Since mainstream country radio generally prefers songs about chewing tobacco and driving a Chevy rather than what country should actually be about, the ups and downs of life, it’s hard to find a true country tune on the dial.
Not to worry. There are still some traditional melodies that can light your face up, cause rowdiness or make you shed a tear. You just have to look for it. The search is long and endearing but there really are some treasures you can stumble upon while switching the station. Occasionally they succeed– Lee Brice’s awe inspiring tale about his brother that died fighting for our country, “I Drive Your Truck”, was a number one– and occasionally they fail, which was the case with George Strait’s 2012 fantastic song about a teenager battling alcoholism, “Drinkin’ Man”, which peaked at No. 37.
If you’re like me (and chances are if you enjoy all mainstream country abundantly, you’re probably not), there’s something about a steel guitar and a melody that sticks to you. I’m not much of a fan of what is played on the radio. It’s not real country music for the most part. When “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and “Boys ‘Round Here” top out the country charts, you know there is something seriously defective with the genre.
So, in no particular order, here are the five best new mainstream true traditional country artists to have debuted in the last five years.
Easton Corbin captured the hearts of many traditional country fans right when he released “A Litte More Country Than That” and has been excellent ever since. In his four years on mainstream radio, Corbin has never failed to produce catchy, meaningful, true country music. His new album, All Over the Road, is a must listen and produces the right doses of highs and lows to make any country music fan love it. “Only a Girl” is a great track.
Hopefully this 31-year-old will continue to make great music while helping make the country mainstream a little bit easier on the ears. Comparisons have been made to a young George Strait, and if that’s the case then we’re in for one heck of a ride. All over the road, of course.
Best songs: “A Little More Country Than That”, “Lovin’ You Is Fun”, “Only a Girl”, “All Over the Road”, “Roll with It”
Greg Bates, a 25-year-old Nashville native and Belmont graduate, has made it clear he will only sing real, traditional country music, as evidenced by his self-entitled debut EP and his comments proclaiming his love for traditionalists like Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Randy Travis.
His kickoff ditty, “Did it For the Girl”, was Preserving Country Music‘s 2012 Single of the Year, a song that peaked at No. 5 on the Hot Country Airplay charts. It was a ballad about what sort of heights a guy will climb to in order to keep his female love interest around and interested.
The rest of Bates’ EP doesn’t fail to impress, either. Perhaps the second best song is “Lost in Caroline”, one of those tunes that just makes you wish the weekend would never end. Also, the fiddle is amazing and reminds one of a song from 30 years ago. “Brothers” is also a great melody that focuses on the great importance of male siblings in one’s life, something few have ever dabbled in the genre.
I’m excited to see what this guy has in store for us for his first full album.
Best songs: “Did it for the Girl”, “Lost in Caroline”, “Brothers”, “Fill in the Blank”, “Go Time”
This Texas product debuted in a great way in releasing “Merry Go ‘Round” as her first single. From the first time I heard it on the radio, I knew it would become one of my favorites. In this tale, Kacey talks about life in a small town and the struggles that go with it (addiction, small town stereotypes, affairs). In a time where preaching about what should be considered “country” is a hot topic, it’s so refreshing to hear music about real life, and that’s just what the 24-year-old does with her entire recent release, Same Trailer Different Park. It’s definitely a top three or four album from this year thus far, and she co-wrote every song on the collection.
“Silver Lining” is a song on the album that is definitely worth a listen. There’s an ever present steel guitar in the background, while Mugraves sings about working for the goal and going after the prize. One line of the track in particular, “If you wanna find the honey, you can’t be scared of the bees”, sticks out to me. Life throws you unknowns and if you’re not willing to work hard for what you want, you’ll never get it.
In the last year, she has gone from unknown to undoubtedly my favorite female country singer.
Best songs: “Merry Go ‘Round”, “Silver Lining”, “It is What It Is”, “Dandelion”, “Blowin’ Smoke”
ZAC BROWN BAND
It’s no wonder that this Georgia-based group’s best single last year, “The Wind”, peaked at No. 10 on the Hot Country Billboard charts. Anything with too much fiddle and meaning gets tossed aside on today’s country stations, so it was only safe to assume the country machine let this one top out at that number.*
The Zac Brown Band play at a different pace than anyone else on the radio, and for the most part I dig their stuff. They sing two of my all-time favorites, “Highway 20 Ride” (a song about a dad who misses his son he lost through divorce) and “Colder Weather” (a song about missing that special someone when you’re on the road).
For the most part, their music is relatable and hits deep. What’s not to like?
Best songs: “Highway 20 Ride”, “The Wind”, “As She’s Walking Away”, “Colder Weather”, “Whatever It is”
This Poyen, Arkansas native (population: 272) has songs that will make you want to party and songs that will make you want to sit down and evaluate. It’s the perfect cocktail of country music. Sometimes his stuff can be hit and miss, but Moore has two undoubtedly phenomenal songs in “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” and “Small Town USA” without going into a this-is-what-country-should-be-and-only-be mode like megastar Jason Aldean has done recently.
Also, it should be noted that Moore over Darius Rucker took up ten minutes of solid thought and was easily the hardest decision I crossed in the making of this article.
Best songs: “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away”, “Small Town USA”, “Til My Last Day”, “Backwoods”, “How I Got to Be This Way”
Some others to watch (although the jury might be out)- Darius Rucker, Thomas Rhett, Lee Brice, Jon Pardi
*To be fair, I don’t believe it to be a “machine” as much as change within the genre. Also, my brother Booey called it a machine first.