This is an offshoot of my my Bands-I-Think-You-Should-Know-About page; this section was getting so big I thought it deserved its own page, and I started a while back at the suggestion of one of the guys on the Postcard mailing list (in which I no longer participate). Seemed like a good idea at the time. (Oh, and speaking of time, lots and lots of it has passed by since this page was last updated, due to sheer lack of time. Sorry.)
This page has finally taken on a life of its own, has picked up a few readers here and there, and fortunately has other input than what I can provide in my limited spare time. I welcome the new articles submitted by my friend Rick Cornell, links to which appear at several places below. Read them all.
So what is Insurgent Country, anyway?
That particular term comes from a label called Bloodshot Records, who took it upon themselves to apply a label to a bunch of bands that people started calling alt.country, "No Depression", or what I was beginning to call "rural contemporary" at the suggestion of Wilco guitarist Jay Bennett (an appellation I still rather like), or whatever. Their definition is, music that "applies a steel-toed boot to the rhinestone-encrusted ass of commercialized country crap." An amusing enough description, and it's accurate enough in some ways. It's not like these bands consciously banded together in an effort to launch a movement or anything. But lots of bands who felt moved by real country music as opposed to the junk coming out of Nashville, and many of whom were influenced by Uncle Tupelo, started making some great music.
All the labels and hype are a pain in the ass, but all that aside, it's just about my favorite kind of music these days (other than the traditional stuff, of course!).
Indie/alternative/country/country-rock/country-punk/roots country? Damned unwieldy thing to try to call a genre/style of music. Is it even a genre?
Anyway, I've really gotten to love this stuff -- great music from bands that approach country music from the rock and punk directions, bands who may have grown up listening to Black Flag but who also love Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. This, plus bands that play real, roots country music, or both. Bands that are firmly rooted in American music, no matter how noisy they may sometimes get.
I really believe that the best country music being made today is being made by a lot of young bands who come from outside the appalling Nashville mainstream; as my friend Steve Gardner says, "some of these Nashville country "entertainers" have never had any shit on their boots in their lives."
These bands take it from the true roots of country, and go their own way with it, either back to the pure roots or out into balls-out rock 'n roll. Their music's honest and real, and it has heart. I'm not trying to codify a genre (if there even is one), or to hype a "movement" (and boy, has there been a lot of hype for all this) ... it's all just great music, and if you like one or two of these bands, you might really like the others too. Turning people on to great music is what I love to do, so check these folks out. Below are some of my favorites. (This is not meant to be an exhaustive or comprehensive list, I'm building it gradually as I have time, and it's mainly who I like, so don't whine if your favorite band isn't on here.)
There's a mailing list called Postcard 2 (formerly called "Passenger Side") devoted to the discussion of this music, which is an offshoot of Postcard, the Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt mailing list.; if you're into these bands, you might want to subscribe. Be warned that the signal-to-noise ratio on those mailing lists is crappy -- there's lots of noise. Caveat emptor. There's also a pretty essential quarterly magazine called No Depression; check them out, definitely.
There's also a new book you might want to check out -- Modern Twang: An Alternative Country Music Guide and Directory, featuring 500+ profiles on alternative country music including "No Depression", insurgent country, country and roots rock, cowpunk, bluegrass, Cajun, Tex-Mex, Western Swing, and much more.
Also, you might want to have a look at a couple of other related pages about this kind of music, pages that get updated a lot more frequently than this one. Now ...
There's a nifty mail-order house, located in the Los Angeles area, called Miles of Music, where you can get most if not all of these artists. They specialize in indie releases, alt.country, "No Depression", "Americana", folk, country, bluegrass, etc. Check 'em out! And tell 'em Chuck from The Gumbo Pages sent ya.
Okay, here's what I've got on the list so far. These are people I like a lot. Their country chops range from noisy/punky to pure and sweet. I'm sure I've forgotten a few, and a lot of the descriptions and reviews are obviously incomplete. Don't take offense if your favorite band isn't on here, 'cause this reflects my tastes rather than being some kind of definitive list (if there could even be such a thing). If you want other peoples' lists, check out some of the other sites I mentioned above. If you've got something to contribute, help out! Oh, and before you write to fuss at me, it's probably been ages since I updated this.
