Compendium of Country Music Definitions, Subgenres, Terms, & Eras
Country music is country music, and the best definition of what country music is, is that you know it when you hear it. It’s self-evident. But the genre has birthed many subgenres, many stylistic movements over the years, and at times has seen a splintering and Balkanization as artists and their fans look to carve out their niche, or attempt to offer healthier alternatives to country music’s power center on Music Row in Nashville.
This has resulted in a dizzying slew of terms that are often cited when we talk about country music, including here at Saving Country Music. So to help readers and listeners navigate the various terms, definitions, and country music’s offshoots, here’s a compendium of some, if not most of the terms for “country” and its various cousins to hopefully help shed some light whenever you see them.
Please note: Defining various styles of country music can be a contentious exercise, especially for certain terms such as “Americana” and “Red Dirt.” It goes without saying that some terms are open for interpretation, and everyone is encouraged to leave their feedback in the comments section below. Nobody is saying these definitions here are inarguable and unabridged. This is more about illustrating the wide array of terms of country music with summations on their origins and meanings. And nobody is saying these definitions are definitive or set in stone. As country music evolves, so often to the terms to describe it.
Terms are not in alphabetical order, but in order of how they tie in with each other.
Mainstream Country – Country music that is often released by major record labels located on Music Row in Nashville that enjoys mainstream country radio play and promotion, awards show representation from the Country Music Association (CMA) and Academy of Country Music (ACM), other mainstream recognition or promotion through popular culture, or that aspires to. Mainstream country is primarily or significantly focused on the commercial application of country music.
Independent Country – Country music that is often released independently or by independent record labels that does not enjoy mainstream country music radio play, awards show representation from the Country Music Association (CMA) and Academy of Country Music (ACM), nor other mainstream recognition or promotion, that is primarily or significantly focused on the creative application of country music. Due to the increased popularity of independent country in recent years, many independent country artists have been signed to major labels, though often to imprints not on Music Row in Nashville, and some have even received spotty mainstream radio play. But if the promotion of this music is still mostly handled through independent grassroots networks as opposed to mainstream ones, these artists are still considered independent country.
Pop Country – Music with a predominant or sometimes exclusive pop influence often marketed as country due to underlying Southern inflections or themes. The term can also be used for most any country music popular enough in the commercial realm to where it crosses over into the greater popular music culture. Used both descriptively and euphemistically, “pop country” is primarily the domain of major label artists and those that aspire to be, and songs targeted for mainstream country radio play.
Country Pop – Due to the often euphemistic connotations of “pop country,” songs, albums, or artists can be labeled “country pop” if they include a significant sonic or lyrical influence from popular music genres, while concurrently appealing to a more distinguishing or non-commercial crowd. This can include songs with a more substantive songwriting approach, or more traditional instrumentation that rises from being tokenary to complimentary of the pop influences.
Bro-Country – A trend in mainstream country music that emerged around 2012 with songs that commonly featured list-like lyrics (“beer,” “truck,” “tailgate,” “backroad,”) along with often heavy rock and hip-hop influences, including lyrics delivered in rap cadences with hip-hop inflections, and electronic drum beats and other more contemporary instrumentation over songs with often self-affirming rural themes. Called “checklist country” or “laundry list country” in its earliest incarnations for the consistency of cultural buzzword references in lieu of story or plot in the writing, the term was officially coined by journalist Jody Rosen in a 2013 article in New York Magazine in specific reference to the Florida Georgia Line song “Cruise,” which is given credit as a primary catalyst for the popularity of the trend. As a backlash ensued against Bro-Country, it began to wane in its dominance of mainstream country by the late 2010’s, but it remains a significant style in popular country.
Boyfriend Country – A pop country style of lyricism popularized beginning in the late 2010’s that illustrates a fawning sentimentality towards women by male performers, and that looks to capitalize off of mainstream country music’s predominantly female audience. Performers such as Dan + Shay, and singles from artists such as Kane Brown and Luke Combs embody this trend.
Metro-Bro – A rarely used term, but one to delineate the more EDM-based pop music often containing more urban themes indicative of Sam Hunt and similar artists whose rise was simultaneous, but slightly different than Bro-Country performers.
Country Rap / Hick-Hop – A fusion between country and rap, performers had dabbled with the style beginning in the 1980s, but it’s widespread proliferation began in the early 2000s culminating in the song “Dirt Road Anthem” co-written by pioneering country rap artist Colt Ford becoming a #1 hit, as well as the most popular song in country music in 2011 when released by Jason Aldean. Country rap’s popularity also directly led to the explosion of Bro-Country in the early 2010’s, which ultimately incorporated the style into its era, with pure country rap artists remaining more independent and underground. Also called hick-hop, especially in its independent/underground incarnations, the style enjoys widespread grassroots popularity throughout the Deep South, and is often synonymous with “muddin'” culture.
Red Dirt – More than any other term, Red Dirt is just as much about a region as it is a sound, though where that region ends is often debated. Named for the red soil in Oklahoma, the epicenter for Red Dirt was “The Farm” in Stillwater in the late 80s and early 90s where the “Father of Red Dirt” Bob Childers lived. Cody Canada of Cross Canadian Ragweed, Jason Boland, Stoney LaRue, and others can directly trace their origins back to The Farm, and these are the artists who can most claim a Red Dirt lineage. However, the term often extends to Oklahoma music artists who embrace an independent music spirit, and artists across the Red River in Texas are commonly (and sometimes controversially) lumped under the term. The sound of Red Dirt is as diverse as the definitions, encompassing sounds from traditional country, folk, rock, and even more jam band influences.
Texas Country – Country music emanating from Texas and surrounding regions, or artists who either embody the spirit of Texas country, or that Texas country has embraced. With it’s own touring circuits, festivals, charts, awards, and radio station networks—including ones located well outside of Texas itself—Texas Country is one of the few scenes that can boast its own infrastructure and industry to rival mainstream country in Nashville. Though many country artists are from Texas, it was the emergence and popularity of artists such as Robert Earl Keen, Wade Bowen, and The Randy Rogers Band that put Texas Country on the map in the early 2000s, and saw it emerge as an alternative to Music Row. Texas country tends to emphasize songwriting, be more independent-minded, and be more country-sounding than mainstream or pop country, while also being more open to rock and pop influences than traditional country. Some Texas artists ultimately join the mainstream, while some artists outside of Texas ultimately embrace the more open and grassroots-oriented Texas Country music scene and embrace it as their own.
Texas Music – Similar to Texas Country, this term can be used to define music that comes from Texas, but may not necessarily be akin enough to country to describe it as “Texas Country.” Artists such as Koe Wetzel and Kolby Cooper whose sound veers more towards 90s post-grunge rock, but still have cultivated their career and fan base within Texas and the Texas music industry, can be described by using that term.
Texoma – A never used term forwarded by Saving Country Music to attempt to resolve the often redundant and confusing mixing of the “Texas/ Red Dirt” terms that better illustrates the cross-state camaraderie the two subgenres enjoy.
Rodeo Country – A rarely used term, but one that can describe artists that have used the rodeo circuit to find support for their more traditional style of country music mixed with flashes of rock influences that results in big live shows, often touching on rodeo themes in the songs. Aaron Watson, Cody Johnson, Kyle Park, Chancey Williams, Ned LeDoux, and others have taken up what 80s-90s country artist Chris LeDoux started by mixing country and rock, and playing the rodeo circuit. This can also be used to describe songs by artists such as George Strait, including standards like “Amarillo By Morning” and “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.” Rodeo country artists can also be delineated by their attire of starched jeans, printed collared shirts, and wide-brimmed cowboy hats.
Outlaw Country – The style of country that emerged in the early and mid 70s after Bobby Bare, Kris Kristofferson, and later Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings challenged the Music Row status quo that put powerful producers such as Chet Atkins in charge, disallowing artists from picking their own songs to record, and from recording with their own bands. Often considered a more rock-influenced style of country, the Outlaws also paid respects to the country music greats of the pasts such as Hank Williams, while also bucking the system. The movement also spread to Austin, Texas and resulted in the planting of the Texas Country seed, and the emergence of Austin as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Outlaw country was just as much a sound as it was approaching the music with an independent attitude. Outlaw country remains active in the present tense, both by performers who continue to adhere to the Outlaw spirit, as well as being co-opted as a marketing term in an effort to sell certain music deemed “edgy” by the mainstream.
Alt-Country – Music that is often more rock-influenced, as well as more songwriting-based that began to emerge in the late 80s during the “Great Credibility Scare.” Artists such as Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, and Lucinda Williams had success both within the mainstream country realm, as well as outside of it by attracting new listeners via the subgenre, which ultimately gave rise to bands such as Uncle Tupelo, The Old 97’s, Whiskeytown, and others that began to offer an “alternative” to the highly successful commercial country that came about from the “Class of ’89.” Considered a more deprecated term today, most bands and artists previously considered alt-country are now classified as “Americana.”
