Trying to separate out the various genres that have contributed to modern poprock is a bit hopeless. Take country, for instance. It’s right there in the rock and roll DNA of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and so many others. But country has a special relationship with poprock due to its buoyant approach to melody. Some of the greats of 1940s and 1950s country were hook masters who knew how to write a tune that would leave people singing in the shower. Merle Travis, the Louvin Brothers, Johnny Horton and, of course, the grandmaster tunesmith, Hank Williams Sr. The country rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s then was really just a return to rock and roll’s roots. And, of course, some country artists that rode the border of country pop and rock and roll never really went away in the 1960s – think the Everly Brothers or Buck Owens. Happily the tradition lives on with more recent acts mining the particular joy that is country poprock. It’s country time!
Australia must be a magical place. So many super creative people live there and they all seem to start a new band every other week. Anthony Bautovitch is the driving force behind The Forresters, just one of many musical projects he’s had a hand in over the years (you might have heard of the Orange Humble Band). Read his blog entries about this project and it’s like all the musical royalty of Australia showed up to do something on these recordings. “Tremblin’’ is from the 2008 debut Skin Deep and strikes a more traditional country vibe but check out the cool horns that slide in half way through. “Are You Ready” is from 2016’s self-titled album The Forresters and it has a stronger poprock feel. The chorus unfolds like a 1960s dream sequence. Hooky goodness here. Are You Ready
I was grooving on Rhett Miller for months before I discovered he was the lead singer for the Old 97s. “Our Love” from 2002’s The Instigator has a nice new wave aura to it, even as it takes the form of a classic country song construction. By contrast, “Lost Without You” from 2012’s The Dreamer has a more traditional country feel, if channeled a bit through Wilco. Improving with age (if that’s possible), Miller has some killer recent material, including the duet with Madison King, “Feel Like Fallin’ in Love,” and the recent collaboration with Black Prairie, 2015’s The Traveler. Love “Most in the Summertime” with its great lilting chorus line ‘Don’t give up … on me.’ The pause really makes the hook work.Our LoveLost Without You
I was digging the Steve Deaton Three’s self-titled album from 2015 when I hit their cover of Buck Owen’s “Tall Dark Stranger.” How could I know I’d be in for the definitive treatment of the song? SDT ramp it up just enough to capture the melodic magic that was always there but latent in the rather languid original version. Really, I’m surprised Dwight Yoakam didn’t cog onto this great opportunity. But just to show that these guys are not just poprock rodeo kings, check out their fabulous, driving should-be hit single, “Open My Eyes.” Not country, but a poprock spectacular single. And these are not the only charms this album contains.
At a recent house concert in Toronto, the Sam Weber band performed “All Your Favourite Bands.” It being a house concert, the song ended and I asked them about it – and discovered the definitely alt-country/folk sound of Dawes. Early recordings like “When My Time Comes” from 2009 North Hills has the poetic charm of Bruce Springsteen’s first album while “If I Wanted Someone” from 2011’s Nothing is Wrong sounds more late period Eagles. But Dawes are hard to peg, with 2013’s Stories Don’t End serving up the very Steely Dan-ish “From a Window Seat” and their most recent, 2016’s We’re All Gonna Die, throwing in a bit more FM rock a la “Rocky Mountain Way” guitar and late Doobie Brothers vocals on “Roll With the Punches.”If I Wanted SomeoneRoll With the Punches
The Jayhawks were there when alt country hit the indie rock mainstream along with Wilco, Blue Rodeo and many others. We’re not going to play the obvious ones from the 1990s. These guys are masters for a reason – they’ve continued to put out solid recordings, as “She Walks in So Many Ways” from 2011’s Mockingbird Time showcases nicely. The song has a very Everly Brothers’ “Bowling Green” vibe to my ears. Oh, what the hell. “It’s Up to You” from 1997’s Sound of Lies is a pretty sweet album cut.She Walks in So Many WaysIt’s Up To You
Last up is a band I just discovered this last week, San Francisco’s Midnight North. “The Highway Song” is a peppy poprock number sweet enough to appeal to any Dolly Parton fan, with a melody that is nicely echoed by some trebly lead guitar. Great lyrics here: “So meet me on a highway … where we can sing some tunes like Johnny and June ..” The whole of their most recent album, 2017’s Under the Lights, is pretty strong, with “Greene County” turning the classic leaving scenario on its head while “Little Black Dog” harkens back to a more traditional country sound.
Keep the country flavour of this poprock alive by slapping a few dollars down on cracker barrel, electronically speaking of course. Visit The Forresters, Rhett Miller, Steve Deaton Three, Dawes, the Jayhawks, and Midnight North online.