country radical Steve Earle, Justin Townes had some colossal boots to fill. But he found his own rebellious way through a unique blend of blues, folk and country. Some might even say his biting songwriting could contend against his dear old dad's.

    The Lone Bellow

    Who said great country artists were strictly born and bred in the South? From temporary paralysis to being downright broke in New York City, the trio known as The Lone Bellow endured enough tragedies to write a classic country magnum opus. Perhaps their 2013 self-titled debut was just that. We had first-hand experience of their glued-together harmony and gripping tales one day as they busked through Washington Square Park...

    Watch the full video at

    Shovels & Rope

    There's a fine line that separates classic country from folk. Similar to country, the contemporary concept of folk has been muddled by pop charts and obsessive compulsive listeners who find comfort in categorized titles and overly saturated genre groupings. South Carolina husband-and-wife duo Shovels & Rope straddle the line of the two classic styles as the Nashville-raised Cary Ann Hearst and Denver-bred Michael Trent fuse together in roots-rowdy goodness. Their third record Swimmin' Time is due out August 26th. Listen to the album's first track "The Devil Is Around" below.

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