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The Greatest Underground Country Albums of All Time

December 13, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  81 Comments

By request, here is my list of the greatest underground country albums of all time.

The underground country movement started roughly in the mid 90′s on lower Broadway in Nashville that at the time was a run down part of town. Young musicians from around the country, some from punk backgrounds, came together from their mutual love of authentic country music to create a counterbalance to the pop country that was prevailing on Music Row a few blocks west.

Underground country started with mostly neo-traditionalists like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Big Sandy, and Dale Watson, but spread to the punk and heavy metal world through acts like Hank Williams III and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. This list does not just consider the appeal of these albums, but also the influence they had on other underground artists and albums, and on country music and music in general.

Please understand that this list is just for underground country albums. This means artists better defined by the Deep Blues like Scott H. Biram or Possessed by Paul James, or Texas artists like James Hand or Ray Wylie Hubbard, or country artists who may work on the fringes of underground country but would not necessarily be considered underground like BR549 or Roger Alan Wade, are not included. Americana acts are not included. This is strictly underground country’s opportunity to bask in the spotlight.

Please feel free to leave your own list below.

16.  The Boomswagglers- Bootleg Beginnings – 2011

This very well may be the most authentic album of music put out in the modern era for any genre. The Boomswagglers have always been and continue to be more myth than reality, with original Boomswaggler Lawson Bennett long gone and a cavalcade of replacements shuffling in an out with Spencer Cornett. Even if they never put out another album, The Boomswagglers made their mark, and it is a deep one.

“The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If you’re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someone’s got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs.” (read full review)

15. JB Beverley & The Wayward DriftersDark Bar & A Juke Box2006

Dark Bar & A Juke Box was an instant underground country classic, and so was the anti Music Row song that the album got its name from. JB and his Wayward Drifters grit out a superb selection of songs displaying taste, restraint, and a sincere appreciation for the roots of country music, which may have surprised some who knew JB more for his work with heavy metal bands like The Murder Junkies and the Little White Pills. Dark Bar & A Juke Box also boasts appearances from the famous son and grandson of a country music royal family, who due to contractual issues had to work incognito (wink wink).

14. Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day Troubadours – Del Gaucho – 2011

Some (including Lucky himself) may point to Hillbilly Fever as being the seminal Lucky Tubb album with its big budget and appearances by Wayne “The Train” Hancock. But Del Gaucho is where Lucky Tubb came into his own, found his sound, and the unique musical flavor only he has to offer the world. Dirty, rowdy, rocking, but still steadfastly neo-traditionalist country, Del Gaucho scores off the charts when it comes to style points. When you’re talking about some of the greatest neo-traditional country albums and artists of all time, Lucky Tubb and Del Gaucho deserve to be in that conversation.

13- Bob Wayne & The Outlaw CarniesBlood to Dust – 2008

They say you have your whole life to write your first album, and what makes Bob Wayne’s Blood to Dust so special is how true and touching he told his life’s story through song. His subsequent albums aren’t too shabby either, but with signature songs like “Blood to Dust”, “Road Bound”, and “27 Years”, this still stands out as his signature album, and a signature album of the underground country movement. It was performed, produced, and recorded by an all-star cast of contributors that included Donnie Herron, Joe Buck and Andy Gibson, and brought Bob Wayne out from behind-the-scenes as Hank3′s guitar tech, and made him one of the movement’s most well-known songwriters and performers.

12. Jayke Orvis – It’s All Been Said – 2010

This is the album that launched Farmageddon Records, and that launched Jayke Orvis as a formidable, premier front man in underground country. One of the founding members of the now legendary .357 String Band, Jayke was asked to leave the band because of irreconcilable differences and almost immediately began touring with The Goddamn Gallows and trying to make this album happen. The result was a slick, tightly-crafted LP showcasing excellent songwriting and instrumentation. From ballads to blazing instrumentals, Jayke Orvis has proved himself to be one of the singular talents of underground country roots.

11. Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel BrookeA Bitter Harvest – 2009

This album was destined to become an underground country classic. The mad genius music mind of Lonesome Wyatt of the Gothic country duo Those Poor Bastards has the uncanny ability to procure the absolute most appropriate sounds to evoke the desired dark mood in his music. Then you combine that with one of the best voices not just in underground country, but in all of music in Rachel Brooke, and magic was bound to happen. The creativity on A Bitter Harvest is spellbinding. More of an artistic endeavor than a toe tapper, Lonesome Wyatt and Rachel create a soundtrack to human emotion and despair. For people looking for a place for country music to evolve, A Bitter Harvest shows how you can take authentic country themes and an appreciation for the roots of the music, and envelop it in layers of textural color culled from the wide experience of human sounds.

10. Justin Townes EarleMidnight At The Movies – 2009

Midnight At The Movies was Saving Country Music’s 2009 Album of the Year. Today it would be difficult to characterize Justin Townes Earle as underground country because the quality of this album launched him into the inner sanctum of Americana.

“Justin Townes Earle has done an awesome thing with this album; he has figured out a way to unite all the displaced elements that make up the alternative to mainstream Nashville country, while still staying somewhat accessible to the mainstream folks as well. You might even catch the bluegrass folks nodding their head while listening to it. Folkies like it, and there’s a few tunes blues people can get into. This isn’t just the REAL country album of the year, it is the “Alt-country” album of the year and the “Americana” album of the year.” (read full review)

9. Slackeye Slim - El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa – 2011

El Santo Grial was Saving Country Music’s 2011 Album of the Year.

