From the glory days of honky tonk and the early outlaw culture to folk-laden Americana, the definition of country music spans much more than what’s currently circulating on radio waves. Whether your affinity is for catchy hooks, tight harmonies or simple stories, dig around and a bit and you'll find a subset of country music that will hit home — without any hokey side effects.
For this Lucchese-approved roots roundup, we highlight some of country music’s most definitive sounds — classic and contemporary — providing listeners with a soundtrack that's as varied as America's Western landscape.
It doesn’t get more country than classic honky tonk — the sound of the golden age of country music. All of honky tonk’s glory is encapsulated in the sometimes-rough, sometimes-smooth, always “too country for country,” sound that defined late artists like Hank Williams, George Jones and Buck Owens. Honky tonk music still resonates today with stalwarts like modern master of the Bakersfield sound, Dwight Yoakam.
Tune into: Buck Owens Together Again/My Heart Skips A Beat, Dwight Yoakam Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.
One would be remiss to talk to country music without mentioning the outlaw movement that rocked the 1960s and 1970s. Helmed by a famous few — Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings among others — the movement was a reaction to the crooning, commercialized sounds overtaking Nashville. Raw, rough and ragged, outlaw country still has its bearings today, its influences clearly heard in other modern music movements, inside and outside of the country confines.
Tune into: Willie Nelson Red Headed Stranger, David Allan Coe Longhaired Redneck
Weary listeners can tiptoe lightly into the sounds of country music with the folk and rock overtones of the Americana genre. Highly varied and appealing to non-traditionalists, Americana music draws on the storytelling and lyrical simplicity of classic country, with an emphasis on light, pleasing harmonies and instrumentation. In the last decade, Americana music has witnessed an exponential resurgence, thanks to such acts as the Civil Wars, The Avett Brothers, Hayes Carll, and rock-country god Ryan Adams.
Tune into: The Avett Brothers The Carpenter, Shovels & Rope O’ Be Joyful
When the singer-songwriter finds himself working within the confines of country music, the result is poetic in its simplistic, bare-bones nature. There’s a longstanding tradition of singer-songwriters on the Texas-to-Nashville trajectory, and their work — stemming from the 1970s to the present — is as true as it gets. Timeless and touching, the heroes of this genre include folk-country legends Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle.
Tune into: Townes Van Zandt Flyin’ Shoes, Guy Clark Old No. 1, Willis Alan Ramsey Willis Alan Ramsey
Texas Country and the Red Dirt Sound
Yes, the Texas state of mind is big enough to warrant its own music genre — several of them, in fact. The general “Texas Country” moniker refers to simple, storytelling music crafted within the Lone Star State. Party anthems like Robert Earl Keen’s “The Road Goes On Forever” and Pat Green’s “Carry On” are mainstays for this genre. The dust settles a little less with the Red Dirt sound, which, in its modern state, refers to musicians from both Texas and Oklahoma — Stoney Larue, Jason Boland — who get riff on Texas Country’s roots with rowdier lyrics and shows.
Tune into: Robert Earl Keen Bigger Piece of Sky, Jason Boland Comal County Blue