Oftentimes music genres can get painted as monoliths, when in fact there’s more going on if you know where to look for it. Country music, for example, often seems like it’s mostly “bro country” like Florida Georgia Line (“Cruise”) or “boyfriend country” like Dan + Shay (famous recently for “10,000 Hours” feat. Justin Bieber) or love letters to small-town life and the USA (Brad Paisley covers all three on album Time Well Wasted). But country music has a long history of activism and messages about social equality and the need for change, in addition to all of the above. Here are some artists you can check out from our music CD collection today, and the issues they care about.
Johnny Cash was known for many things, among which were his “politics of empathy“, manifesting in advocacy for Native Americans and for prison reform. For a sample, try Johnny Cash at San Quentin.
Kacey Musgraves’ songs are all for inclusion and deviating from the norm, including songs about gay love, weed, and casual hookups. Listen to Same Trailer Different Park for her hit “Follow Your Arrow”.
Tim McGraw’s Machine Hits 2013-2019 are a good overview of his democrat country vibe, though it may not capture his work for an anti-gun violence initiative supporting Sandy Hook.
Loretta Lynn was not just an icon of country music, she also shocked audiences with a song about the pill. Her album Still Woman Enough may not openly advocate for birth control but it is pro-women all the way.
Willie Nelson, of course, is a beloved and complicated character who hasn’t been shy about advocating for marijuana legalization. Try his latest, A Beautiful Time, or Band of Brothers.
LeAnn Rimes has long been an advocate for equality and LGBTQ rights, speaking out for the It Gets Better video movement. From our collection, try 2017’s Remnants.
And finally, we can’t forget Garth Brooks’ longstanding message of understanding and compassion, best seen in country anthem “We Shall Be Free,” featured on The Chase.
Of course there’s still more fascinating music lurking under the country umbrella, not least of all is the “Southern Gothic” subgenre, inspired by authors like Flannery O’Connor and V.C. Andrews, and full of death, ghosts, betrayal, religion, violence, and much more… but that’s a story for another post.
What’s YOUR favorite lesser-known music subgenre?