“Every once in a while, an album comes along that changes everything. It’s an album that inspires other albums, and dynamic shifts in tastes and approach throughout a sector of music, while at the same time dashing the dreams of other artists, as the purity and originality are way too much to attempt to rival. Slackeye Slim’s El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa is one of those albums.

“El Santo Grial is a masterpiece, exquisitely produced, arranged, and performed. This is a patient, uncompromising album. You can tell time was never introduced into this project as a goal. The goal was to flesh out Slackeye’s vision without ever settling for second best, and that goal was accomplished.” (read full review)

8. Wayne “The Train” HancockThat’s What Daddy Wants – 1997

Thunderstorms & Neon Signs is the Wayne Hancock album most people gravitate towards as their favorite because it was their first, and the first to showcase Wayne Hancock’s unique blend of country, Western Swing, rockabilly, and blues. But pound for pound, That’s What Daddy Wants is just as good of an offering, boasting some of The Train’s signature songs like “87 Southbound” and “Johnny Law”. Wayne Hancock has never put out a bad album, and distinguishing between them is difficult. But it’s not difficult to say that the underground country movement would have not had as much class if That’s What Daddy Wants hadn’t seen the light of day.

7. .357 String Band – Fire & Hail – 2008

“They were all the absolute best possible musicians you could find at their respective positions, each challenging each other, pushing each other to keep up with the band’s demands for artistic excellence in both instrumental technique and creative composition.

“Listening back now at Fire & Hail, with so much talent in one place, no wonder the project was untenable, and no wonder the respective players have moved on to become their own trees instead of respective branches of the same project. Still, the loss of .357 String Band may go down as underground country’s greatest tragedy.” (read full review)

6. Hank Williams III - Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’ – 2002

BR549 and Wayne “The Train” Hancock spearheaded the neo-traditionalist movement in the mid 90′s, but Hank Williams III was the one to carry it into the oughts and introduce it to a brand new crop of fans he brought along from his dabblings in the punk/heavy metal world. After having to tow the line somewhat for his first album Risin’ Outlaw, Hank3 was unleashed and able to showcase his own songwriting, heavily influenced by Wayne Hancock and Hank3′s famous grandfather, but still all his own. His voice was wickedly pure with a heart wrenching yodel and commanding range. The songwriting was simple, but powerful. This is a masterpiece, and remains an essential title of the neo-traditionalist era.

5. Hellbound GloryOld Highs & New Lows – 2010

Hellbound Glory had already been around for years, but they burst into the underground with this magnificent, hard country album highlighted by head man Leroy Virgil’s world class songwriting. Despite the “hell” in their name and the hard language in their songs, Hellbound Glory hadn’t gone through any retooling as post punk refugees. They were pure country through and through and Old Highs & New Lows combined excellent Outlaw-style bar stompers and ballads with some of the most wit-filled songwriting since Keith Whitley. As far as honky tonk albums go, it may be years before this one is trumped. And when it is, it might be Leroy Virgil and Hellbound Glory doing the trumping.

4. Dale WatsonLive in London…England – 2002

Dale comes out on stage and starts slinging guitars, cutting classics, and speaking the truth. Before Dale was the hometown boy and house band for Austin, he was pissed off and willing to sing about it. Dale’s anti-Nashville classics “Real Country Song”, “Nashville Rash”, and “Country My Ass” can all be found here, but Live in London isn’t all pissing and moaning. Songs like “Ain’t That Livin’” showed off Dale’s superlative voice and suave style. Honky tonk albums are sometimes hard to make because it is hard to capture that live, sweaty energy in the recorded context. So what better way to solve that problem than making a live one? Live in London remains the best Dale album to date.

3. Th’ Legendary Shack ShakersCockadoodledon’t – 2003

This was one of the first albums to bust out of the burgeoning music scene on lower Broadway in Nashville where one can argue the undergorund country movement started. It showed the world what kind of mayhem could be created by mixing country, blues, and punk music together without compromising taste and soul. It is the album which acts as a guidepost to the eclectic, yet intuitive and inter-related mix of influences that you will find in underground country: honest to goodness appreciation to the roots of American music, with a punk attitude and approach. And if you ever wondered why Joe Buck is considered part of underground country, appreciate that he played most of the music on Cockadoodledon’t.

2. Wayne “The Train” HancockThunderstorms & Neon Signs – 1995

There are two albums that you can look back on an make a serious case that if they did not exist, underground country music may not exist–the album below this one on this list, and Wayne Hancock’s Thunderstorm & Neon Signs. There are two types of music artists: originators and imitators. Sometimes imitators can be very successful, and very creative artists themselves. But it always takes the originators to set the plate for the imitators to do what they do. Thunderstorms & Neon Signs was an original album from one of America’s most original country roots artists of all time. It doesn’t get much better or more influential than this.

1. Hank Williams IIIStraight to Hell – 2006

This album isn’t underground country’s Red Headed Stranger. It isn’t underground country’s Honky Tonk Heroes. It is both. It is the album that both was a novel concept, a breakthrough sonically and lyrically, and had a massive impact on the business side of music, for artists winning control of their music and inspiring and showing artists how to do it themselves. The deposed son of country music royalty had taken on a major Nashville label, and won, and all while being one of the first to successfully bridge the energy and approach of punk and heavy metal music with traditional country, all while keeping the music solidly country in nature.