Americana – The mother of all umbrella terms that many have fought over and struggled to define, it encompasses everything from classic and traditional country, to alt-country, to Southern and classic rock, soul music, blues, Gospel, psychedelic rock, indie rock, folk, singer-songwriter, and anything/everything else that does not fit within another major American genre. This is the reason this category receives more submissions than any other but rock for the annual Grammy Awards. Though what should and shouldn’t be Americana is often debated, it generally includes any music with a prominent American roots influence that is otherwise not targeted to more commercial audiences.
Southern Rock – Rock music with a strong country influence that emerged in the 70s indicative of bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band, and The Allman Brothers, or more modern bands such as Whiskey Myers and Blackberry Smoke. Southern rock bands often include self-identified country songs on their albums, and commonly collaborate with country artists, and play country music festivals, but their music is often more expansive and improvisational than conventional country.
Country Rock – Similar to Southern rock, but often without the regional requirement or Southern harmony inflections, country rock is a bit more open, and often less improvisational in nature. Overlapping with both Southern rock and California country, artists from The Byrds, to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, to acts such as The Rolling Stones have been labeled country rock in certain eras. Commonly this term is used when a band or artist otherwise considered rock chooses to record a song or album with country influences or instrumentation.
Bluegrass – A distinctly acoustic version of string band music adapted from old-time fiddle tunes and other traditional folk influences pioneered by Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. Bluegrass remains one of country music most vibrant subgenres of country to the point where it enjoys its own festivals, radio stations, publications, awards, and community. But bluegrass still deserves to be considered a country music subset, since it very much grew out of the country music realm, utilizing institutions such as the Grand Ole Opry to find support and popularity.
Newgrass and Jamgrass – These are more progressive styles of bluegrass that took inspiration from Bill Monroe’s original idea, but often challenged the rigid ideals of only using acoustic instruments, and disallowing drums. Artists such as Sam Bush and John Hartford both performed bluegrass in the more conventional modes, as well as broke those rules to expand the scope of the genre. Merging with the jam band aspect of outfits such as The Grateful Dead, jamgrass artists and bands like Greensky Bluegrass and Leftover Salmon now enjoy just as big followings as their traditional bluegrass counterparts, and have expanded this version of country music into both sonic and geographical territories previously dismissive of Southern influences.
Old-Time (or Primitive Country) – Traditional Appalachian modes of string band music, often closely related to the Irish and Scottish reels that American immigrants brought with them to the United States. This is the earliest form of country music, and many of the standards make up the building blocks of the music that are still in practice today. Though not as popular or commercially viable as bluegrass, devotees to this discipline take the music and preserving its dialects very seriously as imperative to understanding where country music came from.
Western Swing (or Texas Swing) – One of the earliest and most original forms of country music first emerging in the 1920s, Western Swing is considered by many as one of the major subgenres of country right beside bluegrass. Though it is not as popular or prevalent as bluegrass, Western Swing enjoys a strong legacy of performers, traditions, and a deep songbook still being performed today. Rising in popularity during the big band era, and brought to its apex by Texan Bob Wills, like classic country, Western Swing is more interested in preserving traditions as opposed to pushing the music forward. The jazz progressions of Western Swing songs that are ripe for dancing is what distinguishes the music from other classic country music, and though many of its earliest acts featured horn sections, more modern artists can be as small as three or four pieces.
The Nashville Sound and Countrypolitan – Classic country music that is immediately recognizable due to the prevalence of string arrangements and choruses in highly-produced compositions behind songs written for older audiences. This was Nashville’s answer to the rise of rock ‘n roll in the mid 50s, and saw the establishment of the strong producer class that included Chet Atkins, Billy Sherrill, Owen Bradley, and others, who would often choose the songs a performer would record, while session musicians played the parts. Artists from Glen Campbell to Patsy Cline are good illustrations of this style. Though rebuked by the Outlaw era in large sum, Countrypolitan continued well into the 80s, with artists such as George Jones and David Allan Coe still recording in the style, and audiences still enjoying the music today for it’s nostalgic feel, and even younger artists adopting some of its methods to capture that retro vibe. Similar to Outlaw country, The Nashville Sound was just as much about an approach as a sound, and that approach continues to challenge the creative control of major label artists in country music even today.
The Bakersfield Sound – An era commencing in the mid to late 50s and lasting into the 70s where performers in Bakersfield, California and the greater region offered a counter-balance to the more heavily produced and genteel sounds of Countrypolitan. Championed by Capitol Records in Los Angeles, Buck Owens, Billy Mize, Bill Woods, and later Merle Haggard took the Bakersfield Sound with it’s loud and twangy guitar found in the blue-collar clubs of the interior California town to national prominence. Tight harmonies from Bonnie Owens and Don Rich, and well as Don Rich’s influential guitar playing played a pivotal role in the influence of this era. Though The Bakersfield Sound is considered confined to a specific era and region, the influence and style can still be found in more modern performers, from Dwight Yoakam, to Marty Stuart.
California Country – Similar to The Bakersfield Sound in how it emerged in California, California country distinguishes itself by being more influenced by folk and rock, and was carried forward often by musicians who either began or dabbled in the folk, rock, and pop realms. This includes bands like The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, Linda Rhonstadt and her first band The Stone Poneys, and later The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles.
Traditional Country (or Real Country, or True Country) – Country music that includes a more traditional approach to the genre, including song structure and lyrical themes strongly indicative of the original forms of country music, and instrumentation featuring steel guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, piano, and Telecaster. Unlike “Classic Country,” traditional country doesn’t have to be from a vintage era, and can still be performed in more contemporary contexts.
Classic Country – Country music from the genre’s classic or “Golden” era, usually considered between the postwar period and before the mid 1970s when the Grand Ole Opry came to prominence and country music was one of the most popular genres of American music. Similar to traditional country, classic country can still be utilized in the modern era. But unlike traditional country, it strives to reprise bygone modes, often adopting the musical styles, wording and phrasing, and even the dress and costuming of the time to create a greater sense of nostalgia.
Hillbilly Music – A mostly deprecated term that was originally used to describe American music mostly emanating from rural locations, and from agrarian people that was later replaced by Country & Western by the Billboard charts. The term was at times seen as euphemistic. Hank Williams famously referred to himself as a folk musician, feeling “hillbilly” was derogatory.
Honky Tonk and Hard Country – The term “honky tonk” can be used to delineate between other forms of more heavily produced country music to describe artists and songs that are more electric, traditional in nature, and stripped-down in arrangement, like a country band you would see in a smaller club or honky tonk. Usually featuring steel guitar, lead guitar, and maybe fiddle, the themes are usually about drinking and heartache. “Hard country” is a rarely used term, but one found in certain histories and biographies to describe country music that ran counter to Countrypolitan and featured a loud, twangy sound, similar to honky tonk.
Trucker Country – A subset of traditional country or honky honk, trucker country isn’t just a lyrical trope in certain songs. With multiple artists who made their entire careers off of singing country songs about truck driving including Dave Dudley, Red Sovine, Dick Curless, and C. W. McCall, it deserves to be considered its own subgenre. The lyrical style became so popular many other artists dabbled in it as well, from Red Simpson, Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard, to more contemporary artists such as Dale Watson, Junior Brown, Bob Wayne, and the Franklin County Trucking Company. Popularized mostly throughout the 60s and 70s, this subset of country still lives today for its strong nostalgic pull.
Western – The silver screen cowboys of Southern California such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers significantly helped popularize country music in its nascent years, and established what country music was for audiences around the world. Strangely, this influence in country music is often overlooked in the modern mindset for Appalachia influences and Southern blues, but there is a reason country music was known for decades as “country and Western” (insert Blues Brothers reference here). Along with the Hollywood cowboys, the real cowboys of the American West with their cowboy poetry played a pivotal role in the formation and popularity of country and Western music as well. Though the “singing cowboy” is part of a bygone era, cowboy and Western music has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years thanks to the popularity of artists such as Colter Wall.
Rockabilly – A form of rock music that emerged in the 50s that also included a heavy influence from the “hillbilly” music that eventually came to be known as country. The Sun Records era of the 50s came with a blurring of the lines between hillbilly and rock, with the difference between artists such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash being nuanced, with some describing Sun Records artists such as Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis as country stars just as much as rock. This is the reason both men are in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Rockabilly would lose its dominance on popular music by the 60s, but still remained in practice, with bands like The Stray Cats in the 80s, and later The Revered Horton Heat (officially ‘psychobilly’) reviving the style in the 90s, often with a few country songs found on their albums, and often with an underlying punk attitude brought to the music.
