Discussion: Wide Open Country

Apparently, country music is the place to be right now! Who isn’t releasing a country album these days? I read just this week that Kevin Costner (yes, that Kevin Costner) is coming out with a country album on November 11th and sending singles to radio this week. I also read that Dan Evans, a contestant on the Biggest Loser, is coming out with an album inspired by Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban. I’m also still waiting for Beyonce’s country album…and I wouldn’t be surprised if Britney Spears makes a country album (after all, she is from Louisiana) if her next album doesn’t sell.

But all of this has got me thinking about who I would actually like to see “cross-over” into country music. One artist that I’d love to see give it a try is one of my favorite new artists (well, new to me) Brandi Carlile, a folk-rock singer-songwriter from the Pacific Northwest. I’ll be honest, if country radio started playing her, I might start listening again. Part Patsy Cline, part Bonnie Raitt, part Natalie Maines, she’s got a soulful wail the likes of which I haven’t heard in a long time. She injects more passion, heart and intensity into one track than all of the songs on current top 40 country radio combined.

Although removed from country’s mainstream, Carlile recently hasn’t been afraid to tip-toe around the edges: Her last album, The Story, was produced by T-Bone Burnett (of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? fame), her upcoming album was recorded at Blackbird Studio in Nashville, and her recent live EP includes a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” (Has anyone else noticed that artists in other genres are embracing country music’s greats, while self-proclaimed country artists are ignoring them?) She also has country in her genes: Her grandfather was also a yodeler and bluegrass-country singer, and his mother a saloon-style pianist.

As a teenager, Carlile apparently tried to rid her voice of its country sound, but she definitely has it, and I’d love to see her embrace it in the future. Seriously, how can you not love an artist who remarked after her voice famously cracked while recording the title track of her last album that although it was an accident, it was a welcome one—one that was “technically wrong but emotionally right”? That’s a concept that Nashville somehow forgot along the way, and would do well to remember again.

So, with that, who would you love to see “cross-over” into country music?


  1. I don’t want to see anybody cross over into country music. I’d much rather see some authentic country singers have some mainstream success. It would be a refreshing change.

  2. Lately, besides country and bluegrass music, acoustic folky music is what I loved to hear. I’d be elated if Grant Lee Phillips did a country flavored album.

  3. I love the song “The Story” by Brandi Carlile. I listen to it all the time, but I don’t actually know any other songs by her. However, if that song is any indication of her other music, I think she would be a welcome edition to the country music genre.

  4. I think Brandi Carlile would make a good country singer. I also think that Steve Tyrell would make an effective, if somewhat idiosyncratic, country singer

  5. YES to Brandi Carlile. I was introduced to her with the song, “Someday Never Comes,” from her debut album, and I never fail to stop whatever I’m doing when she slides up to that C sharp so smoothly.

    As to the question, who I’d like to see crossover? I’m actually kind of interested in what Kelly Clarkson has to offer. I think she’s a superb vocalist/artist.

  6. Lynn, you forgot to mention Sebastian Bach in your post.:)

    By the way, after checking her out, I’m with you on Brandi Carlile.

  7. This is so funny, because I was literally thinking the other day about writing a post at Squinty’s about how I wish Brandi Carlile would start recording country music. I think she’s got one of the best female voices out there today, in any genre. Plus I just really like country-folkies (and am always open for recommendations on good ones, as a general note to no one in particular).

    I’ll have to think on the question, though. It’s a toughie.

  8. I have one for you. Lizz Wright. She’s just dynamic. Her latest album “The Orchard” is almost country anyway. She has a voice that recalls Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer. It’s one of those haunting voices that really sings circles around ANY of the current country “divas” on the charts. Kinda like the way Bekka Bramlett can.

  9. Great topic!

    I’d like to see Keith, Carrie, Martina, Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift and Sugarland cross over and do some real Country.

    Seriously, I wish John Fogerty would do a “Van Zant” and make the leap to straight Country…he’s dabbled in the past, and it would only be a small jump…Same with the Eagles, I wish they would stop fighting it and admit they are Country at heart, if not country to the core. (weren’t they nominated for country vocal group this year?) IMO “How Long” is one of the best Country songs I’ve heard in years by male artists.