It was the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker. It was the first to ever be recorded outside of a traditional studio setting. Of course only a select few were paying attention, but it broke through many barriers that to this day have changed music in significant ways, sonically and behind the scenes.

The approach also had wide-ranging impacts outside of underground country and country music in general, to rock music and punk and heavy metal, inspiring thousands of rock kids to put down their electric guitars and AC/DC records, and pick up banjos and Johnny Cash records. The impact on mainstream music may have not been seen, but it was felt, and just like all great albums, it’s legacy will grow and be more appreciated and understood as the future unfolds.

81 Comments to “The Greatest Underground Country Albums of All Time”

  • The hardest – and most subjective – part of this is deciding where the line is drawn around “underground country.” If it were my list, I would definitely include BR5-49′s BR-549. They brought attention to the general sound and mixed contemporary themes with the traditionalist presentation. I would also include Rev. Horton Heat’s Holy Roller and Southern Culture on the Skid’s Dirt Track Date. Just my two cents.

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    • I was a gnat’s eyelash from including BR549 on here, but then I probably would have had to include Big Sandy, Hot Club of Cowtown, and on and on until the theme of “underground country” would have been lost. Even though BR549 had a residency at Robert’s right beside Layla’s at the same time Joe Buck, Th’ Shack Shakers, Hank3, etc. etc. were playing there, they were on a major label and receiving radio play. It’s an interesting discussion if they were “underground” or not and I probably wouldn’t put up much argument with someone who wants to say they were, but in my mind they are once removed.

      “Holy Roller” was a compilation album, though a damn good one (right up there with Skeleton’s from the Closet in my opinion). If I was to include a Horton Heat album, it would have been “Smoke Em If You Got Em”. But then again, I think he is once removed from underground country. Psychobilly is its own little world.

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      • I don’t think The Rev has one album that stands head and shoulders above the rest, so that compilation is a damn good place to start. I agree that it’s not necessarily country, but I would argue that Straight to Hell doesn’t happen without The Rev laying the foundation. How many times did Hank III have to describe his music as being “like Reverend Horton Heat?” For many years, that was the closest anyone came.

        I was sad to see you reference the neotraditionalist era because it really was an “era.” As with all eras eventually, I’m afraid its time has sadly passed. I’m just glad you’re shining some light on the fact that this whole thing didn’t start in 2006. I think that’s still news to some people.

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      • If you haven’t checked out Jalan Crossland,you should.Songs that got me hooked on them.Trailer park fire,Big horn mountain blues,Mama was a roughneck.I would like to know what you think of them.Keep on keeping it real Triggerman.Thanks your friend Patrick Greear.

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  • Good article. I was glad to see JB up there. That is a fantastic album . I didn’t know Joe Buck played with Shack Shackers. A few of these I’ve not listened to yet as time is of the essence. I’m gonna b digging some of these albums out the c-drive for a through listening. Thanks Trigger.

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  • Ever hear Paul Burch? His Blue Notes album (2000) is a cornerstone for me.

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    • I’m familiar with Paul Birch, but should check that album out more in-depth. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  • Good list man.. I’d just replace Fire & Hail with Ghost Town.. And it is great to see J.B. Beverley on this list. That album is amazing IMO. What is great about that album was there were the big tunes on it like Dark Bar & A Juke Box, Train Song and Wayward Drifter w/ Dixie Coon but underneath those are Rainin’ In Philly, Ghost of Old D.C. and Lonesome Loaded and Cold that in my opinion are classics.. These songs live will give you goosebumps..

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  • So are we gonna get a top 15 red dirt list too?

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    • Red Dirt would be just as difficult to pin down but I think would have to include:
      Bob Childers
      Steve Ripley
      Jimmy LaFave

      Jason Boland
      Robert Earl Keen
      Stoney Larue
      Cross Canadian Ragweed
      Mike McClure
      Wade Bowen
      Brandon Jenkins
      Reckless Kelly
      Randy Rogers Band
      Micky and the Motorcars
      Jackson Taylor
      Eleven Hundred Springs
      Band of Heathens

      Somehow Woody Guthrie, Bob Wills, Billy Joe Shaver, Willie, and Waylong would be included in there also.

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      • The Robison brothers and Pat Green might be on the list too.

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      • If a Red Dirt list were to surface to me it would be1st generation: Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Earl,Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Micheal Martin Murphy, Rodney Crowell, Rusty Weir, Gary P. Nunn, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Doug Sham. 2nd Generation: Robert Earl Keen, Pat Green, Jack Ingram, Chris Wall,The great Divide(Mike Mclure), Reckless Kelly, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Randy Rogers Band, Charlie Robison, Bruce Robison, Houston Marchman, Tommy Alverson, Brian Burns, Larry Joe Taylor, Max Stalling Daryl Dodd.
        3rd Generation:Hayes Carll, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Turnpike Troubadors, Micky and the Motorcars, Bart Crow Band, Casey Donahew Band, Josh Abott Band, JB and the Moonshine Band, The Trisha’s, Six Market Blvd., Aaron Watson, The Tejas Bros.

