Country Music is a genre that can be, for many, either discounted entirely or staunchly listened to above all else. However, it is actually as varied as any genre of music. Compiling all the subgenres and movements would be a near impossible task here, but this list focuses on some of the generational shifts in Country (and Western) and highlights a few of the musicians in our collection. Make sure to also check out our free downloadable and streaming selections at Freegal and Hoopla.

Compiled by:
Brandon R.
1st Generation
The Carter Family: Don't Forget this Song

Young, Frank
Adult Graphic Novels - GN 780.92 Carter Family You

The Carter Family is well-established as country music royalty (whether you include Johnny Cash, June Carter's husband, or not). The first country vocal groups to become stars, and one of the first to record commerically, Sara, A.P., and Maybelle, the original three, had their roots in mountain gospel music. Maybelle's distinct way of guitar-playing, called the 'Carter Scratch', has influenced countless performers since. This entry in the list is a Graphic novel biography of the group, which also includes the best CD collection of songs we currently have. Freegal has many others.

Gid Tanner and The Skillet Lickers

Gid Tanner
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.43 Tan

James Gideon Tanner was of the first 'stars' of what would be called 'country music', this old-time fiddler player from Georgia, and his backing string band, popularized many "traditional American fiddle tunes that remain popular with bluegrass and country musicians to this day, like 'Down Yonder' (which sold over 1 million copies in 1934).

No Hard Times 1932

Jimmie Rodgers
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Rod

Sometimes called the 'Singing Brakeman', or retrospectively a 'Father of Country Music,' he is well-identified for his distinctive yodeling. "Not just a country artist, Rodgers was one of the biggest stars of American music between 1927 and 1933, arguably doing more to popularize blues than any other performer of his time." This set of recordings was near the end of his life, including the track 'Whippin' that Old T.B.', of which he would die from complications the following year.

2nd Generation
40 Greatest Hits

Hank Williams
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Wil

Despite his early death, from drug abuse at age 29, Hank Williams was prolifically successful with eleven #1 hits during his career. He has been covered by countless known musicians since, including his own son and grandson. His honky-tonk style influenced both rockabilly and early rock n' roll music (see: "Move It On Over" especially). More is available on Hoopla and Freegal.

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Wil

Bob Willis was one of the first to add drums to country music ("scorned by early country musicians as being 'too loud' and 'not pure'"), because he also had added horn players to what would later be termed Western swing music. Later he would be one of the first to add electric guitar. "New San Antonio Rose" propelled them out of their regional popularity in the Southwest to national exposure (which would later become a hit for Bing Crosby).

I Believe in You Darling

Bill Monroe
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Mon

Bill Monroe, along with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, is credit with developing bluegrass music. While this compilation does not feature some of Monroe's most popular songs, like "Blue Moon of Kentucky", it is sufficient. For more of the two Foggy Mountain Boys, see compilations like this one. Monroe even has an instructional DVD on how to play the mandolin. If bluegrass is an interest, make sure to check out the annual Bill Monroe Memorial Festival at the Music Park in Brown County every year.

The Old Corral
Adult Audiovisual DVD - Old

A new slew of 'singing cowboys' in motion pictures helped popularized Western music for the masses. While maybe not the most well-regarded film nowadays, this stars Gene Autry as a singing sheriff and even has a young Roy Rogers show up for a bit (who would become just as popular a movie star soon enough). For just their music, check out Autry or Rogers on Freegal.

Songs of the Smoky Mountains

Roy Acuff
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Acu

While sales of country music understandably declined during the Great Depression, the popularity of the Grand Old Opry on radio helped usher in new talent to the genre. Acuff's being the 'King of Country Music' included not only his popularity as a performer, but host of the Opry's Prince Albert Show as well as establishing Acuff-Rose Music, a music publishing firm that singed acts like Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and the Everly Brothers. This is a collection of songs re-recorded in the 1950s; for the essential originals of songs like, 'Washbash Cannonball', try Freegal.

