This blog recently ran down the “10 Biggest Douchebags in Country Music.” That’s all well and good, but it only tells half the story — country is far from a moribund, cheesed-out genre.
In fact, there are countless up-and-coming country craftsmen and women who are worthy of your attention. So if you’re wearing out your lone Johnny Cash record, you’re doing it wrong. Here are 10 of 2014’s top outlaws.
10. Eric Church
Country radio isn’t totally useless… just mostly useless. The man giving it one toe in the pond of relevancy is Eric Church. If you updated Hank Williams Jr.’s southern rock flirtations for the 21st century (with a detour through latter-day Metallica), you have Church, who’s able to command street-level respect while winning industry awards.
9. Daniel Romano
The Nudie suit went out sometime around 1975, but no one told Daniel Romano. And hey, we’re glad to see it come back, along with Romano’s timeless and classic country sound. His lazy, rambling style is reminiscent of George Jones or Conway Twitty. Lots of bawlers in here, kids, so bring a tissue.
8. Caitlin Rose
The comparisons to Loretta Lynn are almost too easy. She also might be Graham Parsons reborn as a woman. Caitlin Rose’s songs are the perfect heartache music to give your young cousin currently obsessed with Taylor Swift if you want to turn her on to something, y’know, good.
7. Doop and the Inside Outlaws
Everyone loves a good singer-songwriter, and when he’s got a killer band behind him, that’s just the icing on the cake. The brainchild of Detroit-based, laid-off firefighter Don Duprie, Doop has all the murder ballads and anthems to self-loathing you’ve come to expect from the greats.
6. Secret Sisters
Laura and Lydia Rogers grew up singing together in church; they somehow ended up being this century’s Everly Brothers. Their self-titled debut is one of those rare moments of crystal-clear perfection in country music. Their latest effort, Put Your Needle Down, contains a few more rockers.
5. Lydia Loveless
Whereas female country artists of the past often focused on their menfolk’s foibles, Lydia Loveless celebrates her own. Loveless writes some of the best anthems to drunken dysfunction this side of Waylon Jennings — disaster pieces for disastrous people.
4. Shovels & Rope
They’re a married two-piece band, but unlike the White Stripes they’re not the worst thing to happen to music in the last 20 years. Country, folk, and blues all blend in to catchy tunes you’ll be spinning over and over again.
3. Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson might be the smartest man in country music’s history. His 2014 release Metamodern Sounds in Country Music sums it up: He’s giving a nod to every era of country. We suggest starting with “You Can Have the Crown” or “Turtles All the Way Down.”
2. Hellbound Glory
Hellbound Glory calls their music “scumbag country.” We, however, could characterize it as serious shit kicker anthems about boozing, doping, pilling and smoking.
Think of them as evoking the energy of the wildest party Waylon, Willie, and Bocephus ever had.
1. Whitey Morgan and the 78’s
Whitey Morgan and the 78’s are the greatest country band you’ve never heard. In the country bar of your wildest dreams, this is what plays on the jukebox while you double-fist Miller High Life and shots of Fireball, including everything from rockers to weepers, honky tonks to cheaters.