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        • The issue would be where you consider Red Dirt began. I consider it beginning in Stillwater, OK at “The Farm”. Others may say it began in Texas during the 70′s outlaw movement with Waylon and Willie.

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          • Texas in the 70′s for me in particular Austin Waylon, Willie, RYH, JJW and Gary P. and Micheal Martin Murphy and Rusty Weir. I think it died and resurfaced at the farm with Red Dirt Rangers Bob Childers and Tom Skinner etc and in Texas in the 80′s with REK and the 70′s history combined with the emergence of Earl and Keen and the Farm that eventually led to Mclure and the great Divide and Boland, Ragweed etc like Keen led to Pat Green and so forth I think it’s all intertwined together. Which is why the scene is so diverse today.The diversity of it is it’s greatest strength. Which is what I think hurts underground Country because it so closely linked to a melding of tradtional country and bluegrass with punk and even thrash influences. Wereas Texas/Red Dirt has everything from Country to rock to blues, to folk to wesetern swing as a part of the genere at large.

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        • I rarely hear Terry Allen mentioned when someone lists Texan artists. Where does he fit in? Just an eclectic outsider? Lubbock is firmly planted in my top 5 country albums of all time.

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          • Terry is a huge influence on a lot of Texas/Red Dirt artists. His Lubbock on everthing album is amazing. REK does a great cover of Terry’s Amarillo Highway song on his number 2 live Dinner CD. He has garnered more fame however as an artist i.e. sculpter and painter than as a songwriter.

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    • I’m not sure if I am qualified to write that list alone seeing how my perspective on Red Dirt in many ways is from the outside looking in. But maybe with some assistance, we’ll get one up.

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      • Yea, it seems like we are in a different clique. Now Im not volunteering….. but maybe adding someone with roots in red dirt to contribute to your website would be a good idea. It seems like you get the traffice to support it. I know I visit 2 to 3 times a day. Im listening to Whitey Ford and the 78′s right now…and would have never discovered them without this website.

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        • I don’t think “clique” is an appropriate word whatsoever. There are different generation points and different inspirations for different types of country music, and that local and regional flavor should be celebrated and attempted to be preserved, with the differences attempted to be understood and respected by people from the outside looking in. Underground country is underground country, and Red Dirt country is Red Dirt. That diversity is where the strength of country comes from. “Clique” seems to imply that I only know about underground country. Underground country is where my expertise is because that’s where this blog originated from. However I have branched out into Red Dirt commonly. But to attempt to include Red Dirt music here would have eroded the point of the list, just like including Hank3′s “Straight to Hell” on a Red Dirt list would have.

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  • Great List Triggerman! This is a tough list to develop. I would also like to see a post sometime of your own most influential albums of all time that changed your life. I would be curious how everyone’s list on here would be and how we all compare. I know some would be from the rock/punk work, others would be from the blues world, and others from the Traditional country/bluegrass worlds.

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  • Good list Trig, man to I love both of those Hank III records and both of those Wayne the Train albums. For me though the Dale Watson Live in London record is one I consider one of “dessert Island picks” it is an all timer for me.

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  • Regarding Straight to Hell: I really liked Disc 2, but the music in Disc 1 was too fast and dissonant for my ears.

    With many underground country songs, the excessively fast guitar/banjo strumming diminishes my enjoyment of the music. Is this type of musical arrangement a legacy of punk influence?

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    • Yes, but more so bluegrass. Do you not like fast bluegrass?

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      • The important thing is that the music has to be well-organized. I’m fine with fast music as long as it does not sound chaotic. For example, I love Celtic music and bluegrass music in general. The problem I have with some of the punk-influenced underground country music is that the music is often not only fast, but also dissonant and chaotic, and often seemingly on purpose in order to create a “dirty” sound.

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        • Straight to Hell has some of the most crisp, clean playing you’ll hear. Doesn’t sound sound muddled or chaotic at all to me. Especially for being recorded the way it was.

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          • The following songs sounded chaotic to me:

            Straight to Hell (title track)
            Dick in Dixie
            Smoke and Wine
            Crazed Country Rebel (somewhat less so than the others; the bigger problem with this song is that the music is rather flat)

            My favorite songs on Disc 1 of the album from a musical perspective were Not Everybody Likes Us (even though I disliked some of the negative lyrics there), Angel of Sin, and to some extent D. Ray White (which was my favorite song lyrically).

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          • No disrespect intended, but I think the problem must be with your ear adjusting to the tempo. There is nothing chaotic about any of those songs. Those guys were super tight.

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        • I’m speaking of the disc with songs on it of course. I’ve rarely listened to the other disc just because I don’t care for that format.

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        • Just wondering what you thought about Lovesick Broke & Driftin’ because it is pretty much the exact opposite of everything you dislike on Straight to Hell. It has a wide range of tempos, extremely minimal banjo, and a very clean sound.

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          • Haven’t heard it yet. I liked Disc 2 of Straight to Hell, and so hopefully Lovesick, Broke, and Driftin’ sounds similar.

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  • Kill Billy – Foggy Mountain Anarchy
    Kevn Kinney – any of his early solo stuff

    two artist i never hear mentioned so i just wonder others thoughts on them…..
    i love your articles…..read every one of em…..even the ones about taylor swift. hahaha. thanks for all you do!!!