Cowpunk – A form of punk music with a country music influence that emerged with the prominence of punk music in the late 70s in Southern California with bands such as Social Distortion, The Blasters, and The Knitters, and in Nashville with bands like Jason and the Scorchers, and even later in the early music of Dwight Yoakam and Rosie Flores. Disillusioned with the stuffy nature of mainstream country, but still inspired by the old greats like Hank Williams, punks took up the cause for country-inspired music in punks clubs and circuits where they found surprising reception. Though cowpunk was only around for a short period, it helped seed underground country, which would give rise to independent country that would go on to rival mainstream country.
Underground Country – A Do-It-Yourself subset of independent country that emerged in the post-punk era of the early to late 90s, underground country saw punk and heavy metal musicians and fans embracing more traditional country music in a return to their roots, as well as more traditional country musicians who were not being embraced by either mainstream country or Americana finding support in underground circles. From Mike Ness’s country projects, to members of the punk band ‘X’ forming The Knitters, to the formation of Bloodshot Records, this wasn’t an alternative to country, it was an insurgency in country, with songs and slogans often actively protesting modern country music and Music Row. It’s was brought to its apex in the mid 2000s with the popularity of Dale Watson, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, and Hank Williams III. In recent years the energy of the movement has mostly been folded into elements of independent country, but is still carried on by some post-punk roots musicians.
Country Blues (or Deep Blues, or North Mississippi Hill Country Blues) – With the blues being a significant influence on both Hank Williams and Bill Monroe—as well as country music heavily borrowing song structures from Southern blues artists—this subgenre draws important lines in the history of country music. Though artists such as R.L. Burnside and T Model Ford, and others championed by Fat Possum Records in the 90s would be considered almost exclusively blues artists from a sonic perspective, their rural location and fusion with country themes has created its own subgenre still alive through the work of artists such as Cedric Burnside, Dan Auerbach, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Country blues is blues music from the country.
Ameripolitan – A term coined by performer Dale Watson in the early 2000s to distinguish himself from country music, which he felt had been so co-opted by major labels and corrupted by pop country, it was irredeemable. When Blake Shelton set off a firestorm in 2013 by referring to country music’s traditional fans as “old farts” and “jackasses,” Dale Watson decided to codify the genre by creating an awards show that recognizes artists in the categories of honky-tonk, Western swing, and rockabilly annually called The Ameripolitan Awards.
August 5, 2022 @ 8:52 am
You forgot XXX
August 5, 2022 @ 9:03 am
Robert's Country Blog
August 5, 2022 @ 9:55 am
That’s a huge list of categories, but I’ll throw in a few more suggestions:
Square dance music (One can make a case that it’s a specific subset of old time music.)
Christian music (Though often considered a separate genre or even multiple genera today, Christian music was historically closely associated with country music. For example, over a third of the songs recorded at the Bristol Sessions were religious in nature.)
Cajun music and Tejano music also have significant crossovers with country music.
August 5, 2022 @ 10:16 am
If you start talking about dance and how it interfaces with country, then you also have to include two-step, line dancing, West Virginia Outlaw tap dancing, and on from there. That probably deserves it’s own breakdown. Cajun does a similar thing with zydeco, swamp pop, etc. I did think about adding Gospel music, but that also sort of opens a Pandora’s box where you have to talk about classical, contemporary, a capella, and on and on. To me, Gospel predates country, and so to couch it as a subset of country almost feels a little insulting to it, if that makes sense. But these are all important genres that include country music influences. I just didn’t want to get too tedious and esoteric that I lost the audience.
Tejano is an interesting one. It’s basically the country music of Mexico. I’m not sure exactly how to tie it into everything else, but it deserves its own deep dive and how it interfaces and influences country as well, especially down in Texas.
August 5, 2022 @ 10:23 am
I’ve always understood Tejano as being a hybrid of Mexican genres (mainly norteno and ranchera) and Texas music. It’s norteno, ranchera, banda and others that are the true “country music of Mexico.”
August 5, 2022 @ 10:33 am
Tejano is one form of the country music that can be heard on either side of the 2000-mile border. There’s also the “Ranchera” style, which is the Mexican equivalent of our Western cowboy music–and it’s that style, particularly that of the great Mexican singer Lola Beltran, that influenced the vocal style of Linda Ronstadt.
Robert's Country Blog
August 5, 2022 @ 10:40 am
Yes, the number of possibilities is almost infinite, especially considering all of the attempts to hybridize every possible subset of country music with every other possible subset of music.
One bit that I like is country polka, which especially made an impact on the country charts in the mid 1940s. Al Dexter had a 16-week country number one with “Guitar Polka.” Henry Whitter recorded a version of “Jennie Lind Polka” in 1924. The current monthly edition of Texas Polka News has a feature about the influence of polka on western swing.
August 6, 2022 @ 6:32 am
Americana-often characterized by woke, pretensious performers who condescend to actual country people. Jason Isbell is an example.
August 6, 2022 @ 8:01 am
P.S. – I added Trucker Country as a category. When you have artists basing their entire careers off a subset of country music, it deserves distinction as a subgenre.
Wilson Pick It
August 8, 2022 @ 8:04 am
Not to nitpick (and I might be wrong here) but I think Tejano refers specifically to Texas, so it’s not quite accurate to say it’s the country music of Mexico. The term you might be looking for is conjunto, which is a style you hear in both Tejano music and Mexican music.
As far as I can tell, the term Tejano refers to Hispanic Texans, so Tejano music is basically any music made by Hispanic Texans, which can include pop music such as Selena or traditional music like Los Texmaniacs. It can also include country music, for example Ram Herrera recently did a cover of Tear in my Beer.
August 26, 2022 @ 9:36 pm
Tejano is primarily Texan (though a lot of it is influenced by American country)
Norteno, Ranchera, and Corridos would be the Mexican equivalent of country
Also here in New Mexico there is New Mexico music (like Al Hurricane, Freddy Browne, Sparx) which a lot of is basically Horn Heavy Country in Espanol
August 5, 2022 @ 12:16 pm
Great suggestions @Robert’s Country Blog! i wholeheartedly agree with the Trucker and Tejano choices, and i’d add Norteno to the mix too. Los Tigres del Norte and Los Cardanales de Nuevo Leon qualify as honky tonk music in my book!
Robert's Country Blog
August 5, 2022 @ 1:55 pm
I’m planning to see Los Tigres at the San Antonio Rodeo. Folks here might enjoy checking out their Folsom Prison video.
18 Dales and a dozen comments
August 5, 2022 @ 10:28 am
You forgot Fabulous & 40 Country which is of course a sub genre of Divorcee Country and I did not see Creeper Country on there either
August 5, 2022 @ 10:47 am
I do like the term Divorcee Country. I like to think of 40-something divorced women getting hot and bothered over Trace Adkins, and getting hammered to Little Big Town.
August 5, 2022 @ 9:35 pm
Country and Irish is a musical subgenre form of North American country style merge Irish influence in Ireland . Very popular
August 6, 2022 @ 1:04 am
Can you share one or two of your favorite artists?
I know (and like) T.R. Dallas but haven’t dug any deeper.
August 6, 2022 @ 1:56 am
Couple of Irish Lads Trigger I recommend
Nathan Carter” On A Boat to Liverpool
Derek Ryan” Mother’s Son
Robert's Country Blog
August 6, 2022 @ 7:44 am
The country collaboration albums by The Chieftains are great. I’m so glad I got to see them perform.
I saw Catherine McGrath at CMA Fest in Nashville this year. I’ve seen Andrea Magee and Pat Byrne in the Austin area.
August 6, 2022 @ 9:27 pm
Maura O’Connell’s “Helpless Heart” from the late ’80s, recorded in Nashville, is outstanding.
August 7, 2022 @ 1:56 pm
I have been waiting for another Irish country music fan.
I have mentioned Derek Ryan before to Trigger.
It is a cool mix of traditional Irish tunes with modern country covers and other original songs.
Nathan Carter’s “Banks of the Roses” is a jam.
August 5, 2022 @ 9:22 am
Thats a wonderful dictionary of Country Music genres. Thanks for putting this together.
August 5, 2022 @ 9:31 am
I don’t know if this has achieved any sort of usage outside of some reddit or twitter discourse, but I’ve seen the most extreme of pop country be referred to as Southern Pop. This would encompass the Sam Hunts of the world and the general 10-20% least country of mainstream pop country. Broadly describes music that is essentially pop but maintains cultural ties to the “country” community. Unlike pop country which has some element of fusion in it. Usually has a odd touch of dobro or steel tossed in somewhere deeply into the mix to give it sufficient bona fides that they can point to as a testament to their deep authenticity, but otherwise is just an outdated sounding pop song with little to no fusion elements. I like this categorization and have started using it in my circles. Figured I’d comment about it and see what others have to say about it.
Lovely article as always.
