10 Contemporary Alt-Country Bands You Should Know


Alt-country (or Americana, if you must) was all over the music press in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with Uncut magazine, in particular, making the genre its de facto in-house sound. Since then, its visibility has faded somewhat, but the quality of the music hasn’t suffered — while the work of artists like Lambchop, Jason Lytle and Grandaddy (who’ve recently reunited — yay!), Wilco, Calexico, Iron & Wine, Mark Kozelek et al remains well-renowned, there are plenty of other artists similarly deserving of your attention. We’ve rounded up a selection of such musicians after the jump. Do let us know who your favorites are, too.

The Avett Brothers

They really are brothers, and they’ve got a record out this week. They’re also the band that’s had our alt-country-lovin’ friends salivating most over the last couple of years — their previous album, 2009’s I And Love And You, was their major label debut, with Rick Rubin on production duties and the weight of Sony distribution behind it. It flirted with full-fledged mainstream success, briefly cracking the Billboard Top 20, which means that expectations are high indeed for its newly released successor, The Carpenter.

The Kopecky Family Band

The Avetts aren’t the only alt-country family around, mind you. There’s The Felice Brothers, for a start, and then there’s Nashville six-piece the Kopecky Family Band. The thing is, though, they aren’t actually related — but they’ve adopted a Ramones-style common surname to go with their close-knit musical bond. Their debut album Kids Raising Kids is out in October, and there’s a track for free download right now at their website.

The Willard Grant Conspiracy

We’re suckers for a good deep voice here at Flavorpill, and Robert Fisher is right up there with Stuart Staples and the “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” guy as fair as gravelly resonance goes. His band The Willard Grant Conspiracy have been around for the best part of 20 years, without ever quite enjoying the success of some of their contemporaries — it’s a shame, and their back catalog is well worth investigating.

H Honne Wells

And speaking of deep voices, we stumbled across this gentleman playing at a bar on the Lower East Side a couple of years back and were completely enraptured. Wells comes across as some sort of sinister and potentially murderous Prohibition-era troubadour, growling his songs of love and death with only a detuned archtop guitar and a battered harmonica in the way of accompaniment — his shows are well worth checking out, even if looks like he might do terrible things to you in the alley afterwards.

Angels of Light

With the resurgence of interest in Swans after the release of album-of-the-year contender The Seer, it seems like a good time to revisit Michael Gira’s “other” project, Angels of Light. Being largely acoustic, Angels of Light don’t have the punishing sonic power of Swans, but they’re just as intense in their own quiet way — and occasionally, like on the track above, quite startlingly beautiful. It’s interesting to see how Gira’s country leanings have bled their way onto The Seer, too.

Band of Horses

September seems to be a big alt-country release month, because Seattle quintet Band of Horses also have a new record on the way — it’s called Mirage Rock, and it’s due out next week. The band was one of the first manifestations of Sub Pop’s unexpected mid-’00s discovery of alt-country sounds (a love affair that’d pay whopping commercial dividends a few years later when Fleet Foxes came along) — they’ve since gone on to sign to Columbia, and world domination may well await. If you’re interested, you can hear Mirage Rock right now via Paste.

Willy Mason

Mason was born into a family of musicians, and is apparently also a direct descendant of Henry James, which means he’s got a pretty great creative pedigree. Like many of the artists on this list, his music is quiet and reflective, although it’s become more widescreen and atmospheric as the years have gone by. He last put out a full-length album in 2007, so he’s well overdue for a new release. In the meantime, his song “Live It Up” (above) remains one of our 2000s favorites.

J. Tillman

Tillman is best known for his work with Fleet Foxes, a band who are way too successful to require inclusion on this list, but casual listeners may not know he’s a prolific solo artist (and, indeed, was long before he joined up with Robin Pecknold et al). Now that he’s parted way with Fleet Foxes, he has a new moniker (Father John Misty) and a newish album that found its genesis in a half-finished novel and a road trip with “enough mushrooms to choke a horse.” Yikes.

Horse Feathers

Despite apparently being named after the madcap Marx Brothers film (we can’t imagine where else they got their band name), Portland group Horse Feathers aren’t the demonstrative types — their music is generally quiet and understated, and all the prettier for being so. Their latest record Cynic’s New Year has been one of the overlooked pleasures of 2012, and is well worth a listen.

Jim White

And finally, one of our favorite overlooked songwriters of the last decade or so. White’s quintessentially southern folk-influenced narratives have never bothered the charts, but they’re some of the most compelling and interesting songs you’ll ever hear. He’s a character to rival some of those from his songs, too — according to his Allmusic bio he’s been a professional surfer, a catwalk model in Milan, and a preacher, although it’s difficult to separate the man from the myth.