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    • Don’t want to get too far off on a tangent from this article, especially since I have never posted. But since you mentioned – Kevn Kinney is one of the most unknown/under appreciated artists in the past 20-25 years (in my irrelevant opinion). Drivin N Cryin had a brief radio/MTV run about 20 years ago and quickly faded back underground (not to mention one of the all-time southern frat anthems). Kevn’s solo work is phenomenal and not just his early work. Broken Hearts & Auto Parts & The Flower & The Knife are outstanding. But it’s hard to beat Down Out Law – especially “Mountaintop.” Kevn still tours regionally around the southeast and he also still tours with DNC. Highly recommended. Kevn has much in common with many of these underground artists as well. Hard Punk, Blues, & acoustic folk music is evident throughout his work. His songwriting is unique and impressive as I’ve heard – and his guitar skills are just as uniquely impressive. Apologies – you touched a nerve with KK! Not familiar with Kill Billy, but will check them out. Also – always read & appreciate this blog. Please keep up the great work

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  • Reading those blurbs you wrote about the Wayne and III albums took me back to when I first heard said albums. Ah, nostalgia. Exellent list.

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  • Thanks for the list Trigger man. Now I know what albums to get next. BTW when I went to Antones Tuesday night, I seen many new bands with great talent keeping the torch still lit and many of those artists never heard of most of these bands. There sure is a buffet of music out there unnoticed.

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  • Anything hellbound glory puts out is amazing, but i’d have to say their second album is better than their first.

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  • I know this is off-topic, but have you heard Ashley Monroe’s new single “Like a Rose”? I think you might be interested in reviewing it.

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    • I’m aware of it. I may review it. I’ve had a number of requests.

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  • Thanks for the list. I’ve never been huge on Hank III (like him, just don’t love him) and something about a lot of the “punk turned country” vibe that I didn’t like. But I Just listened to Wayne Hancock and 357 String band and they are both great.

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  • Love seeing The Wayward Drifters make the list… Thought JB Beverly had some new stuff he was working on long ago? Anyways, STH changed country music for me. Can still remember the day my wife-to-be and I bought it and drove around for hours needlessly just to hear it. Great list and I couldn’t agree more with number one.

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  • My personal picks in no particular order:

    Hank III – Broke…
    Wayne Hancock – Thunderstorms
    Wayne Hancock – Viper of Melody
    Woodbox Gang – Wormwood
    Jayke Orvis – It’s all been said
    .357 String Band – Ghost town
    Scott H. Biram – The dirty old one man band (I will argue that this is country any day)
    Reverend Horton Heat – Liquor in the front (Liquor Beer and Wine = amazingness)
    Lydia Loveless – Indestructible Machine

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  • To me you have got to give Rev Horton Heat his well deserved due in terms of “underground” country. He in my mind crosses so many boundries and appeals to so many groups of fans and has had incredble longevity.
    Also in terms of predecessors of what is being defined here as “underground” country along with the right Rev. let us not forget about Jason and the Scorchers.

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    • i agree – even if i don’t consider his music “country”. the first time i ever saw the name “Hank Williams III” it was listed as the opening act for a RHH show. at that time, i thought it was a made up band name, playing of off Hank Sr’s legacy.

      back in those days, i imagine that touring with RHH probably gave Hank the type of exposure he used to give to his openers.

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      • RHH is country in most respects. Their lyrical content, lots of the instrumentation, and many songs as a whole are very country. Especially the song “Liquor, Beer, and Wine”. To me, that is one of the best country songs ever written. And, come on, the band cut their teeth in Dallas and they cover Chet Atkins. RHH is one of those bands that can enjoy commercial success while keeping with tradition and innovation.

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    • I was born and raised in Dallas, TX where Reverend Horton Heat came up. I remember going to watch him when I was barely old enough to get into shows and when nobody knew him outside of Corpus Cristi, Dallas, and a small clique in the Pacific Northwest. He was the very first guy I ever saw or heard that was doing the retro roots thing and playing with an upright bass, except for maybe Brian Setzer. Reverend Horton Heat never gets enough credit for being one of the first, and one of the first to appeal more to punk kids than country fans.

      At the same time, I have great difficulty calling him underground, or country, except for a few songs. He also didn’t originate in the neo-traditional scenes of Austin or lower Broadway in Nashville. He’s actually just as much of a product of the Pacific Northwest as he is Dallas, as it is spelled out in the liner notes of “Holy Roller”.

      The third issue as was pointed out in another comment of what album you would put on this list. The reason Hank3 opened for Horton Heat was because it was NOT the same scene and he could expand his base.

      I’m a huge fan, but I can figure any way to put him on an “underground country” list. In many ways, it would feel like a reduction of his accomplishments.

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      • Fair enough. I also grew up just North of the metroplex, and RHH was the first “country” style band I independently discovered. They definitely have a rockabilly sound that is all their own. With such a loose interpretation of underground country it’s hard to pin down what that means. I think it’s a little bit different for everyone. Straight to Hell could be considered hellbilly, and Jayke Orvis could be called newgrass.

        Either way, RHH fits in my list because of the exposure to other music that this band gave me. If RHH isn’t underground, how is Hank III underground? Sadly, I think Hank III is more universally recognized around the country than RHH is. Either way

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      • Small world Big D born and bread myself. At any rate, I see RHH and Jason and the Scorchers as if nothing else the the forefathers of what you consider to be “underground” country.They may be albeit unknowing forefathers of the genere but the impact they especially RHH, had to have on the likes of a Hank III etc has to be large. Perhaps, not that unlike the kind of impact TVZ had on REK in as much as it influenced the start of a new era in music.