August 5, 2022 @ 10:32 pm
Country music Reddit representative here. Agrees.
August 5, 2022 @ 9:38 am
Nice! But I miss some terms like Cowpunk and Western Beat.
August 5, 2022 @ 9:41 am
… and Real Country (John Conquest!).
August 5, 2022 @ 10:04 am
I would consider terms like “Real Country” and “True Country” to be takes on traditional country. At some point you start splitting hairs. Cowpunk was an oversight though, and has been added.
August 5, 2022 @ 10:05 am
This is great and is something that has been sorely needed. Thanks Trig!
August 5, 2022 @ 10:18 am
So “pop country” would be Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell or Thomas Rhett, while “country-pop” would be Luke Combs (when he isn’t being “boyfriend country”), Jon Pardi or Morgan Wallen? Based mainly on degree of acceptance by country fans who generally prefer non-mainstream variants? Those are really my only questions. You’ve done a super job of defining everything else.
Robert's Country Blog
August 5, 2022 @ 10:48 am
“Country pop” was a term I heard growing up to describe such artists as Barbara Mandrell, Crystal Gayle, Sylvia, Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton (“Islands In The Stream” era). Usually, when I’ve heard people use that term, it is specifically from that era, whereas I hear “pop country” applied to every point in time.
August 5, 2022 @ 10:53 am
Barbara Mandrell and Kenny Rogers would be good examples of vintage country pop. “Here You Come Again” by Dolly. Good songs not entirely bereft of country elements, but definitely catering to a pop audience.
The Ghost Of Outlaw Country's Past
August 8, 2022 @ 10:36 am
Early 80s Alabama would certainly be considered at country pop
August 5, 2022 @ 10:51 am
You could look at it like that. A lot of independent fans and journalists are flummoxed by this, but there is definitely a subset of country music fans that wouldn’t be caught dead listening to Thomas Rhett or Dan + Shay, and when they listen to Luke Combs or Morgan Wallen, believe they’re listening to “real” country, which in comparison, they’re not entirely wrong about.
Usually when I use the term “country pop” though, I’m talking about some of the better songs from Carrie Underwood, Caitlyn Smith, Carly Pearce, or maybe Parker McCollum, basically well-written songs that incorporate pop elements for appeal. Combs and Wallen do some of that too.
Dan the Man
August 5, 2022 @ 10:30 am
I would offer another sub-category: Blackrock Country. Music that has its roots in the old time, bluegrass and country genres in the Appalachian Mountains, but extending to the Ozarks and the Ouchita Mtns. It arose out of the slate pits, coal mines, dirt roads and deep mountain hollows. Its forebearers were Loretta Lynn, Roy Acuff, even John Prine. Its proponents now are the likes of Chris Knight, Sturgill Simpson, and Tyler Childers….with Zach Bryan, Sierra Ferrell, Charles Wesley Godwin, and Cole Chaney newly arrived within the last few years.
August 5, 2022 @ 1:38 pm
I’ve heard more commonly the term “Appalachian Country” to describe that, but same idea.
August 5, 2022 @ 10:35 pm
yeah, people have been using Appalachian country to describe the Tyler Chllders -type songwriter sound. I think of it as more related to the movement that Hazel Dickens was part of rather than when we usually say “Appalachian music” to mean a major part of old-time music.
Dan Da Hootenanny
August 5, 2022 @ 11:17 am
The history/museum side of my bluegrass job is coming out here…One small correction, the music is called bluegrass (one word) and the name of the band is Blue Grass (two words). Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys is the correct name.
August 5, 2022 @ 11:44 am
As far as Rodeo Country, the mainstream artist who deveolped that and precedes everyone whom you credit, but is generally overlooked nowadays is Moe Bandy.
Bandy had something like half a dozen rodeo themed hits or songs that received attention at the time, and they stood out for their realism in portraying rodeo life, rather than purely glamorizing it.
August 5, 2022 @ 11:47 am
Am I the only one waiting for Dale to explain “Creeper Country?” This sounds like some Benny Mardones type of country shit.
August 5, 2022 @ 12:02 pm
I was thinking Conway “I’ve already loved you in my mind” Twitty.
August 5, 2022 @ 12:25 pm
Hahaha! you could put more than a couple Conway songs on that list… “Slow Hand”, “You’ve Never Been This Far Before”, i’m sure i’m missing some. On the other hand, i bet Conway didn’t have any trouble finding female company
August 6, 2022 @ 5:16 am
Josh Turner name-dropped Conway and “I’d Love to Lay You Down” in his own seductive hit, “I Can Take It From There.” Maybe “seduction country” should be a sub-genre of “creeper country,” or even a genre of its own.
August 6, 2022 @ 6:55 am
Oops, correcting myself here. Chris Young, not Josh Turner.
August 6, 2022 @ 11:47 am
“Don’t Call Him a Cowboy” with its creeper line “…if he ain’t good in the saddle, you won’t be satisfied…” has to be included in the conversation!
August 5, 2022 @ 2:14 pm
Ray Stevens “It’s me again, Margaret” is a classic of the genre.
August 5, 2022 @ 7:41 pm
We must always remember the words of the late, very great Southern philosopher, Lewis Grizzard, when, speaking of Conway Twitty, said, “I want Conway to take a long, cold shower right before he goes into the recording studio.”
August 6, 2022 @ 6:44 am
Grizzard’s bit about the preacher who looks like Conway Twitty is great
August 6, 2022 @ 1:20 pm
You are correct. However, when I told the Grizzard/Conway preacher story to an elderly man a few years ago he laughed, and said he’d heard a version of that back in the 1950s, with Nat “King” Cole as the subject with the song “Ramblin’ Rose.”
August 7, 2022 @ 2:19 am
Ha. I guess there is nothing new under the sun. Grizzard was never shy about borrowing material. He was essentially Georgia’s Jerry Clower.
August 5, 2022 @ 10:35 pm
this is excellent.. Thank you for naming it (if it’s you who did)
18 Dales and a dozen comments
August 6, 2022 @ 4:53 am
Excellent insight out of you, Trigg. I’d expect nothing less. Mamas…, I would consider Conway The Godfather of “Creeper Country” hands down, “I see the want to in your eyes” comes to mind specifically.
For current artist, I’d have to say Randy Rogers Band might be one of the foremost Creeper Country artists out there with songs like “buy myself a chance”, “I should steal you away” and “in my arms instead.” And that’s not a knock on Randy Rogers at all, their band is one of the few current country bands I’ve grown to like a lot after hearing them on Turnpike radio on the Pandora.
And while I’m here I’d like to include “Cuckold Country” as one that was missed. I’d have to say Gary Stewart’s “She’s actin’ single”, “I let her lie” by Daryle Singletary, “Every light in the house is on” by Trace Adkins. Thanks for reading my comments everyone.
King Honky Of Crackershire
August 6, 2022 @ 6:33 pm
It’s been my understanding that any song written or performed by Jason Isbell is categorized as “Cuckold Country”. Do I understand correctly?
18 Dales and a dozen comments
August 7, 2022 @ 5:11 am
I was just using it as an umbrella term for these guys singing songs about letting their ole ladies run around on them. I guess he could be thrown in too, and I think I see where you’re going with this but you’ll have to explain it further.
I don’t know much about him other than the few songs I’ve heard of his didn’t catch on with me, and I probably wouldn’t like him personally.
I do remember one of my favorite commenters, Blockman, telling a story about Isbell’s ole lady making eyes at him from the stage at the Ryman while Blockman was on percocets and Isbell getting a sour look on his face. Maybe if Blockman is out there he can tell us that one again.
King Honky Of Crackershire
August 7, 2022 @ 10:23 am
You served “Cuckold Country” up on a silver platter, and I couldn’t resist using it to roast SCMs preeminent musical politicuck.
August 7, 2022 @ 8:05 am
Hard to call him country anything. Americucka maybe.
August 5, 2022 @ 11:48 am
Great list, and nice descriptions. If it were my list I would definitely make Trucker Country and Singer-Songwriter Country distinct categories.
I know singer-songwriter would have a lot of overlap with other categories, but I think is applicable to story tellers.. Folks like Adam Carroll and John Prine could fit this…maybe country folk would be a better name?
August 6, 2022 @ 8:26 am
Americana was specifically set up to give a home to singer-songwriters like Adam Carroll, John Prine, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, and others that had strong ties to country since they were getting songs cut by bigger stars, but weren’t receiving recognition themselves. It’s been the continued expansion of that term that no leaves these artists without a home.
I also think there should be some avenue for some of these artists like John Prine, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, to get into the Country Music Hall of Fame. These are huge contributors to country, who will never get in as “songwriters” over the Nashville hit writers.
August 5, 2022 @ 12:45 pm
“Texoma – A never used term forwarded by Saving Country Music to attempt to resolve the often redundant and confusing mixing of the “Texas/ Red Dirt” terms that better illustrates the cross-state camaraderie the two subgenres enjoy.”
