Collection: Essential Country Albums

Country, aka Country & Western, started off as "hillbilly music" and "cowboy music" in the 1920's. The Carter Family was one of the first groups to achieve widespread attention for a Country sound. Maybelle Carter created a distinctive style of guitar playing that influenced generations to come. Rural America found a reflection of itself in their songs. The yodelling of Jimmie Rodgers also struck a chord. Labels like Columbia and Okeh Records found success in releasing the early versions of Country and Folk. Bob Wills combined jazz and country in a style known as Western Swing. Bluegrass was developed and popularized by Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, and Flatt & Scruggs. In the 1950's Honky Tonk and Rockabilly became popular with artists like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. In the late 50's and early 60's Nashville transformed Country with its polished Pop style productions. Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves were stars of this new standard. In the 70's Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings made a name for themselves as Outlaw Country musicians because of their non-conforming style. In general Country started to blend with Rock and Folk sounds. John Denver, Alabama, Townes Van Zandt, and The Flying Burrito Brothers are notable examples of these hybrids. Meanwhile artists like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers took country into the Pop charts again. In the 1980's there was a return to traditional sounds, a backlash against the Pop style recordings which had dominated the late 70's. Randy Travis, George Strait, The Judds, Reba McEntire, and Dwight Yoakam all made names for themselves in this traditionalist movement. In the 90's the industry swung the other direction and became a full on Pop culture phenomenon rivaling Rock and R&B in sales. Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, and the Dixie Chicks kept Country in the Pop charts. This trend continued into the 21st century with artists like Talyor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Some contemporary country artists like First Aid Kit have kept on the Pop path while others like Sturgill Simpson and Tami Neilson, inspired by the classics, go for a retro sound. This is a small collection of timeless and essential Country albums covering a wide range of styles. - Scott Boutin