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  • How about some Woodbox Gang? Very underrated in my opinion. Drunk as Dragons and Wormwood are phenomenal albums. The song writing is unique and original and the players are amazing!

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    • Oh, I am happy you got two Wayne Hancock albums up there. The man is a Texas national treasure.

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  • Hayes Carll “Trouble In Mind”

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  • I find it odd that the number one album on an “Underground Country” list is put out by a major label in country. This is like saying “Never Mind the Bollocks” or S/T by The Clash are underground punk albums. You cant be “underground” when signed to the same label as Tim McGraw and other top country artists.

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    • I respectfully disagree. I think that you can make the case that STH being put out the way it was is what created the country music underground. It’s not an underground album IN SPITE of being put out on a major label, it is an underground album BECAUSE it was put out on a major label, yet it was recorded on a consumer-grade piece of electronics in someone’s home and had a parental advisory sticker, the first time this had ever happened in the CMA. Clearly Hank3 if he had the option would have not been on Curb Records at that point. He made the best of a bad situation.

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      • I am in no way knocking the album in any way as it is a great album and deserves the accolades it has received. Curb could have easily shelved this album as it has done to other artists before and to Hank himself but ultimately chose to release it. I know they had issues in court about this album, but Curb wasnt forced to release this album if I remember correctly. They put it out on their own accord thinking it would sell. Whether or not a label should be able to put an album on the shelf isnt the point here, they can, and do many times, and a major label felt that this would do well enough to recoup some money on.

        As far as how it was recorded, many albums have been recorded on equally low equipment and put out. Springsteen’s “Nebraska” was recorded on a 4track (and occasionally lower standards)in his kitchen and was released as is with no studio overdubs or studio versions (though they did try them and found they lost the feel).

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        • I know it’s a drama point, but seriously to not include one Shooter album is missing a pretty major player in the game. Shooter and Hank III are a large part of what drew a lot of people into a lot of the underground music. To not have Electric Rodeo on this list or not one representation of his music is odd.

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          • In no way has Shooter Jennings, the man or the music, ever embodied anything that could ever be considered “underground”, sonically, thematically, lyrically, or logistically. And making any attempt to assert otherwise is an aversion of the truth, and the reason there is continuous conflict around his name. Shooter Jennings has been, is, and will continue to be a mainstream Southern rock artist, and as soon as he and his fans fess up to that fact and finally call a spade a spade and stop the charade that he belongs in any part either on this list or in the independent country roots movement in general, both the movement and Shooter can move on and grow. Until then, there will be conflict.

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  • This list is superb. Insight on a bunch of old favorites, & a coupla albums I’ve yet to explore. Thanks for what you do. 

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  • Great list! only one big missing piece for me is “Lenny and the piss poor boys”, a true unknown classic

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  • I’d suggest the inclusion of Must’ve Been High by the Supersuckers: a fantastic country (and western!) album that predates everything on Triggerman’s list except for the Wayne Hancock records. Funny, sincere, and dynamic, Must’ve Been High is a genuine lost classic; if only the Supersuckers continued down this road.

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    • That’s a good one. In the same vein, The Knitters with Excene Cervenka and John Doe would be another punk band gone country project that was a precursor to these albums. Mike Ness of Social Distortion has country albums too. Maybe there’s a good list there too, of all the punk bands with country side projects that lent to underground country.

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  • Hey Trig, I am going to be in Nashville from Dec 26-28, are there any bands tearing up Broadway right now I need to see? I am a fan of guys like Waylon, Willie, and the outlaw movement, I LOVE the Turnpike Troubadours, and on the mainstream side I like Dierks and Eric Church… anything up that ally I should check out? Thanks!

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    • I haven’t checked her calendar, but Sarah Gayle Meech is playing down there a lot these days. Saw her at Muddy Roots and she put on a great show.

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      • Ok, Thanks! I’ll check her schedule out and see! I’ve heard a little bit of her music, from this site, and I like what I hear! If I see her, I’ll let you know how it is! Thanks again!

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  • Triggerman, for you to say that Shooter is a mainstream Southern Rock artist is stupid. You just say that because you want to tear down what he does and put him on a shelf. Because he isn’t copping the 50′s vibe and leans more towards 60′s and 70′s (like hellbound glory) doesn’t make him mainstream. Even him doing the Bucky thing was ballsy in my opinion because he clearly does what he wants. And if you want to say he did it to help himself out, then clearly your head is still buried in your rectum. I’ve heard his new record, and it’s a really fucking solid record, and if you can’t see it when you finally get around to reviewing it (if you don’t we’ll know it’s because you liked it), i bet you’ll try and tear everything down about it, but it’s nothing but from the heart and real. As have all of his last releases. Quit being a jealous cunt and start waking up to what’s happening around you. Your relevance is dropping dramatically, it shows in your article about underground country being dead. As a smart man said, you’re reducing the evolution of music to a shelf that you can put yourself and all your self-given-awards on. Oh well, nobody’s gonna remember you. Keep doing the right thing and getting good music out there. Tearing Shooter down only gives him more strength in my opinion, because it’s clear to everyone that his music is real and smart and has a lot of heart and soul, unlike a lot of your opinions.