3rd Generation
12 Greatest Hits

Patsy Cline
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Cli

The so-called 'countrypolitan' Nashville sound was a direct counter to the recent influence of honky-tonk and rock n'roll on country, replacing those 'rough' sounds with a more 'smooth' production; borrowing from recent pop music deliberately intended as a cross-over for mainstream music listeners. While she had recorded in other styles before, Patsy Cline ditched the country and western attire for a cocktail dress when she sang "Walkin' After Midnight" for her debut television performance. While she had several hits after this (as the title of the record indicates), she tragically died in a plane crash at the early age of 30.

Buck 'em!: the music of Buck Owens (1955-1967)

Buck Owens
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Owe

Perhaps more famous retrospectively for being the co-host of the television show Hee Haw, Buck Owens was an originator of the so-called Bakersfield sound of country music later emulated by artists such as Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, and Brad Paisley. Though his use of electric instruments was heavily influenced by rock n'roll, he helped bring about a revival of honky-tonk and paved the way for country rock in later years.

Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison

Johnny Cash
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Cas

This live recording of a concert for an audience of maximum security prisoners is perhaps the definitive Johnny Cash record. Rockabilly, and by this point, straight on rock n' roll, was a heavy influence on country during the early career of artists like Cash (for earlier studio recordings see this compilation). Some thought rock n' roll had too much of an influence, but without it there would have been a very different Johnny Cash.


Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

Ray Charles
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.6 Cha

Ray Charles invented his own genre in country soul when he decided to record an album of country and western standards, written and performed by white people, in rhythm & blues and jazz arrangements of his own choosing. A cross-over hit, it "quickly became one of the best-selling albums recorded by a black musician of the time, as well as one of the best-selling country albums". It simply brought more attention and interest to country music in general, while more complexly bringing black and white music audiences together in a way that had never happened before.

4th Generation
Back Home Again

John Denver
Adult Audiovisual Streaming/Download - Freegal

While some rebelled against the Nashville sound, others like John Denver built from it (drawing from the emerging folk movements as well) to provide a full-on country pop sound. His Greatest Hits have a great sampling of his work, but Back Home Again seems to be considered his finest record as a whole (with maybe Rocky Mountain High maybe a close rival, since it came before). Links to stream or download those on Freegal are provided, as well as a slew of others.

The essential Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Par

While Kenny Rogers was one of the first male artists to be equally successful on the country and pop charts, Dolly Parton has arguably been one of the most/earliest successful (female) artists to consistently make the country to pop transition; from the mix of honky-tonk and countrypolitan (on Just Because I'm a Woman) to a mid-70s pop cross-over (starting with All I Can Do) to a return to country and bluegrass a bit later (starting with The Grass is Blue), Parton's songwriting has always stood out (long after her storied collaborations with Porter Wagoner). She's also a great collaborator on many records like Trio (with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris). Check out her pages on Freegal and Hoopla to freely listen to many of these great records.

GP ; Grievous Angel

Gram Parsons
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Par

"Country rock was developed by rock musicians who began to record country-flavored records in the late 1960s and early 1970s...using country themes, vocal styles, and additional instrumentation." While Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline or The Byrds' Sweethearts of the Rodeo (which Parsons appears on) may be more retrospectively well-known, these two later solo records (with many accomplished country music artists, like Emmylou Harris, collaborating) are fine examples of what Gram Parsons called "Cosmic American Music" (after notoriously having problems working with previous bands on developing the country rock sound with his short-lived International Submarine Band and the underappreciated Flying Burrito Brothers).

Shotgun Willie

Willie Nelson
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Nel

While Red Headed Stranger might be his most successful record, and Phases and Stages his most melancholy, this Atlantic Records debut was the where the industry really took notice of Willie Nelson. He and some of his peers were labeled part of the so-called Outlaw country movement, a natural reaction to the popularity of the Nashville sound, which was solidified with the Wanted! Outlaws compilation, the first platinum-selling Country record in 1976.