    -Steve from Boston

  10. Also, I am now curious about Brandi Carlile and Lizz Wright, thanks to your recomendations.

    Thank goodness for MySpace music and other sites where we can sample unfamiliar artists and discover great new music!

  11. Dan, I think that’s what I meant in my earlier comment–rather than acoustic folk, it’s country folk or folk rock…I don’t know how to classify it.

    Ignore the actual video, but here’s a Grant Lee Phillips song that I love:

    I also think Sam Phillips would be great too. She in the same hard to describe category:

  12. I agree about Brandi Carlile; she’s almost country already, but an actual country album would make my day. Though, I do wonder how accepting country radio/fans would be, since she’s an “out” lesbian.

    I’d like to see Patty Griffin put out a country album. She switches between genres so effortlessly, I’d love to hear her singing classic country songs.

    As a longtime fan of Jewel, I was actually waiting for a country album for years, since she already played similar songs in concert. But the end result was underwhelming for me; go figure.

  13. Roger, it’s nice to hear that Tina is on tour again, don’t you think? She seems peaceful and content, but still motivated to make statements with her music. A true legend. Give her a Loretta or Dolly song and watch her go.

    Brandi Carlile’s quite a talent. She wouldn’t be mainstream necessarily, but could make quite a mark “on the fringe”.

    For all of the country artists that record his work, I’d love to see Bruce Springsteen do his own take on a country album.

  14. With respect to Tina Turner–she actually did a country album way, way back in 1974 called TINA TURNER TURNS THE COUNTRY ON, which included covers of “I’m Movin’ On” (the Hank Snow classic) and “Long Long Time” (which Linda Ronstadt made into a standard in 1970). It wasn’t particularly successful, either critically or commercially; and she didn’t really step out from under the shadow of her ex until PRIVATE DANCER, in 1984.

    As for who I’d like to see come over from “the other side” to make a country album, I can see Brandi Carlile, as obviously others have, doing it, though she’s more of a Sheryl Crow type, mixing sounds together. Would anyone be as accepting of that now as they were three to four decades ago?

    I’d like to see Linda do another country album before she finally calls it a career. But in all fairness, she’d almost certainly make one that would not be allowed airplay amongst the Carrie Underwoods and Taylor Swifts of today’s country music industry.

  15. I’m really amazed Kid Rock did so well with Country. Especially “Picture” with Sheryl Crow. I think he wrote that song as well, if I’m not mistaken. Not crazy about his “Werewolves of London/Sweet Home Alabama” hybrid though.

  16. Kid Rock did write “Picture.” He did fine with his “All Summer Long” mashup. I like it but think the fact that it was literally the summer hit of the year (Top 10 on like 6 charts), really burnt people out on it.

  17. I agree that we need more homegrown country stars. I get tired of reading profiles of “country” singers who, when asked their musical influences, don’t mention even one country artist.

  18. Brandi Carlisle actually got some video play from either GAC or CMT (I forget) with “The Story”.
    She is really good but has such a powerful, “skilled” style ala k.d. lang that I don’t think mainstream country would show the love.

    One or both of those same two video networks also put Colbie Caillat in occasional rotation.
    I really like her cd but the stretch to call her country is just not necessary.

  19. You can get some of the Tina Turner country cuts on Amazon. I actually dig her take on “You Ain’t Woman Enough”, just because she turns Loretta’s original line – “I’ll have to let him go” into “Ima have to let him go.” Anybody who can make a Loretta Lynn song more grammatically incorrect is in pretty exclusive territory.

  20. I’ve got Tina’s country album – there’s a reason it wasn’t successful either critically or commercially – with the exception of about two cuts, it really stinks

  21. In response to what Lynn said in her opening remarks about non-country artists embracing country music’s legends, while self-proclaimed country artists seem to ignore them: I would have to say that many of the non-country ones not only listen to legends like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, or Merle Haggard, they practically absorb and study them. They try to get every nuance, every meaning that they can from each and every song. This is probably antithetical to those who don’t think country music should be intellectualized. But as so many such artists come from well-educated backgrounds, the fact that they seem to know far more about country music’s rich history than many of today’s big names is very eye-opening.

    Why today’s supposedly “straight” country artists don’t seem to care for the durable country music of the past the way the “non-country” ones do should give true country music fans some pause. Something is definitely not right in the city of Nashville.

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