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    • Look man, let me just say this.

      At this point, I think the best thing is to not attempt to resolve the differences between Shooter and I, but to appreciate our differences and allow there to be separation to reduce the likelihood of conflict. Make no mistake about it, I think that Shooter Jennings is the most dangerous, most deceptive artist in the overall country music world right now. But out of respect for him, and for folks that don’t want to see drama, I am doing my best to check my anger and opinions. I don’t want there to be conflict. He can stay on his side of the schoolyard, and I’ll stay on mine. Like the teacher used to say in school, just ignore the people you don’t like, and keep your hands to yourself. This is like the Palestinian / Israeli conflict, and people need to respect that small things like a comment on an article that has no bearing on Shooter Jennings can turn the cold war hot and damage both sides.

      The problem is that the last few days, for some reason people have felt that the release of new Shooter material is an excuse to attack me, and prod me into saying something inflammatory. I am doing the best I can to check my anger and respect your opinions and the opinions of other Shooter fans. The ironic thing is that many folks are mad at me that I haven’t said anything inflammatory yet, so you crash another article and make it become a Shooter issue, calling me a “cunt” and questioning my relevancy. Trust me, Saving Country Music is doing just fine, and it and Shooter would probably do a lot better if the people on both sides stopped trying to stir shit and showed a little respect. Because if not, my anger will get the best of me (as it will) and I will feel the need to say my peace. And then, we all lose. And right now, I’m about a gnat’s eyelash from that breaking point.

      This is the last of the Shooter comments on this blog. Per the comment rules, it’s not relevant to the topic.

      Respects,

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      • I’m a total bystander in this whole Shooter situation, and I hope I’m not violating any comment rules, but I found the following statement quite hilarious:

        “Make no mistake about it, I think that Shooter Jennings is the most dangerous, most deceptive artist in the overall country music world right now…I don’t want there to be conflict.”

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  • Interesting list, and I’m glad that at last the Supersuckers showed up in the comments. Definitely one that I was missing, more than Mike Ness. And I miss Jason & the Scorchers, Reckless Country Soul and Lost And Found made me discover and appreciate Hank Williams.
    I was a bit surprised to find Th’Legendary ShackShakers in a country-list, besides coming from the Nashville underground, the best argument I could come up with is that Cockadoodledon’t is so damn good that it should be in every damn list. But it’s a blues album. It also was my direct introduction to Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, who I consider to be one of the most fascinating things to happen in underground country.
    Before LSS, the most exciting band from Nashville that reached Europe was BR549. Live from Robert’s to me was proof that real country still was being played in Nashville, while people like Dale Watson and Wayne Hancock draw more attention to Austin.

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  • In the words of the late “philosopher” Rodney King. “can’t we just all get along.” This is a wonderful blog. No need for continued Shooter drama. He does what he does some of it I dig some I don’t just like anybody elses music.

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  • Triggerman,
    I’m confused where you’re drawing the line for the genres. I apologize if I’m repeating anything said in the comments above- there are a lot of them. My understanding of ‘underground’ music is anything that operates without the support of the mainstream and my understanding of ‘country’ music is music that has its roots in rural and southern traditions. The way I see it, Underground Country is the broader definition of the sub-genres of Red Dirt, Texas, Deep Blues, Gutterbilly, etc. Perhaps a more specific definition of what distinguishes the artists considered for this list would clear up my confusion over why someone like James Hand (described on his own website as a country musician) wouldn’t be considered while Dale Watson (described on wikipedia as ‘Texas Country singer’) makes the list. Is James Hand not underground country? Also, while I agree that Cockadoodledon’t is totally deserving of a spot on this list, the ‘Deep Blues’ element of the Shack Shakers is undeniable. In my mind, the genre titles ‘Red Dirt Country’ and ‘Texas Country’ don’t distinguish stylistic differences, but the regions from where the music originates. So in that case, isn’t Wayne Hancock Texas country? Would you mind clarifying the criteria for this list?
    Thank you

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    • Good question. I think there is a difference between underground and independent music. For example, underground music would rarely involve radio play, like most of the albums on this list. Independent music may not be put out on major labels or be played on Clear Channel, but Red Dirt and Texas country for example enjoy lots of regional radio play.

      Underground country originated on lower Broadway in Nashville, or at least that is its epicenter, just like Red Dirt originated on “The Farm”. Wayne Hancock and Dale Watson were “underground” more in the mid 2000′s, when along with Hank Williams III, they made up the big 3 of underground country. Even though both Wayne and Dale are from Texas, I don’t think they were originally considered Texas country artists because they ran in underground country circles. Now, Dale Watson is undeniably a Texas country artist. Wayne still probably isn’t, he’s still considered underground.

      I think the delineations in music are important because it keeps in tact the contrast between different influences and origins, even though some of the music may sound similar, or the people came from the same place.

      As for the Shack Shakers, since they were the at the very beginning of the revitalization of lower Broadway and because of the influence of “Cockadoodledon’t”, I believe they belong on this list. And I know we think of them as a blues band first, but “Cockadoodledon’t” and really all of their albums have country songs and tremendous country influence on them. Remember, both Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers were bluesmen.

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      • So, then why isn’t Br5-49 on the list? Had it not been for them none of those bands would have ever played on lower broadway. Your rules for this list make no sense and are contradictory.