- The Backsliders
- We of the Backsliders Global Domination Conspiracy have a renewed hope, 'cause ... they just made a new record! It's all different members except for Chip, but he's the big 'un anyways, and I think they sound as great as ever. Buy their new record, Southern Lines, and read Rick Cornell's article "The Backsliders - Hard-Core Heroes of the Honky-Tonk"
- Blue Mountain
- This fantastic band from Oxford, Mississippi is led by Cary Hudson and Laurie Stirratt (twin sister of John Stirratt from Wilco), and epitomizes insurgent country to me. Acoustic and electric, great harmonies and songwriting, sparkling melodies. Quietly sweet and butt-kickingly loud. They have two albums out now -- Dog Days and Homegrown -- both available on Roadrunner Records.
For those of you who aren't on enough mailing lists yet, there's a new list for Blue Mountain fans, called "genericamerica" -- subscribe here. (This is an outside link; I don't maintain the list.)
- Bottle Rockets
- Festus, Missouri-based band led by longtime Uncle Tupelo sideman and unofficial member Brian Henneman. Great, twangy and loud country-rock, with cutting lyrics. Two albums available on East Side Digital -- Bottle Rockets and The Brooklyn Side -- and the latest, 24 Hours a Day is on Atlantic. Scuzzbag Atlantic has just dumped them, and they're looking for a new label. Hey E-Squared, heads up! Read a recent article about them.
- Richard Buckner
- The Damnations
- From Austin, TX
- Steve Earle
- Alejandro Escovedo
- Formerly of Rank and File, and recently named "Artist of the Decade" by No Depression magazine.
- Sweet and lively off-center alternative country, great vocals and great playing. They play all new and original songs, but you'd never know that the songs hadn't been around for a hundred years. There's a terrific, brand-new album out entitled Springtime ... get it!. Now that I think about it, this isn't really " "alternative" except to say that these guys aren't nearly as well-known as they should be ... this is country music at its finest.
- Robbie Fulks
- Mike Ireland and Holler
- Formerly of The Starkweathers, Mike says Holler's music isn't alt.country, kids ... it's your parents country music. Don't let that stop you from enjoying it. Read Rick Cornell's article "Mike Ireland and Holler - Living and Learning"
- Jason and the Scorchers
- The unofficial granddaddies of this whole alt.country thang. There's a really cool fan site as well. Read Rick Cornell's article "Jason and the Scorchers - Loud but Polite Country Boys"
- The Jayhawks
- Alas, what happened? Loved their first few records, then the personnel change, then ... pop pap, in my opinion. I think of the Jayhawks nowaday as a band of the past, and keep listening to Hollywood Town Hall. Just my opinion...
- Cheri Knight
- Formerly of The Blood Oranges, now with two albums of her own, The Knitter and The Northeast Kingdom, Cheri Knight is nothing less than terrific. Read Rick Cornell's article "Cheri Knight - Pulling Up Rock By Its Roots"
- Buddy Miller
- Moonshine Willy
- The Old 97s
- Marvleous, rollickin', butt-kickin' band from Dallas, whose 1995 album Wreck Your Life was among my favorite releases of 1995. Check 'em out if they're in your town. Read Steve Gardner's review of the band. Last, but not least, you've got to see this fan page, created by two teenage girls in Austin: Libby and Ellen's Old 97s World
- The Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, Palace Music or just Palace ... the name of the band seems to change from album to album, but that one word at least remains consistent. Stark, beautiful stuff from Will Oldham and company, from Louisville, Kentucky. Some people seem to have a bit of a hard time getting used to Will's voice, which even cracks sometimes, but I find it endearing; it's real, raw, spare, honest and intensely emotional stuff. The records are generally very quiet, but I hear these guys can make some great noise on stage. (I still haven't seen them play, dammit!) They're on the Drag City label out of Chicago, with a bunch of 7" vinyl releases, three CDs -- There Is No One What Will Take Care Of You, The Palace Brothers, and Viva Last Blues -- and a 6-song ep called Hope, credited to Palace Songs (another name for basically the same band).