Something Special

George Strait
Adult Audiovisual Streaming - Hoopla

Neotraditional country is seen as another counter response to the force of country moving into the popular mainstream; a return-to-roots not just in the fashion of the cowboy hat and boots, but a look to the elders of country music for a more stripped-down sound. Many popular country "artists like Randy Travis, Patty Loveless, and The Judds used vintage musical stylings, covers of classic country material, and carefully crafted vocal delivery to help bring New Traditionalism to the vanguard for a time". 

5th Generation
Come on Over

Shania Twain
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Twa

Shania Twain collaborated with then husband/producer/songwriter Robert John "Mutt" Lange to create an album that "became a major worldwide phenomenon and became one of the world's best selling albums of 1998, 1999 and 2000; it also went on to become the best selling country album of all time....It was noted for breaking free of traditional country stereotypes (musical brevity, a blatant honkey-tonk image, etc.), while also praising Twain for crafting an album with just as much pop/rock appeal as country appeal." Also, "No Mayo!".

No Depression

Uncle Tupelo
Adult Audiovisual Streaming/Download - Freegal

The 1990s saw an emergence of country rock musicians loosely grouped under what would be termed Alternative country. "Many eschewed the increasingly polished production values and pop sensibilities of the Nashville-dominated industry for a more lo-fi sound, frequently infused with a strong punk and rock and roll aesthetic. Lyrics may be bleak or socially aware, but also more heartfelt and less likely to use the clichés sometimes used by mainstream country musicians." This is widely considered the first major 'alt country record" by lead members Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy (who would later separately form the less country-leaning bands Son Volt and Wilco, respectively).

No Fences

Garth Brooks
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Bro

Garth Brooks reigned supreme in the 1990s breaking records for both sales and concert attendance throughout the decade (He is second only to The Beatles in total sales). His combination of stadium rock and pop influences have left a lasting mark on the 'sound' of mainstream Country (shattering any hope of neotraditional country being in the forefront again anytime soon). Also, after holding out from streaming his music for years, it only exclusively streams through now, so there's no way we'll be able to provide it online through the Library (probably ever).

6th Generation

Taylor Swift
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.42 Swi

While "Our Song", the third single from her first record, made her the youngest person to single-handedly write and perform a number-one song on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, this second record "won four Grammys and became the best-selling album of 2009 in the United States and was certified Diamond by the RIAA." While she has since crossed-over into a completely countryless pop, Swift has paved a way for crossover artists "who no longer wish to be ghettoised into arbitrarily separated musical genres." There's also the "Taylor Swift factor" in recent guitar sales among young women to consider for whomever may emerge from the next generation of (country) music artists.

Here's to the Good Times

Florida Georgia Line
Adult Audiovisual Streaming - Hoopla

The somewhat derogatorily termed Bro-country segment of current country music is
"based on summer energy, drinking beer, taking shots, driving back roads, and the romantic glories and possibilities of Friday and Saturday nights with nothing to do but look for those good times...This kind of pop/rocked-up version of country is obviously here to stay." Some like the fun incorporation of cross-over influences on the genre. For those that don't, I hope this list has shown, Country music has always found a place for commentary; while 'movements' and 'sub-genres' are retrospectively applied, they stem from musicians working off of, and often against, other music influences.

Some Hearts

Carrie Underwood
Adult Audiovisual Streaming/Download - Freegal

Carrie Underwood was the 4th winner of American Idol. "So, the powers that be decided that she would be a contemporary country singer in the vein of Faith Hill -- she'd sing anthemic country pop, ideal for either country or adult contemporary radio". While some consider her second record to be 'more country' sounding, Some Hearts "became the best-selling solo female debut album in country music history, the fastest-selling debut country album in the history of the SoundScan era and the best-selling country album of the last 10 years, being ranked by Billboard as the #1 Country Album of the 2000–2009 decade."