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        • Okay so what album of theirs should I put on this list? This point of this article and all of my articles is to stimulate discussion, so pony up an album and help us see what we are missing. This is not a “Best of lower Broadway” list. I don’t have anything from Joe Buck’s band “Gringo” or anything from Greg Garing or Hillbilly Casino either. Saying this list makes “no sense” seems a little harsh. Seems to have made sense to a lot of other folks.

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          • How about “Live from Roberts” or the phone record? Hillbilly Casino albums are a joke and to compare them to a band like Br5-49 is also a joke. Greg Garing is one of the best but if you knew anything about him you would know that he hasn’t officially released an album except for a Warner Bros record that sounded more like Radiohead than country. So, again, he would have no albums to go on this list even if you wanted to list him.

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      • Good post Trig. However using your analogy about the shack shakers should not Rev. Horton Heat be on the list ? I know the other problem with RHH is the time line you use for when “underground” country started but given the shack shakers analogy RHH fits at least musically if not chronologically. Also, I can tell you the first place i ever heard Hank III or Wayne Hancock or Dale Watson was on Dallas radio station KHYI 95.3 the range. Which is I guress is considered a Texas music station but they played Hank III and Dale and Wayne for lots of years and regularly.

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        • I feel we are descending into semantics here. I did not use the radio analogy to explain specifically why RHH is not on this list, but tried to give a very basic explanation between the difference between an underground artist and an independent artist. All I’m saying is that Dale Watson, Hank3, and Wayne Hancock spent a few years during the 2000′s paling around, and specifically giving each other shout outs from the stage. Meanwhile RHH was hanging out with bands like The Supersuckers and others from the Pacific Northwest, and Nashville bands like Nashville Pussy. It doesn’t mean there’s similarities and cross pollination, but the links between those artists were not as strong as the others.

          Here is a specific breakdown of the different origins of the greater “Muddy Roots” movement of which underground country is a part of, and how they are all intertwined.

          http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/the-origins-epicenters-of-underground-muddy-roots

          I probably should have spent a little more time explaining how I define “Underground Country” before I posted this, but I thought it was already too long, and I didn’t want to bog down in info many folks already know.

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          • Your definition is bullshit. You don’t have a clue and should be sentenced to death for voicing your stupid opinions on this stupid site.

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          • Yet you’re still here, and felt compelled to leave 3 comments. Looks like I’ve done my job.

            Your trolling skills are paltry.

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          • To “Jesus”:

            Chill the fuck out and learn to think before you comment. Making death jokes, especially right after the Connecticut shooting, goes beyond the pale.

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          • He just got his ass banned.

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  • You made some really good selections and I realize it’s all a matter of personal taste and very subjective….but to not include any Two Dollar Pistols?

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  • I think that Straight To Hell is Hank 3′s white album. Both Cd’s are excellent and even though the things he released since are all great I don’t thing any are as good as that one.
    Also he is the one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
    P.S. can’t wait to hear some new Wayne the Train.

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  • (Forgive me, I know this is off-topic, but it’s based on the crux of your argument for your number 1 choice).

    “The approach also had wide-ranging impacts outside of underground country and country music in general, to rock music and punk and heavy metal, inspiring thousands of rock kids to put down their electric guitars and AC/DC records, and pick up banjos and Johnny Cash records.”

    I’m not going to assume ignorance on your part, given that many fans of Country also have an affinity for Rock (such as myself), but this comment seems a bit on-the-nose. I know that you are just generalizing by throwing out a big name band, but you threw out the wrong one by far. I have all of AC/DC’s albums and I can tell you in all certainty that I don’t know a SINGLE other person that does. In fact, I don’t know many people that have an individual albums of the band’s, much less more than one (which is in no small part due to the band’s reluctance to issue compilations, thus alienating would-be casual fans). It could be because I live in Arkansas, but I would say otherwise, though I don’t presume to speak for other areas. If anything, I know many (MANY) more people that are fans of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Queen, Nirvana and Nickelback and many (MANY) more people that own music of these bands. This is not to say, however, that the band is not consistently popular , but they tend to have the reputation of the “big dumb Rock band” more than anything else (which I think is what you’re getting at). I hear criticism for them from people that I know much more often than praise, which you seem to be playing to as well (which is odd, since the band has never had any illusions of being taken the slightest bit seriously, thus rendering much of the criticism unfounded or just plain ignorant).

    Another error is that AC/DC are not Punk nor Heavy Metal, though they have been influenced by both genres. People who call AC/DC Metal are simply confusing loudness for ferocity; their music has nothing in common with, say, METALLICA. As Kerry King (guitarist for the Heavy Metal Band SLAYER) said, “I never understood why anyone called AC/DC Metal. They are the blueprint for f–king Rock & Roll.” It’s disheartening that you are using them as an apparently negative example, but it’s understandable, nonetheless. I know we’re not here to talk about Rock, classic or otherwise, but I felt it important to note.

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  • On a completely different note (and actually ON topic), is Hank3′s music dark or especially vulgar? I know that some of his albums have Parental Advisory warnings, but those have been issued for single f-bombs in the past. Are we talking devil music here or just angry-sounding Country? I’m curious because I tend to respect Country as a more wholesome and family-friendly genre than Rock and I don’t want to be alienated by his music. Your site has made me more aware of Hank3 but I’m apprehensive about diving into his world.

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