- Gram Parsons
- Gram is perhaps the guiding spirit behind a lot of these bands, and of contemporary roots country and country/rock music. Check out Larry Klug's web site all about the man and his music.
- 6 String Drag
- They broke up! *sob*
- Son Volt
- The wonderful, often stunning band led by ex-Uncle Tupelo singer and songwriter Jay Farrar. The band sorta sounds like No Depression era UT, and has both blistering rockers and some of the most achingly sweet country stuff you'll ever hear. Two albums out so far, Trace and Straightaways, with a new one out later in '98.
- Uncle Tupelo
- Late and lamented. My all-time favorite band (and that's a BIG step for me to make that determination about just one band), these guys epitomized "country/punk"; they could be raucously loud, and spine-tinglingly, gorgeously acoustic as well. Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy wrote a hell of a lot of great songs, and the band made four fantastic albums. The band broke up (as so many of my favorites seem to have done ... sigh), but now we have both Wilco and Son Volt carrying the music on, both new and old (both bands play older UT stuff).
And give this some thought. I've reached the point where I'm almost glad Uncle Tupelo broke up, because now we have two marvelous bands out of the deal instead of one.
- The Waco Brothers
- The Volebeats
- The V-Roys
- Fiddle, banjo, and lap dulcimer from the Arkansas Ozarks; electric guitar and American-style folk storytelling; lap steel, accordion, mandola, and Hammond organ learnt in California way, jazz bass, and steady drumming and balladeering harmonies characterize this St. Louis band, whose first album No Kinder Room is now out on Hightone Records.
- A pretty durn good band, if you can get past how much of an jerk their admittedly talented lead singer/songwriter is. Check out their latest, Stranger's Almanac.
- The first band to emerge from the breakup of Uncle Tupelo. Jeff Tweedy formed this band with most of the remaining members of UT after Jay left: Max Johnston, John Stirratt and Ken Coomer. There's a new guitarist, also called Jay (something), who joined the band after the recording of their debut album. The debut record is called A.M., and was released on Sire/Reprise on March 28, 1995. Some hard-to-please types complained that they thought there were a couple of weaker songs (I think they complained just because it wasn't Uncle Tupelo), but I think it's wonderful ... some of the best writing and singing Jeff's ever done.
The second record, Being There, takes Wilco out of the roots-country-whatever realm for some rollicking, extremely fun, Seventies-inspired rock and roll, and the quality of the songwriting is just as high. There's also enough songs to keep the alternative country fans happy, but all in all there's lots on this record to keep EVERYONE happy. One of the best albums of 1996 by far.
Around this time, there was also a personnel change: Max Johnston is no longer with Wilco, and is now playing in Richard Buckner's band (Buckner made one of my very favorite albums of 1997), and sometime-Freakwater guitarist Bob Egan has joined up for a while.
1998 saw their monumental collaboration with Billy Bragg, writing new music to old lyrics by Woody Guthrie, Mermaid Avenue (more or less my favorite album of 1998), then 1999 saw further new ground with summerteeth, where you can't really call them an alt.country band anymore, just a great band period.
- Kelly Willis
- John Brandon's The Alt-country Page.
- alt.music.no-depression, a Usenet newsgroup that's a place to talk about the "alternative country", "roots rock", "no depression", etc. bands, music, shows, magazines, web sites, etc. I'm unsure how far the newsgroup has propagated; if you want it and don't have it, ask your ISP's news administrator to add it.
- Country Standard Time
- Hans Settler's Insurgent Country Page
- Made in America, an alt.country radio program broadcast on AM radio in Cleveland, but with RealAudio archives that you can hear online as well.
- Twangin'! Country Music magazine, online
- WelfareMusic: music with a twang
bands you should know about | uncle tupelo]
the gumbo pages' home page | Search This site
Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)