For almost as long as country music has lived as a genre, the argument about what makes a song, album, singer or group "country" has existed. Depending on who you ask, over time, and especially in the past couple of decades, country music has either splintered into dozens of wildly different and completely independent sub-genres and styles, or the umbrella that covers country music has simply grown bigger, keeping anything that has a hint of twang in the family.
It's become painful to listen to Top 40 country radio, or catch a few of the top videos on CMT and GAC. So, let's focus on the positive, shall we? There are a number of quality, inventive and decidedly non-cheesy artists excelling under the mainstream country umbrella these days. Eden's Edge, a young, rootsy trio from Nashville, is one of the bands that fits such a description, and will be playing at Poor David's Pub tonight. Miranda Lambert rolls into town tomorrow night.
Here's a rundown of acts that might help you look beyond Jason Aldean's hoop earring or the collective amount of highlights in Rascall Flatts' hair.
Dierks Bentley It would've been easy for Bentley to follow the pop-rock pack to even greater stardom, but he's stuck to some rootsy guns and, in the process, has managed to be a high-profile country rocker who can climb the charts while not completely selling his soul. His second and third albums, a self-tiled disc that went platinum and Modern Day Drifter (also platinum) are two of the better examples of modern country music of the past decade. Add in his passion project, the bluegrass-driven Up On the Ridge, and you have a guy who knows how to plan for the future by saluting his past, while making some seriously good music.
Eden's Edge The young group have already had chart success with their debut single, "Amen," which they wrote and have already performed on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. As always, the use of dobro and acoustic instrumentation to make one's musical point in the mainstream is admirable and more than appreciated when it works out as well as it has for this promising trio.
Miranda Lambert Another marquee name, and perhaps an obvious one for this list. Between her 2001 self-titled debut, her present involvement with the Pistol Annies, and her latest album, Four the Record, the ACM and CMA award-collecting Lindale native is perhaps the most immediately identifiable voice in country music, male or female.
Pistol Annies While we're at it: The best female trio to hit country airwaves since the Dixie Chicks have not only helped cement Lambert's rep as a bad-ass, but the project, which has spawned a number one album and a gold single, the powerhouse "Hell on Heels," has also given Music Row vet Ashley Monroe some justified shine.
Carolina Chocolate Drops We know, this one's a bit of an odd choice for any sort of mainstream list, but thanks to the insanely talented trio's single, "Country Girl," from stellar recent release Leaving Eden, the band is gaining mainstream momentum. The video for the aforementioned single has been on the top of CMT's charts for some time and it's clear this band is destined for a deservedly wider audience.
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Brad Paisley This might make some eyes roll. While Paisley has certainly rode the one-trick pony with his penchant for cheeky tunes that focus more on the joke than content ("Ticks," "I'm Just a Guy," "Online"), one would be hard-pressed to find a chart-topping, award-winning mainstream country king that has put out solid albums for as long as he has. He's also great at the honky-tonk approved sing-along (see: "I'm Gonna Miss Her" and "Alcohol.") An early album like Mud on the Tires is a great candidate for your country-hating friends. The album's hit duet with Allison Krauss, "Whiskey Lullaby," is easily one of the top five singles of this millennium's first decade. Sure, there's some not-so-great stuff to wade through, but the high points of Paisley's catalog are worth the search.
Sunny Sweeney We had to close out the list with another Texas girl, and Sweeney has had quite the journey. The small-town blonde has gone from playing Adair's in 2004 to having her current album, 2011's no-skipping-needed Concrete, boast three Top 40 singles, including the Top 10 smash, "From A Table Away." Sweeney's not the new Miranda, she's the only Sunny.