18 Country Singers Proving Traditional Country is Alive and Well

March 23, 2013 Posted by jsekera - No Comments

The death of traditional country music may have been overstated. These 18 country singers are proving there is still allegiance to a less pop-friendly brand of twang. They also prove fans often need to go looking for it.

Only a handful of these modern country music traditionalists have found success on country radio, but streaming sites and satellite radio have been kind to artists like Sturgill Simpson. His Grammy win and performance shows that despite a lack of airplay, great music can still win. Commercial and critical success as a country traditionalist is tough for any singer, but it’s not impossible.

Still think “real” country music is dead? We’d argue that you’re just not trying hard enough to find it. These 18 artists give hope for the future of country music, with or without help from radio stations nationwide.

These Country Artists Are Keeping Traditional Country Alive:

Who: Jon Pardi

How: The California-raised singer’s traditional country themes come rife with catchy guitar licks that never lean into pop territory. The “Head Over Boots” singer has found a narrow lane that allows him to stay true to who he is while earning commercial success.

Who: Kacey Musgraves

How: While difficult to pin down what might come next from the “Merry Go ‘Round” singer she’s thus far turned in two lyrically solid albums full of small town themes. It’s modern-day tear-in-the-beer music that seems to unify fans of all types of music.

Who: Midland

How: This country trio is the next great hope for fans of that classic Nashville sound. So much of the best traditional country music is coming from Texas, and while these men weren’t raised there, they’ve picked up a few tricks. “Drinkin’ Problem” is a Southwest throwback that helps build a wonderfully simple EP.

Who: Mo Pitney

How: Mo Pitney has caught the attention of several great traditionalists who believe he is the heir apparent to Randy Travis. His success hasn’t caught up to his talent quite yet. Thus far warm, rich country songs like “Country” have not found mass appeal, but he’ll forever stay in that lane.

Who: Joe Nichols

How: Nichols is the most veteran artist on this list of modern country traditionalists as he’s dropping his new Never Get Oldalbum in 2017. It’s filled with traditional themes that properly marry one of the most timeless voices with what he’s good at. The title track should be a hit.

Livin Like Hippies Tour

Who: Miranda Lambert

How: Few would have thought of Lambert as a traditionalist prior to her The Weight of These Wings album, but the two discs are packed with straight-forward, no frills country ballads and bar songs. She’ll stretch her legs for songs like “Pink Sunglasses” but more often than not comes back to rich tracks like “Tin Man” and “Pushin’ Time.”

INDIO, CA – APRIL 30: Musician Aaron Watson performs onstage during 2016 Stagecoach California’s Country Music Festival at Empire Polo Club on April 30, 2016 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Stagecoach)

Who: Aaron Watson

How: Aaron Watson released one of the best country albums of 2015 with The Underdog and he’s done it again with Vaquero. Texas country is alive and well with Watson at the helm.

Who: William Michael Morgan

How: William Michael Morgan’s great trick was turning a Sam Hunt song into a great traditional country song, something he did with “I Met a Girl.” His debut album proves he’s sincere with a his cowboy hat but he’ll need to find stronger songs to become a leader in the modern traditional category.

Who: Brandy Clark

How: Her 2016 release Big Day in a Small Town is a must-have record for fans pining for a more mature country sound. The songwriting and storytelling is exquisite. If she can find a radio hit there’s no telling what kind of influence she can carry.

Who: Chris Stapleton

How: He’s the guy who kind of started this whole conversation, isn’t he? Stapleton is the answer to pop-country and his success has proven great traditional country music can be successful.

Who: Farewell Angelina

How: This all-female, four-piece band offer harmonies rare in an era of country music. Their one-of-a-kind sound leans heavily on bluegrass and lyrical strength. The 2017 Taste of Country RISERS have found fans from all over in the last 12 months.

Ashley Monroe performs live at The Greene Space in New York City

Who: Ashley Monroe

How: Like Brandy Clark, Monroe is a hit away from being a big deal. Few singers make better albums than Monroe. Her traditional country songs include just enough pop sensibility to draw mass appeal, but she never sacrifices art for commerce. We hear she’s working on a third studio album, too!

Who: Angaleena Presley

How: Monroe’s Pistol Annies bandmate quietly dropped one of the best albums of 2017 with Wrangled. The songs feel like a modern take on Loretta Lynn’s sound. The best are filled with uncomfortable truths.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – OCTOBER 07: Singer Sturgill Simpson performs onstage during the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival at Golden Gate Park on October 7, 2017 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

Who: Sturgill Simpson

How: Simpson has positioned himself as a mainstream country outsider, something his growing fan base loves. It’d be a hollow approach if his albums weren’t packed with a country sound the older generation is crying for. A Grammy for A Sailor’s Guide to Earth proves he’s on the right path.

Who: Jason Isbell

How: Like Simpson, Isbell is thriving outside the Nashville machine. In fact, he’s likely thriving because he’s outside of it. Here you’ll find another artist who sacrifices nothing for art. It’s paying off for both of these men and so many on this list of modern traditionalists.

Who: Ray Scott

How: Ray Scott is a dark horse to save traditional country music but he’s amongst the few on this list with a radio hit. “My Kind of Music” caught on with many stations in the mid-00s.

Who: Cody Johnson

How: He may not want fans to know this but Cody Johnson is about as social savvy as an oak tree. He has Facebook, Twitter etc … but you’ve logged into his accounts as much as he has. The focus is great country music a la the Texas tradition. “With You I Am” from his sixth studio album Gotta Be Me is proof the long road can pay off.

Who: Wheeler Walker Jr.

How: Country’s most profane singer would need to find a way to be PG to gain traction at a mainstream level. That’s unlikely. However he’s not wrong when he says he’s more traditional than most of what’s on the radio, even if lyrically he’s starting his own tradition.