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A Brief Introduction to Alternative Country part 2 . . .

Continuing the exploration of the less mainstream artists producing country and bluegrass in this day and age, today's article presents three more artists who are taking a more thoughtful and provocative approach to the genre. Interestingly, a majority of these lists are made up primarily of women, which goes hand in hand with my opinion that they are for the most part, the only people really taking risks and being innovative in music. I find this to be true across all genres and I think greatly it is because they simply have to be. The music industry has always been and still is somewhat of a 'boys club,' even in the underground and to stand out, women must truly walk the extra mile. And through the flexing of such talent and creativity, we are more often than not presented with art that is more hallowed than we would otherwise see. Carolyn Mark Carolyn Mark is a bluegrass musician from British Columbia who is steeped in the knowledge and nuances of the genre, something that is reflected brightly in her music. Country music has always been about telling a story and Carolyn Mark can do that expertly, even if her stories can be more than a little surreal at times and its easy to imagine her weaving such yarns in smokey bar rooms is far off places. And that last part is very important: Mark is not afraid to fold in various folk influences and whether it be the mountains of Canada or on the Black Sea, she would seem oddly appropriate and timeless wherever she happened to be. Being the master of composition that she is, her arrangements can range from gorgeously calm and vulnerable ballads that use sparingly the resources she has available, to bewitchingly disjointed and rollicking songs that pack full to the brim blankets and blankets of instruments and harmonies. She is as serene and soft-spoken as she is witty and confident, letting both aspects play their part where appropriate. And even better, she is not opposed to letting it be known she just how she feels about the state of country music. 'Can you believe this shit?' she asks in "Yanksgiving." No I cannot, Carolyn. No I cannot. Cat Power Generally, I am not a fan of Cat Power, but in 2006 she released an album that changed all of my opinions about her. Entitled The Greatest, it was recorded in Memphis by Grammy award winning producer Stuart Sikes in 2005 and featured a veritable who's who of legendary Memphis musicians including Easley McCain and Teenie Hodges. The talent is not wasted, being used perfectly in every moment, holding back when needed but always ready to flow back in like a serenely musical tide. Cat Power had always been known for her minimalistic approach and often I had found it to some degree quite boring, as if missing something. The Greatest follows this pattern but for one tiny detail changed: it is anything but boring. It is hushed, but never restrained and when I descried it as a tide, I meant it. There is an eminent ebb and flow to the album that is altogether enrapturing and empyrean and very much worthy of the talent that graces it. Murder By Death Not typically associated with country music, or even alternative country for that matter, the Indiana-based Murder By Death really does encapsulate these things quite well, especially on their latest album Red of Tooth and Claw. The music is of a wicked sort, with songs about the devil and sin and zombies and the dead. They present to us the evil end that mankind willingly marches to with eerily extravagant and overlapping compositions carefully arranged on ambitious concept albums. With vocals sung in a low baritone a la Johnny Cash, the music itself pays homage greatly to the music of Spaghetti Westerns but is not afraid to incorporate somber waltzes and the call and responses of Gospel music. Murder By Death represents the dark side of country music. The underbelly that is home to vigilantes and bounty hunters, the criminals and the killers, all living in sin and all crawling for redemption.