The Dying Californian’s frayed alt-country ballads pack such subtly heartbreaking lyrics, you may find yourself hitting rewind the same way you used to with R.E.M.’s Murmur. Exhibit A, from “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me”: “If you tell me you love me/It would be a bad thing/My heart would start wondering/About the songs it could sing.”
Mar-Tie the Avant Garde Grandpa
Imagine Wesley Willis, but old, white, thin, and into country. Casio-inspired riffs and wisdom from someone else fighting demons (many of the female persuasion).
Backwater country blues performed with a weathered sophistication that makes it all the more tempting. Think Billie Holiday in overalls.
Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter
Like Cowboy Junkies after a few drinks, Jesse Sykes and her all-star band swing the heartache with equal parts grit and beauty.
Johnny Dilks and His Visitacion Valley Boys
Country that is as timeless as a shot of Jim Beam and a soft pack of Marlboros.
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Sly, absurdist bluegrass from the borough of Brooklyn (natch). How can you not smile at a couplet like, “But when she danced/The monkey filled her pants?”
Sunday morning hangover slow with a twang of hopefulness. Beauty that hurts.
The Broken Family Band
Cooler country music than anything coming out of Nashville, and they’re from the UK for crying out loud, and they sing about robots. Win/win.
Calexico sound at home in whatever spin they put on their decidedly Southwestern flavor — from smoldering mariachi (“Stray”) to box-step blues (“Sunken Waltz”). Tequila not included.
A laid-back, lo-fi country gem that’s downright sexy.