Yes, & everytime you do that i think, it’s Texhoma. Then have to slow down for 10 seconds and realize you are not referring to the little town that sits on the Oklahoma/Texas panhandle border.
August 6, 2022 @ 3:14 am
Texoma is actually an album by Jimmy LaFave from 2001.
August 6, 2022 @ 3:22 pm
Well – now you’ve gone & done it.
Looked up Texoma, by Jimmy LaFave. Love the album cover. Captures the Oklahoma panhandle perfectly. Lonely and desolate.
Can’t stand the Oklahoma panhandle. Unless, nearing Clayton, and headed deeper into New Mexico.
Listened to 1 song off of Texoma. Bad Bad Girl. Love the funky/bluesy vibe. Hope the rest of the album has the groove of that song. Will be purchasing it.
PERFECT for driving, when you back off the gas, feel a little more chill, slow down a little.
August 5, 2022 @ 1:30 pm
Country music is “three chords and the truth.” Old time music is one or two chords and a bunch of lies.
King Honky Of Crackershire
August 5, 2022 @ 1:34 pm
There’s so much overlap with all these terms, and a lot of music that could have several of these terms applied to it. This is a fun experiment. But you forgot one: “C(c)ountry”.
August 5, 2022 @ 1:51 pm
Should be a permanent spot for this on the site! SCMopedia
August 5, 2022 @ 2:16 pm
Pretty good list! I definitely think Mississippi John Hurt should be included in Country Blues though. It’s a different sound than that hill country blues, both are great though!
August 5, 2022 @ 2:19 pm
The only one outside of this list that pops in my head is “Gulf & Western”. Never fully understood the term but I believe it started with Jimmy Buffett. Any explanation on this term/subgenre would be great!
August 7, 2022 @ 10:00 am
Pretty sure Charley Crockett describes much of his discography Gulf & Western.
Robert's Country Blog
August 5, 2022 @ 3:23 pm
Country comedy/novelty acts might merit a category, as well. Such acts have been regularly featured on the Grand Ole Opry throughout its history. I’m also thinking of acts like the Hoosier Hot Shots, who were popular on the Chicago barn dance during its heyday.
August 5, 2022 @ 4:18 pm
Do Pinkard and Bowden qualify here? I laugh every time i think of “She Thinks I Steal Cars”
Robert's Country Blog
August 5, 2022 @ 4:53 pm
Absolutely! “I Was A Froggy” is another of their songs that I like.
I should have also mentioned Ray Stevens going into the CMHOF a couple years ago for being a country comedy/novelty act.
August 6, 2022 @ 3:22 pm
Don’t forget “Help Me Make it Through the Yard” and “Mama, She’s Lazy”…both classics!!
Something Always Told Me They Were Reading Tommy Wrong
August 8, 2022 @ 4:31 am
“Girl on the Billboard” by Del Reeves, despite being a ‘mere’ novelty record, is a great tune. It, alongside Buck Owen’s ‘Made in Japan’ is my mother’s favourite country record.
I wonder if country records with yodelling on them could count as a category? I know it’s kinda corny, but I love it when an old-time country song breaks out the yodelling.
August 5, 2022 @ 6:35 pm
Yep, there should be something for country comedy. Remember the Geezinslaw Bros.? “Help I’m White and I Can’t Get Down”. Then there’s The Notorious Cherry Bombs (Rodney Crowell & Vince Gill). The only song of theirs I’ve ever heard was “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long”. The video for it is a hoot! Jerry Reed gave us some laughs with the bird song and “She Got the Goldmine, I Got the Shaft”. There’s also Homer & Jethro and Lorenzo & Oscar. Comedy is what we need right now. As the Bible says, laughter doeth good like a medicine.
August 5, 2022 @ 3:25 pm
The term ‘Americana’ should be completely done away with and everything under that umbrella should be called ‘Alt-country’ again. Because, as Trig pointed out, “it encompasses everything from classic and traditional country, to alt-country, to Southern and classic rock, soul music, blues, Gospel, psychedelic rock, indie rock, folk, singer-songwriter, and anything/everything else that does not fit within another major American genre.”
So it can be literally just about anything that isn’t electronica, rap/hip hop, classical, or metal!!! That’s literally the dumbest musical grouping I’ve ever heard!
Take it behind the shed and ‘Ol’ Yeller’ that thing!
August 5, 2022 @ 3:40 pm
A few years ago the case was made that hip-hop must be included as well, because excluding it from Americana had racist undertones. Basically, everything is Americana, and that is what has led to the aggressive polarization of the term.
August 5, 2022 @ 7:44 pm
“Americana” is nothing more than a welcome and justifiable response to the gross corruption of what used to be “country music.”
August 6, 2022 @ 1:15 pm
But it should be called something different. Something that has an actual non-abstract meaning.
August 6, 2022 @ 7:49 am
It’s a perfectly fine term for describing artists like Ry Cooder or Michael Bloomfield, though Bloomfield called Electric Flag “an American music band”! I certainly agree that much of the current Americana genre is alt-country, from my perspective Americana has at least some influence of blues music, along with all kinds of other stuff. It boggles my mind that it has somehow become associated with politics.
August 5, 2022 @ 4:01 pm
Just wondering where The Spoon Lady should fit in.
Robert's Country Blog
August 5, 2022 @ 4:59 pm
I’d classify spoons, washboard, kazoo, and jug bands under “old time.” I love that stuff. I enjoy tinkering with Jew’s harps, spoons, kazoo, mouth bow , etc. I always enjoy Abby’s videos.
August 5, 2022 @ 7:41 pm
Yes sir. I am definitely a fan as well.
August 5, 2022 @ 10:37 pm
Spoon Lady strikes me as part of the folk-punk fiddling gutterpunk thing that has grown up on the outskirts of old-time music since the late 90’s.
August 5, 2022 @ 4:06 pm
Not that I’m advocating it be added to the list, but the Grammys had for years those contemporary folk categories that were often filled with non-mainstream/older country artists.
I also think countrypolitan is way more country on average than the Nashville Sound (yes, I’ve heard the Cocaine & Rhinestones podcast that considers countrypolitan a bs term). To me, 60s Loretta Lynn is more or less the basis of countrypolitan and then came Billy Sherrill, as well as Conway, Charley Pride…now, I’m not trying to take credit away from Billy Sherrill at all, almost half of my favorite singers were produced by Sherrill (Wynette, Jones, Paycheck, Tucker).
August 6, 2022 @ 8:31 am
I personally prefer the “Countrypolitan” term over “The Nashville Sound” because it’s just much more descriptive for what it was. It’s hard to name something after a city and make it stick to an era what that city is still making country music today, and always has.
August 6, 2022 @ 11:51 am
i’ve definitely been leaning more into using Countrypolitan to describe things like Zacharia Ohora, that recent William Beckman song Drinkin Bourban Whiskey, one of Johnny Falstaff’s albums, I think maybe even Charlie Marie, and a few other artists that lean on countrypolitan and nashville sound as influences.
Nashville Sound gets a lot of attention as a traditional description for older music but let’s face it, it involved very specific producers and session players and a whole background chorus thing that we don’t really see anyone copying anymore. Some of the stuff I just listed has a lush sound that evokes that feel but doesn’t specifically copy every element, so countrypolitan is a broader term that really works in my opinion.
August 5, 2022 @ 5:47 pm
You seem to have skipped the most fundamental form of the art: “Hard country.”
I think that would be defined as the preminent country music of the 1940s and ’50s; basic songs with themes about cheating, drinking and crying, sung in a nasal voice with steel guitar backing; pre-eminent artists ET, Jimmy Davis, Hank Williams, Webb, Lefty, Faron, (early) Ray Price; (early) Eddy, Carl Butler, Kitty, Jones, Merle. The music that country muisic fans love and that people who hate country music really hate.
August 5, 2022 @ 10:40 pm
that’s the literal definition of honkytonk. It’s a form of hard country along with later versions such as Bakersfield Sound and some residual western swing.
August 6, 2022 @ 11:53 am
I also think that western swing falls under hard country for the most part, and that outlaw country does as well (though I think the term was used before the outlaw era if I’m not mistaken). So today… Ameripolitan focuses on hard country genres rather than any folk-derived ones such as bluegrass
August 5, 2022 @ 6:23 pm
Aside from leaving out Truck Driving Country, which someone has mentioned, you left out Hillbilly Boogie. Started by Arthur Smith in 1945, his hit “Guitar Boogie” was created on the fly to fill out remaining time on a recording session. Kentuckian Merle Travis was influential in this subgenre. Some other artists who took up Hillbilly Boogie were the Delmore Bros., Moon Mullican, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Johnny Bond. I figure it sits between Western Swing and Rockabilly.
