I've never really been a fan of popular country music. I don't take it seriously, consider it worse than top 40 pop, and have spent most of my life befuddled by the attraction of country to so many Americans.
Briefly at Washington University, then again in 1992, I discovered a band called Uncle Tupelo. This was an odd experience for me. Is this country or rock? Or something else? Little did I know, they were ushering in what many consider an entirely new genre called Alternative Country (or alt country or americana music). Since then I've learned to enjoy listening to bands like Wilco and Sun Volt (both offshoots of Tupelo, but very different bands today), Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams, the Bottlerockets, Lyle Lovett, and The Jayhawks. I even like much of the works of the Dixie Chicks, as they are not afraid to break away from the mainstream of popular country music. They even wrote a song at least partially about their frustrations with this mainstream. And of course there's the unclassifiable Beck who put out one of my favorite alt country albums last year.
Seeing my taste in music evolve over the past 10 years has given me cause to trace back to some original sources. My guide on this tour has been a book I picked up at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, South by Southwest: A Roadmap to Alternative Country, by Brian Hinton. He makes some odd linkages and stretches relationships a bit (I'm not sure what Tom Waits is really doing in this book), but it was extremely revealing to me to see how much of an intersection the bands I like today have with the bands I like from the 60s and 70s. In hindsight I shouldn't have been surprised, but it was revealing nonetheless. Key influencers include Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Carl Perkins, and Gram Parsons. Reading this reminded me to pick up the Byrds album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, their sometimes tongue-in-cheek homage to roots country music and gospel. Fantastic stuff.
So, now you know a bit more about my musical tastes.