Written by Brett Gibbons
Country music is built on traditional values and sounds. Legends like George Strait and Merle Haggard are always referenced and paid homage to, even decades after their prime. It’s the allure of country music– callbacks, nostalgia, and memories.
Since day 1, though, artists have been pushing the envelope and redefining country music. Garth Brooks and Glenn Campbell were once considered trail blazers and created unrest within the industry, but their success and new tones have been cherished for years.
We’re not calling them the next Keith Urban, but let’s take a look at five artists that are doing their part to write the next chapter of country music.
From their inception, Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton have been pushing country music to the absolute limit. There’s heavy punk-rock influences, something the duo at Muscadine Bloodline pride themselves on. Their latest record, Burn It At Both Ends, even features B.J. Barham of American Aquarium.
On their podcast, The Grapevine Podcast (highly recommend), Charlie and Gary talk about how they don’t abide by the laws of traditional country. Their motto is, who cares what others call it? If it’s good, play it. That’s just what these boys do. To see the extremes of their tunes, compare Southern Boy Cure to Good Chunk of Change and Porch Swing Angel.
They do it all well.
There may not be anyone with a bigger cult following than Koe Wetzel. In fact, leave the state of Texas and many might not be able to tell you who he is. Koe is deeply rooted in rock– a majority of his songs could be classified as “southern rock” thanks to their heavy guitar riffs.
Koe also pushes the envelope with his lyrics. His theme follows a party hard lifestyle that borders on vulgar, something country music has stayed far away from. Love it or hate it, Koe Wetzel is not only defining his own genre of country music, but he’s bringing along a large and passionate fanbase with him.
If anyone has followed in Koe Wetzel’s footsteps, it’s newcomer Kolby Cooper. Not even old enough to drink a beer, Cooper sounds like a hardened vet. His distinct style borders rock, but has heavy country tones in the lyrics and he incorporates steel guitar into the melodies.
Where Kolby Cooper really pushes the limits on is his lyrics, maybe even more so than Koe. Songs like 2 Words and Tired are laced with profanity and innuendos, which is in defiance of traditional country. Don’t take this as avowing him, though. Kolby Cooper is one of the best songwriters and upcoming artists in the country. Get on board before everyone else does.
If you don’t know Kacey Musgraves by now, then welcome out from under your rock. She started as an ultra-traditional artist from nowhere, Texas, and even donned the “Pink Cowgirl” title. That was some years ago, and Musgraves is not only pushing the limits of country music, but also of women in music in general.
She’s more traditional than you think, though, just incorporating more 60s and 70s themes and tones into her work. Kacey Musgraves is a true trail blazer and has already hit superstardom, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t fall into this category. Compare her early work (Biscuits, Pageant Material) to her most recent record, Golden Hour.
Many are imitating her themes, and it was all started by Kacey Musgraves.
The cowboy from Saskatchewan is pushing country music in the opposite direction of the rest of the artists on this list, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t pushing the limits. Colter Wall, in every regard, is a walking man out of time, with many of his songs and themes imitating 1880-1920s old west rag music. Even his production is grainy and raw to complete the picture.
Colter Wall shouldn’t be as popular as he is with the way country music has headed. Compare anything that’s graced the Top 100 in the past 10 years to his music, and you’ll understand where we’re coming from. However, he does things so well, that you can’t help but appreciate it.
Even if it’s bringing the past to the present, Colter Wall is redefining country music and paving a way for ultra-traditionalists.