Robert's Country Blog
August 5, 2022 @ 7:22 pm
Yes, the “hillbilly boogie” material bridged the gap to rockabilly. Johnny Barfield’s 1939 recording of “Boogie Woogie” didn’t sound as rocking as much of the hillbilly boogie material that showed up a few years later, but it’s interesting for being that early. Also noteworthy in this sort of “pre-rockabilly” space from 1939 is Buddy Jones’ “Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama.”
August 5, 2022 @ 10:39 pm
I thnk that’s officialy called hillbilly bop. Basically rockabilly that leans harder on it’s country roots rather than rhythm and blues.
August 5, 2022 @ 6:41 pm
Where do artists like Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffet fit?
August 5, 2022 @ 8:14 pm
Kenny Chesney is very mainstream country.
Jimmy Buffett is his own animal. He started as a singer-songwriter like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, found his niche and payday as a beach bum, and has been leaning into the for half a century.
The beach songs they both sing, often referred to as “toes in the sand” is more a lyrical trope than a true genre, at least in my opinion. It is an important contribution to country, just because so many artists have followed Buffett’s lead.
August 12, 2022 @ 11:47 am
Jimmy Buffett can be broken into two parts:
1) Mustache Jimmy who made great records and
2) clean-shaven Jimmy who is the face of the corporate behemoth Margaritaville(tm).
Mac McAnally definitely helped Jimmy (in a bad way) stray even further from the musical greatness of A1A and 3/4 time.
But that is just one Florida Man’s opinion.
August 5, 2022 @ 7:48 pm
In going through some of my grandmother’s magazines from the 1960s or 1970s, I recently ran across an article in the Saturday Evening Post (or, possibly, Look Magazine) profiling the “new rage” of country music. The article, in attempting to define the term, finally relied on a quote from Kris Kristofferson, which simply stated, “If it sounds ‘country,’ it’s country.”
The Other Wayne
August 5, 2022 @ 10:41 pm
This hand me wondering what genre The Band would fit into. Wikipedia calls them Americana (a term which I’m pretty certain did not exist during their era). Wikipedia also says “roots rock”, which might be a better description. Essentially, up until recent years when the definition of Americana has seemed to broaden, I thought Americana and roots rock were essentially the same thing. A lot of country-adjacent acts defy specific genre classification, and that’s not always a bad thing.
August 6, 2022 @ 8:11 am
Like many, im a fan of ” The Band”. When i grew up, FM rock radio was the only outlet playing their music. I well recall hearing Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd back to back with The Bands hits. I remember liking their songs but questioning at the time why it was classed as Rock. Eventually, i came to understand that they were Canadian, had backed Bob Dylan and Ronnie Hawkins, played Woodstock and hung out with the greats of Rock and Roll, so in that sense it explained things. I cant recall a time ever hearing them on a country station. Though you can make an argument about being Country inspired, they were absolutely outsiders to the country music establishment. I do notice nowadays that to the Americana fans, The Band is sacred bedrock music. Seems like everytime you get a bunch of Americana pickers onstage, you end up with an obligatory version of The Weight. Why that phenomena happens, i dont know, but there is clearly an obsession going on with The Band. Another Americana trend you hear a lot is the muscle shoals, southern soul sound. It too is all the rage at the moment and everyone in Americana is seeking to jump on that train too. Americana at times seems like an alternate universe where acts from the past who were moderately successful are now superstars.
August 6, 2022 @ 1:39 pm
Yes, “The Weight” is Americana’s national anthem. Interesting comments about The Band. I would lean towards Roots-Rock myself. I do know one thing, they were great, simply great, even if Robbie Robertson couldn’t sing worth a crap.
It seems like Americana continues to evolve just like mainstream country. Always changing and becoming too “big-tent”. It makes it harder to define it, which I have never had the ability to do anyway.
August 6, 2022 @ 8:33 am
Many people used “The Band” as the compass point of what “Americana” is, and cite them as the first true Americana band. Some may disagree with that, but that is the prevailing thought, in part because of Levon Helm’s strong support of roots musicians that came to be known as “Americana” later in life.
August 6, 2022 @ 4:42 pm
The term Americana absolutely existed back then. But “Americana music” usuallly refered to songs like “Oh, Susanna,” “Jimmy Crack Corn” and later “16 Tons,” “Daniel Boone,” “Big, Bad John” and all the songs from “Johnny Horton Makes History.”
It was only in recent decades that Americana became an official music genre, defined as “raw, unpolished country that doesn’t get played on the radio.”
August 5, 2022 @ 11:04 pm
God I love this article.
I’ve been posting a similar list (with bands categorized by subgenres) for “non-mainstream/not-on-the-radio country artists” for a couple of years on Reddit. It’s been a fun exercise to help me figure out what I like or don’t like even within non-radio country.
One thing you ignored here is neotraditional. I make a big distinction between say Ameripolitan honkytonkers as opposed to those who are doing the 90’s style neotraditional sound.
Right now there’s a big swing towards the neotraditional sound again, and I think it also includes all the Randall King types (maybe they fit into ‘traditional country/real country’- I’m thinking of Will Banister and a few others).
I think it’s helpful to keep using ‘neotraditional’ to distinguish different strains of honkytonk/traditional country- like the difference between Joshua Hedley’s recent neotraditional album and his older honkytonk stuff, or distinguishing his neotraditional album from say Sunny Side Of Harmonica Sam even though both sounds are technically honkytonk (and joshua is the one of the undisputed kings of honkytonk anyway). Or, say, Drake Milligan or Shelby Lee Lowe from someone like Jason James or Geoffrey Miller.
August 6, 2022 @ 1:18 am
Great compendium, thanks for writing this!
Maybe the term “Cosmic Country” might be worth mentioning either in the Country Rock or the California Country category?
August 6, 2022 @ 1:08 pm
Let’s make a list of cosmic country artists. I think Gary P Nunn has some of similar name for his music. I think Daniel Romano really proselytizes the term. Honestly I’d add Gram Parsons in there. Who else?
Robert's Country Blog
August 6, 2022 @ 3:47 pm
Michael Martin Murphey’s 1973 album “Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir” is my pick. There’s even a bit of melodica.
I’d say Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and the Lost Gonzo Band fit in this space. Here’s a quote from the Lost Gonzo web site: “Rising to the occasion and forever Gonzo, they play inspired and fresh takes of their own songs and songs and stories from the Cosmic Cowboy era.”
August 8, 2022 @ 1:10 pm
Gram Parsons is the name I mostly associate with “Cosmic Country”. There was a cool post and discussion in the “Sin City” Americana music Facebook group some years ago for a “Cosmic American Chronology” including early Country Rock and Outlaw Country releases (https://www.facebook.com/groups/406587436078182/posts/1621895801214000/). The list in the original post includes e.g. the names Chris Hillman and Mike Nesmith or bands like New Riders of the Purple Sage.
There’s also a nice short article with examples on the No Depression site (https://www.nodepression.com/what-is-cosmic-american-music-and-a-list-of-examples/). Not sure I’d call Jerry Lee Lewis the epitome of country rock though.
August 6, 2022 @ 3:42 am
The problem with Saving Country Music is exactly what’s in the name of this site. Art is like life, it goes on until it’s gone. Meanwhile it evolves. Saving something to keep it a certain way is unnatural. Things have to flow, especially in music.
Terms are helpful though. And the list is fun to read. But I do miss some. What about cow jazz? Jerry Jeff Walker had an album with that title. Lyle Lovett is cow jazz. Uncle Walt’s Band was, just like members Champ Hood, David Ball and especially Walter Hyatt.
Also missing the term country folk. The music of Nanci Griffith and so much more singer-songwriters could be called that.
One more thing: why do you write all these subgenres with a capital? It’s pop, not Pop. It’s jazz, not Jazz. It’s country, not Country. This brings me to this point of view: it’s americana, not Americana. Most artists in americana are very critical about what’s going on in American society, that’s what a lot of songs are about. So it makes more sense to write americana.
August 6, 2022 @ 8:39 am
A lot going on in this comment.
First, the name of this site is just a name. Country music will never be saved, and is in constant need of saving all at the same time. Similarly, country music needs to be preserved, as well as allowed to evolve all at the same time. This is not science, it’s alchemy.
The country/jazz fusion is an interesting space. I’m not sure if there’s enough of it to justify its own subgenre. It ultimately falls in line with the Western Swing lineage, at least that’s how Lyle Lovett and others I believe envisioned it. I’m not sure “Cow Jazz” would go over well, but it is important to point out that it is out there.
The reason I choose to capitalize these genres at time (and don’t others) is to try and distinguish them as proper subgenres as opposed to just descriptive terms. It’s probably not proper grammar, but it’s just a way to put emphasis on a term.
