In my most humblest of opinions, Country music has been one of the greatest casualties in the emergence of the mainstream record companies that seem now more like cloning factories. Where once was a genre that was full of life and protest and even beautiful faults, we find in its place a form now a pale glimmer of its former self. Again, this is just an opinion, but I can't even bring myself to even call the music coming from Nashville these days "Country music." It seems to be more like stale pop music with fiddles. But there are some who lay just below the mainstream who are staying true to the genre and who are at the same time expanding it in ways that are much more creative and heartfelt. And this list doesn't even being to scratch the surface of what can be found. Neko Case Neko Case arguably possesses one of the most enchanting voices in modern music. She has most honorably been compared to such Country greats as Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline and her earlier albums showcased a more full embrace of country music proper. Since then her music has evolved into something much more ambitious and innovative while using bluegrass, honkey-tonk and rockabilly as her foundation. Case's music could be something called "Country noir," in its use of stark and haunting imagery both visually and aurally. This is particularly evident on her 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings The Flood where her vocals float over the compositions like a ghost with lyrics that are disturbingly lovely and dark. Lyrics like "I leave the party at three AM/Alone, thank God/With a Valium from the bride, it's the devil I love/And that's as funny as real love/And that's as real as true love," which are taken from the eerie ballad "Hold On, Hold On" are wrapped around the music almost as an unseen influence that guides the music to do their will, changing otherwise joyful music into something almost maudlin. Almost, mind you. She walks so well between joy and sadness, partly because her song structures are somewhat off. She does not allow herself to strictly follow the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, rather using through composition to allow the songs to move where they desire to be instead of what we the listener might wish or expect. Roy Being active participants in Seattle's Hardcore music scene in the 1990's and early 2000's, it seemed odd to more than one person that a group like this could be formed from such ashes. But as anyone knows, the truly great musicians are educated in all forms of the art and the members of Roy have demonstrated themselves to being apt pupils of Country music who should certainly find a place within it's hallowed halls. The songs are like great drinking songs of protest. I have always imagined the music as anthems for the lumberjacks or other great outdoors men of the Northwest. Music that rugged persons would actually listen to. It is thoughtfully aggressive and socially poignant all at once. They sing of love, they sing of the dirt and the quietness to the country, the seductive decadence of the city and the hopelessness of living in a world that cannot or will not be understanding. But they also sing of the joy of friends, of drunken camaraderie and of the hard yet rewarding life the road brings to them. Sarah Harmer Without a doubt the most undeniably Country sounding artist on this list, Sarah Harmer seems to have a greater grasp on the central pillars of it than anyone. Her songs are so sublimely subdued and simple, not overwrought with unnecessary production or selfish flourishes. Even at the high tempo most of the numbers are played at, even when the piano flies, or when the banjo frantically picks away, they are never overbearing and they do not need to be for Sarah Harmer is one of those rare artist that can paint the most extravagant of pictures using very little. She could be taught as an object lesson to aspiring musicians of all genres about the concept of feel. She is an activist of the highest order in her home country of Canada, using her artistic clout to found and endorse various causes to protect the lands and the earth that she loves to sing for. After all, aren't country artists supposed to have an undying love for nature and the outdoors?