The Modern “alt-Country” Movement Begins

It was a hot day in late June, and I had just tuned in to Outlaw radio on Sirius XM. As Shooter Jennings says in his song “Outlaw You” I was “Looking for some country soul”.  At this point, I was definitely fed up with the industrialized, machine-packed, conservative pandering music coming out of Nashville. I was constantly looking to the old outlaws, rising stars of Red-dirt country, and loyal artists like Jamey Johnson, and Shooter for some relatable country art.

I was raised on the honesty of Merle Haggard, the rocking rhythm of Johnny Cash, and the originality of Waylon Jennings.  Many people have wrongly assumed that the issue with what is coming out of Nashville, is simply that it is not truly country.  While an electronic hip/hop beat, and banjo track is hardly “country”, what has really been lacking, is truth and originality.

It was on this hot day in late June where I began to hear a different tune.  I heard a familiar back-beat, and a nasally deep voice that screamed honesty and hard work.  I immediately felt a changing wind in the country music world.

“Well they say you live and learn, but it really seems more to me like all along I’ve been learn’ how to live.”  Sturgill Simpson came blasting through my speakers with the first bit of original truth I had ever heard.  I went home and bought his album “High Top Mountain” learning more about this Kentucky raised, railroad working, ex-navy, guitar picker with every song that came on.

The next couple of months, I had friends calling or texting me asking if I had heard of this “Poor Rambler” that sounded like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings some how had a baby.  (I once heard Sturgill say in an interview that Shooter told him that he reminded him of Waylon).

Just before people started hollering “Savior of Country music”, he released “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music”; And just like that, a new genre of country was invented; one that only Sturgill could perform.  A psychedelic, country album.  Critic’s heads spun while they tried to decode the lyrics to “Turtles all the way Down”.  On his “Tiny Desk” performance, Sturgill grins and tells us that the song is simply about drugs; which is not something that you’re allowed to talk about in country music.

“Metamodern” was not immediately well recieved by everyone.  Infact, many country fans were upset with the liberal tones that were prevelant in songs like “Turtles”, but Sturgill stuck to his guns, and we all loved him for it.  Often times art is meant to stir up controversy because it comes from within a human being.  We are all different, and are bound to disagree on things; but what this world has been missing is the ability to honestly dialogue.  Sturgill has changed that.

Sturgill further proved his originality with his most recent album “Sailors Guide to Earth”.    This album is essentially a letter to his son, and a “thank you” to his family for allowing him to pursue his career in music.  This album was not inspired by Johnny Cash, or other country legends, but by Walt Disney.  Sturgill tells us that he was inspired by the movies his son, Polywog, was watching.

In this album, Sturgill tells us more about his life experiences from his tour in the Navy, to his taste in music, and his teenage angst.  He doesn’t name drop former country artists, and he doesn’t pander to the Nascar crowd.  Yet country fans love him.  Despite not appearing on country radio, Sturgill is on every country music fans playlist, and sells out music venues every where he goes.  You can here countless amounts of “good ol’ boys” hollering, “whoo-hoo-hoo!” to “It Ain’t All Flowers” singing along with all of his songs.

The attention of country music fans has begun to shift, which has alot to do with Sturgill stepping out in honesty and originality.  We have now seen the rise of Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers, and many others that you won’t hear on the radio.  Honesty and originality is becoming the new norm.  Much like “Wanted! The Outlaws” and Waylon Jennings did in the early 70’s when he defied the almighty Nashville music Industry, Sturgill has defied the country music god’s, simply by being himself, and has opened the gate for real music once again.