August 6, 2022 @ 9:17 am
This Ol’ Cowboy by Marshall Tucker Band. If that ain’t cow jazz, I’ll kiss your ass! 😉
August 7, 2022 @ 8:55 am
Jack, This Ol Cowboy is in my top 5 favs from MTB. What a showcase of Toy Caldwells picking, not to mention the melody is infectious. Toy later re- recorded a version on his one solo album. When i heard it, i immediately recognized its a western swing tune, no doubt. And as Ray Benson notably said, western swing is ” jazz with a cowboy hat.”
August 6, 2022 @ 5:50 am
Americana is the most confusing to me. A large portion of it is either traditional country or southern rock, terms that seem to be deemed old fashioned or negative to some, so they label it Americana. Other artists under the Americana label seem to have no southern/country traits at all. You find rock, blues, soul, pop, and acoustic all stuffed into one ambiguous genre. It makes no sense.
The Ghost Of Outlaw Country's Past
August 8, 2022 @ 10:51 am
It’s very interesting was thinking Waylon Jennings and George Jones as they were transitioning into the 90’s Country sound and I will say George hands down did it best going from a more Nashville sound straight to the 90’s neo traditional approach, Waylon on the other hand only made one album in the 90’s that could be maybe considered in the style of neo traditional 90’s Country and that was The Eagle. Waylon will always be the Goat to me but George made better albums in the 90’s
August 6, 2022 @ 6:58 am
Piedmont Blues should also be included as a form of Country Blues.
Here’s an excerpt from the linked article above.
Nick Spitzer, Professor of Anthropology and American Studies, folklorist, and producer of American Routes describes Piedmont Blues in this way:
Among the rolling hills, small farms, mills, and coal and railroad camps of the rural East Coast Piedmont, between Tidewater coast and the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, black and white economic and cultural patterns have overlapped considerably — more so than in the nearby areas or the Deep South. Piedmont blues styles reflects this, meshing traces of gospel, fiddle tunes, blues, country, and ragtime into its rolling, exhuberant sound.
I got introduced to a great Piedmont Blues duo at a show in the early ’90s The Barns of Wolf Trap (Vienna, VA) and that was put on by Nick Spitzer. It was called was Blues and Bluegrass. I was drawn to the bluegrass portion of the show, which was a set by DC area band The Johnson Mountain Boys (Dudley Connell on lead vocal and Eddie Stubbs on fiddle), who I knew through the WAMU Bluegrass Country radio show and had picked their Live at The Old Schoolhouse album. The blues portion was Cephas and Wiggins (John Cephas on guitar/vocal and Phil Wiggins on harmonica). I became a fan after that and saw them a couple more times over the years. John Cephas just had the warmest voice. I got to meet him at one of the shows and he was very kind and a pleasure to talk to.
August 6, 2022 @ 8:42 am
Country blues really deserves its own breakdown, kind of like Cajun music. Just here in Texas, we have Roadhouse Blues, which is where Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Fabulous Thunderbirds emerged from, Deep Ellum Blues, which is more traditional and centered around a scene in Dallas, and our own version of country blues with Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Robert's Country Blog
August 6, 2022 @ 10:22 am
This is such a great thread!
I recommend the blog “Early Cajun Music” to anyone interested in the history of rural Louisiana music from the 1920s into the 1960s.
Here’s how I’d categorize the music there (not counting the music of New Orleans, which has several styles of its own):
Cajun music – sung in French, often by those who grew up speaking French as their first language
Cajun Country – Artists like Doug Kershaw, Jo-El Sonnier, and the late Jimmy C. Newman come to mind. They do authentic Cajun music in French and authentic country music in English and everything in between.
There are also current artists like Dustin Sonnier and Kylie Frey from the same area, but their music is straight up country.
Zydeco – The creole counterpart to Cajun music is more associated with R&B and non-white musicians, though there are acts like Wayne Toups’ “ZyDeCajun” that combine Cajun and Zydeco music (and for any Texans out here, Josh Baca and his Hot Tamales hybridize conjunto and zydeco). Zydeco usually includes washboard. Rockin’ Sidney’s “My Toot Toot” is the unique example of a zydeco song crossing over to the country chart.
Swamp pop- These are versatile groups or “party bands” that can handle a variety of styles. The acts I’ve seen who are advertised as swamp pop leaned pretty heavily into material from the 1950s-70s.
Of course, since all of these styles are in the same place, there’s a lot of overlap. For instance, I went to a festival in Louisiana a few months ago, and the country act played saxophone and accordion, the swamp pop act covered Lee Greenwood, and the soul act covered Chris Stapleton’s “You Should Probably Leave.”
For blues, one subset of particular interest is the “Talking Blues,” which impacted country music in the 1920s thanks to Chris Bouchillon. This style influenced folk artists like Guthrie and Dylan, but also country artists like Hank Williams and Tex Williams. The talking blues style also factored into the “hot rod” songs that were popular in the 1950s. In more modern times, Alan Jackson made a talking blues song.
August 12, 2022 @ 1:10 pm
Also in the country blues genre, you have the Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, etc. type of stuff from the Mississippi Delta, which is also where Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music, came from.
August 6, 2022 @ 8:00 am
“Boyfriend Country?” Interesting,because a lot of “Bro-Country” is actually “Girlfriend Country.” Also,where the heck is Jade Eagleson ?
High Plains Drifter
August 6, 2022 @ 8:25 am
Funny, I thought there were only two kinds of music……. Country and Western
August 6, 2022 @ 9:58 am
I would love to see this drawn up as a kind of graphical family tree. Anyone up to the task?
David: The Duke of Everything
August 6, 2022 @ 10:13 am
I don’t know, seems kind of convoluted. What’s of songs could be put in different categories when you have so many subsets. It seems like a fun exercise. But generally like a song or I don’t, the category to me doesn’t matter. It’s why I’m not just a fan of one type of music. I can be a big Beatles fan and yet be as big a fan of Hank williams. Whatever I’m in the mood for at the time.
August 6, 2022 @ 10:54 am
Yes, but are you talking, The Beatles, Ed Sullivan genre?
The Beatles, Yellow Submarine, sub-genre?
The Beatles, John & Paul, miffed at each other, pre-Yoko, genre?
The Beatles, Paul, John, & Yoko-inspired-genre?
The Beatles, George Harrison rolling his eyes, genre …
David: The Duke of Everything
August 6, 2022 @ 12:51 pm
I’m talking the Beatles. I don’t separate them.
August 6, 2022 @ 1:01 pm
August 6, 2022 @ 11:38 am
look, some people like everything. Some of us don’t. I really like knowing in advance that something will be and Appalachian singer-songwriter or one of those mini-Zach Bryan knockoffs because I generally won’t put it on if I want to hear upbeat honkytonk. So it’s helpful to have the honkytonk or hard country category to help guide me when people are talking about new artists for example.
David: The Duke of Everything
August 6, 2022 @ 12:58 pm
On this site anyway, there is usually plenty of notice of where the song or artist falls into without a bunch of sub genres. Also where one person may put the song or artist, another person may put it someplace different. A lot of artist don’t stick to one also, they just make music. The individual listener decides where it fits for them.
August 6, 2022 @ 10:30 am
WTF is Balkanisation?!?
August 6, 2022 @ 11:01 am
“Balkanization is the fragmentation of a larger region or state into smaller regions or states, which may be hostile or uncooperative with one another. It is usually caused by differences of ethnicity, culture, and religion and some other factors such as past grievances.”
August 6, 2022 @ 11:04 am
Thus, Americana …
August 6, 2022 @ 11:30 am
I live there, never heard of it.
August 6, 2022 @ 12:04 pm
Maybe it’s an American term, not really sure. But it’s in the dictionary and has a Wikipedia page, so I’m not just pulling it out of my butt.
August 6, 2022 @ 9:13 pm
The most correct part of the wiki page is that the term is pejorative.
August 6, 2022 @ 11:34 am
Western also includes a lot a vibrant scene that probably got a kickstart in the cowboy poetry thing that was super visible in the 90’s (like appearances on Letterman kind of visible).
Dave Stamey, a bunch of women singers like Trinity Seeley, Adrian Buckaroogirl Brannan, Carin Mari, and others singing about horses and ranching and clean living out west sort of stuff, Brenn Hill, RW Hampton, Red Steagall, etc. Riddy Arman made waves in other independent country circles but she’s DEFINITELY that sound. Western AF sometimes emphasizes younger artists in this vein. There are also a bunch of people influenced by Ian Tyson’s folk/country kind of western and I sort of stick Colter Wall in there.
This sound doens’t really sound like anything to do with Bob wills western swing and doesn’t have the hokiness of the singing cowboy 1930’s movie country either.
August 6, 2022 @ 11:36 am
also this music is full of Montana/Nevada/Utah/Rocky Mountain themes, so it’s kind of separate from when Texas artists do this music and make lots of references to Texas pride in their songs.
