Tired of the Same Old Tunes? Check these out!
We all need a change of scenery from time to time, and so do our ears. We wouldn’t tell you straight out what to listen to this fall, but if you’re a fan of country and roots music and are tired of following the pack, we have some strong suggestions.
These five artists, singer/songwriters for the most part, are vastly different but tend to fall into the categories of country or Americana. Some are a bit boisterous with a rock ‘n’ roll edge, while others are more introspective and soft-spoken. The common denominator here is storytelling that’s earthy and honest and not carefully crafted by a team of commercial co-writers. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t pay close attention to the words, there’s plenty there that’s compelling and captivating. Give them a listen—you may love what you hear
This West Texan has such a gentle approach it’s kind of hard to imagine him bustin’ broncs. A knee injury sidelined his dreams of being a rodeo champion, but thankfully for us, Ross Cooper had music to fall back on.
The sweet-voiced Cooper tells his tales clearly and carefully, following the storytelling traditions of such stylistic elders as Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen, and Randy Rogers. He’s only in his early 30s, but it’s obvious there’s an old soul inside him. Hone in on the gripping details of his lyrics, and it’s no surprise that he started out writing prose, with an eye toward being a screenwriter, before adjusting his craft toward songwriting.
He explores his days on the rough-stock circuit on the title track of his latest release, Chasing Old Highs. There’s a profound sense of longing throughout the album. His music is often downbeat but not quite melancholy, with more up-tempo numbers like “Hello Sunshine” and “Cowboy Picture Show” raising the spirits. To get more of a taste, start with his recent single, “Indian Summer” before dipping back into his catalog for “Old Crow Whiskey and a Cornbread Moon.”
You could call Charley Crockett “old hat,” and he might see it as a compliment, but there’s a lot more to him than his cool vintage threads.
Originally from South Texas, this seasoned artist kicked around for many years in different incarnations before settling into a persona that seems rooted in Nashville in the 1950s. Reaching back into the past has been a successful attention-getter that seems to have given him a bright future.
His retro vibe spills over into the music, too, with a respectful nod to the “countrypolitan” era. Mournful steel guitar, tinkling piano, and occasional trumpets and accordions offer a soothing escape to times that may have seemed simpler.
The tastefully adventurous instrumentation decorates his songs but doesn’t overpower them or steal their soul. He mines some sad territory but tends to emerge in a hopeful manner, even when he’s singing of “10,000 acres of lonesome, five hundred miles all filled up with pain.” It’s obvious he’s listened to lots of classic country, but probably along with blues, jazz, Cajun, and Tejano music. He doesn’t seem too interested in fitting into any particular style.
Tyler Childers seems like that little kid in the corner of the back porch, listening intently as his uncles and cousins played their banjos, mandolins, and fiddles. The truth of his back story is a little different, but this folky singer/songwriter certainly soaked up the sounds of his native Kentucky.
Childers’ heartfelt music isn’t strictly bluegrass, but it’s simple and rustic, often with basic acoustic accompaniment. There are few frills and zero filigree, and his raspy, plaintive voice is always the focus as he tells stories of real-life people with real-world problems. His standout tracks include “Whitehouse Road,” “Lady May,” Deadman’s Curve,” and “Feathered Indians.”
Despite so often being cast into the Americana category, the engaging and outspoken Childers considers himself a country music artist, nothing more and nothing less. He’s released five albums since 2011 and continues to show deepening levels of musical maturity. He also sounds like he’ll probably never completely outgrow his bluegrass leanings, and that’s a good thing.
It was almost a decade ago that Sturgill Simpson was being hailed as Nashville’s latest neo-traditionalist. But even the title of his breakout album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, signaled that he might be coming at things from a different angle. His philosophical and sometimes psychedelic lyrics pretty much sealed that deal.
Like Childers, Simpson is a Kentucky native, but his music is all over the map. His career path has been a series of surprising turns. Rather than following a formulaic pursuit of radio-friendly singles, he has released a string of concept albums, some of them sprawling and adventurous. The funny thing is that he’s also proven himself to be a tremendously engaging and talented outlier in whatever style he chooses.
To try and get inside Simpson’s head, we’d suggest starting with “Turtles All the Way Down” and following his meandering career path all the way through. This will include a journey through his synth-rock excursion Sound and Fury, his two volumes of bluegrass (under the title Cuttin’ Grass), and his latest, The Dood and Juanita, a loving tribute to his grandparents’ lives and marriage.
Shane Smith and the Saints
If someone asks you to define Red Dirt music, Shane Smith and the Saints isn’t a bad place to start. It’s country, mostly, but it rocks. Listen more closely and you’ll also hear Celtic traces. In that respect, this rowdy but restrained Texas quintet sometimes recalls a next-generation Mumford and Sons—and we mean that in a good way.
Many artists are adapting to new models for music consumption by releasing their new songs as singles rather than as a full album. Shane Smith and the Sinners had a novel approach of their latest, Hail Mary, as separate chapters. The album title implies a last-ditch effort at wider success after years of grinding it out on the road, but the band got a huge boost when “All I See is You” was featured in the fourth season of the hit TV series Yellowstone.
With its fiery fiddle and sidewinding lead guitar, the band’s music has an urgency to it, as if they have a lot to say and aren’t sure how much time they have to say it. On their more recent single, the soulful “Hummingbird,” the band brings the energy down a notch, but not the emotion.