Alex Massie

The Best Country Music?

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A reader asks polymathic Tyler Cowen for his country music recommendations and Tyler responds here, cautioning, mind you, that:

I might add the whole list comes from someone who was initially allergic to country music, so if that is you give some of these recommendations a try.  Just think of it as White Man's Blues.

Well that was me too, once upon a sad old time ago. Then I saw the light and everything's been better since. Tyler says you have to start with Hank Williams Sr and then move on to the Gram Parsons trio of: The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and, finally, Grievous Angel. That, plus Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Dolly etc etc will see you right. All sound advice.

And like Tyler, I think that George Jones and Merle Haggard, mighty fine though they be, can sometimes be a little over-rated. A couple of names he doesn't mention however: if you need Dolly Parton you also need, in my view, Emmy Lou Harris. I'd start with Roses in the Snow and take it from there (though Norm is really the man to ask about this).

You also need some grunt: so Waylon Jennings' outlaw albums, Dreaming My Dreams and Honky Tonk Heroes have to make the cut. Americana never sounded sweller.

Also, on the country-folk divide: Townes van Zandt who despite a posthumous resurrection of sorts still  often seems to be overlooked and even forgotten these days. I love the lean, spare arrangements on Rear View Mirror which contains most of his greatest songs and is, consequently, a grand place to be introduced to his wonderful, melancholy, beautiful songs.

Finally, a curiosity, just for fun: The Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies. It's not all that often that a British band makes a kinda-sorta country album and, frankly, it's an uneven piece. But I'd still recommend it on oddity gorunds alone. And some of it is fantastic: witty, yet also loving; capable of acknowledging the daftness of the project but also treating the idea with enough, but not too much, respect and, in the end, providing a deliciously curious British take on country music.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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