August 6, 2022 @ 11:58 am
GraniteRock – a – billy
Robert's Country Blog
August 6, 2022 @ 12:16 pm
The Academy of Western Artists and the International Western Music Association are worth checking out if anyone is into the above.
The High Country Cowboys and Wylie Gustafson are other names I’ll throw in.
I’ve seen a few former yodel champions in recent months. Paula Erlene Williamson and her husband have a show in Branson called “Patsy to Patsy,” in which Paula performs as Patsy Montana and Patsy Cline.
I also saw the German-style band Yodelblitz in Texas. One member of their trio won an IMWA award for her yodeling and for her solo western album as “Lori Beth Brooke.”
I saw Kerry Christensen last year and he can do both the alpine style yodeling and the western style.
August 6, 2022 @ 2:33 pm
Wylie And The Wild West is amazing. Very real western themes and it’s mostly honky tonk, for those who don’t like the singer-songwriter aspect of some of the western artists solo work.
August 6, 2022 @ 1:57 pm
From the perspective of players who think mostly in terms of rhythm and harmony, a list might look like this:
old-time (Doc Watson, fiddle tunes, ballads, gospel, including Appalachian etc)
bluegrass (pure, rigid, classic)
country swing (and all country jazz)
folk country (think Marty Robbins to Zach whathisname)
country blues (including Piedmont etc, honkytonk, trucker, red dirt, and a LOT of “classic country”)
country fusion (everything from the Dead to the Byrds to grass fusions of all kinds)
south-suburban pop (including the sophisticated 60s Nashville Sound with strings)
“Alt-country, Bakersfield (sometimes), country rock, southern rock” is all just rock with country flavor. “Country rap” is just rap with country flavor. “Americana” and “Ameripolitan” are either catch-all marketing terms or some fusion of roots musics. “Country soul” is a thing, but it’s basically soul with country flavor. (Chris Stapleton is a soul singer with a cowboy hat.) Regional terms, from Bakersfield to Texoma, don’t refer to anything strictly musical.
Hope this helps.
August 7, 2022 @ 6:13 am
Only term/terms I didn’t see is Canadian country or international country which may include Japan or Australia. Canada which I’m most familiar with has a subset of rules to have a radio station which implies 1/3 of artists must be of Canadian descent. It also has a market size of 1/10th of what America is. Meaning a gold album is 50,000 units equivalent. Paul Brandt defines Canadian country for me anyways. Many have had mild success with a few songs on the American charts. It’s more independent in nature. Cmt Canada is also available as well as the ccma awards.
Japan is huge into traditional country music. Charlie nagatani is huge there and ran the country gold festival. Which was at the worlds largest outdoor stage on the sight of an active volcano.
Australia has sort of a cma fest and their own stations. Their version of cma fest had almost 400 artists there.
August 7, 2022 @ 9:57 am
This style might be too far removed to be included, but I feel like Southern Sludge may be worthy of mention due to its ties to Southern Rock (i.e. Down, Acid Bath, Eyehategod, Crowbar, Corrosion of Conformity, etc.). Also, I didn’t see any mention of 2000’s Soccer Mom Country (Sugarland, Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts, etc.) lol.
August 7, 2022 @ 8:20 pm
When I made my similar list for current artists, I included an category for Native American bands because it’s it’s own scene and sound.
Country music is HUGE in some Native communities both reservation and urban. There are a bunch of bands that tour regionally a bit. They rarely make “official music videos” or end up on any of the standard country and americana playlists and you don’t generally see them show up in the kinds of clubs and bars that other independent country acts play (for the most part, it depends on where).
They tend to not have steel guitar and tend to have 80’s-90’s roots rock influences, often substituting a keyboard player where other country bands would try to have a steel player. They don’t sound entirely like any of the categories above. Some have lots of songs about various specifically Indian themes, pow wow stories, some nostalgic stuff about the past, lots of wry stuff about current rez life (I mean the most famous is probably the song NDN Kars by Keith Secola) It’s good stuff and has a rabid following but it’s totally invisible to mainstream country audiences.
Robert's Country Blog
August 8, 2022 @ 7:45 am
The playlists on YouTube labelled “rez bands” or “rez country” feature these artists. Navajo appears to be the most represented.
The Gu-Achi Fiddlers made an album of O’odham fiddle music that is worth a listen.
August 9, 2022 @ 6:34 am
Stellar, I would love to talk to you about rez country if you’re interested. I live outside of the border town of Cortez, CO and I’ve spent several years learning about some of these bands from some Navajo friends I’ve made. Shoot me an email if you’d like to talk. I love that stuff and I’d like to learn about what you know. It’s very cool that in this day and age, there are still some things that you have to really try to dig up if you want to learn about it.
August 9, 2022 @ 6:41 am
Thought you’d be able to see my email. It’s slackeyeslimband@gmail
August 9, 2022 @ 7:22 am
ooh, awesome. We should get you to do a writeup on Reddit at r/countrymusic. We were running a Western Wednesday for over a year and I used to dig up western rez bands for that theme now and again. I’ll send you an email too though.
August 8, 2022 @ 12:02 am
I would say Sturgill would be psychedelic/experimental country/grass
Arlo McKinley/Red Clay Stray – emo country
August 10, 2022 @ 6:52 am
What a useless naval gazing exercise.
Taking something like music which is to be felt and enjoyed and endlessly trying to quantify it, and turn it into a math problem to be solved.
Yeah can we not
August 10, 2022 @ 10:34 am
Let’s not overreact here. I’m not sure anyone here is trying to “quantify” country music like it’s a math equation. This is more about trying to categorize it so it’s easier to navigate and discuss, like the Dewey Decimal System. All of these terms are commonly in use, and so putting them all in one place and trying to define what they mean would hopefully simplify things as opposed to complicate them.
August 10, 2022 @ 5:05 pm
This is a page worth bookmarking. And I am sure I will come back to it.
Speaking of what is country music, and what isn’t the Cole Swindell song “She Had Me At Heads Carolina” is the laziest attempt at the writing of recent memory. The first time I heard it I didn’t give it the credit deserved. Because I honestly thought it would get buried. Unfortunately, I seem to be hearing it everywhere. Even the incompetent AI behind Amazon music tried to push the song on me. I can’t wrap my head around why this song is so popular. But then again, maybe I’m an idiot for being so surprised. He is the guy who thought “Dad’s Old Number” was sentimental.
August 10, 2022 @ 5:10 pm
Here’s the Reddit crowdsourced list of non-radio country artists we’ve been putting together over the last year, complete with a bunch of similar subgenre/sound descriptors as in this article:
January 16, 2023 @ 5:33 pm
I grew up hating country (more of a punk myself & reminded me too much of home) but loving some specific artists, (early outlaw, rockabilly, different kinds of Americana & folkish rock) so I figured recently I’d start digging into all the different back-alleys of country to see what I can find. I lump it all into “mud & gravel music” when I listen to it and I’m loving what I’ve found so far.
I really appreciate this article and this list. I have a ton of stuff to dive into now!!!
Question tho – where do folks like Devil Makes Three, Dead South, Shakey Graves, or Roadkill Ghost Choir fit in? Or are they just not considered country at all? I’m learning here and am genuinely trying to understand this.
January 16, 2023 @ 9:51 pm
Honestly those bands are all some form of Americana to me. Not sure if other people think soemthing different.
Check out the folk-punk genre too if you haven’t already and you’re jsut starting to explore Americana and such. It also includes punk takes on Irish and various Canadian folk music. Some good stuff out there, check out The Dreadnoughts for example.
January 19, 2023 @ 10:56 am
January 19, 2023 @ 10:58 am
Was a big fan of Jason & The Scorchers, Dash Rip Rock etc back in the 80s. Should be right up my alley.
August 11, 2022 @ 9:29 am
You ever heard of Post-Country?
This could include artists like Ratboys, Pinegrove, Quinn Cicala.
August 11, 2022 @ 9:37 am
I’m curious but is there a term anyone uses for those artists regionally from the northwest or canada area?
August 11, 2022 @ 9:45 am
I have used the term “Canadian country” before in reference to Corb Lund, Tim Hus, etc. But there’s just as much diversity in Canadian country as there is in American, so it makes it difficult to use it, even as an umbrella term .They have an entire industry of pop country superstars up there and wannabe Sam Hunt’s. So I wouldn’t want to inadvertently compare that with Colter Wall.
August 11, 2022 @ 11:27 am
The ones I know of are Wilf Carter (who was known as Montana Slim), south of the border, Ian Tyson, and Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young. And Hank Snow, though I get the impression that Snow did not publicize or embrace his Canadian roots after he established himself
January 19, 2023 @ 11:51 am
You guys know so much! Where would you put Delbert McClinton? He’s such a great singer.