(L-R) Bassist Chris Ethridge, singer Gram Parsons, guitarist Chris Hillman, pedal steel player "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow, and drummer Michael Clarke of the country rock band "The Flying Burrito Brothers" pose for a portrait session in 1968.
Jim McCrary/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

8 Must-Hear Alternative Country Artists


Alternative country is a subgenre of country music roughly defined as including acts that have musical influences outside traditional country and top-40 pop. These alternative country artists instead cite influences such as outlaw country, alternative rock, Southern rock, punk, rockabilly, folk or R&B, to name a few. The term "alternative country" started to gain traction in the 1990s, but the origins of the country subgenre go back to the 1960s with the Flying Burrito Brothers (pictured above). Read on to learn more about eight alternative country artists who defy tradition and challenge listeners to think outside the restrictive box of traditional country music tropes.

Uncle Tupelo

MINNEAPOLIS - MARCH 20: Uncle Tupelo performs at First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 20, 1994.

Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Uncle Tupelo was an Illinois music group that was active between 1987 and 1994. The trio of Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy and Mike Heidorn recorded four studio albums during that time frame. Their debut album, No Depression, became a nickname for the entire burgeoning alternative country genre. After the band broke up, Farrar and Heidorn formed Son Volt; Tweedy and the remaining members picked up during the making of Uncle Tupelo's fourth album formed the alternative rock band Wilco.

Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams performs at ACL Live on August 07, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

Photo by Erika Goldring/FilmMagic

Three-time Grammy winner Lucinda Williams has said that she never felt part of the "straighter country music industry of Nashville." Her 1979 debut album featured a more traditional country style and received little interest from radio stations. Her 1988 self-titled album featuring the song "Passionate Kisses" came to be regarded as an "Americana classic" and received universal critical acclaim. Williams has released 14 studio albums to date, including 2020's Good Souls Better Angels. Some of her biggest hits are "Essence," "Righteously" and "Can't Let Go."

Cowboy Junkies

Cowboy Junkies perform at Ports 1961 Spring 2009 at The Promenade, Bryant Park on September 8, 2008 in New York City.

Photo by Paul Warner/WireImage

Canadian alternative country band Cowboy Junkies formed in Toronto in 1985 and features siblings Michael Timmins, Peter Timmins, vocalist Margo Timmins, as well as bassist Alan Anton. After their song "Sweet Jane" was featured on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, the band gained more recognition in the United States. Their 19th studio album, 2022's Songs of the Recollection, is a set of covers. The band, whose core lineup has remained unchanged since the '80s, has tour dates booked through 2023, so check them out if they play somewhere near you.


Steve Earle

Photo of Steve EARLE; Steve Earle backstage at Farm Aid in Austin, Texas on July 4, 1986

Ebet Roberts/Getty Images/ Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Singer-songwriter-producer-author Steve Earle released his first EP in 1982. The "Copperhead Road" and "Guitar Town" singer has won three Grammy awards and has released 21 studio albums to date, including 2021's J.T. In addition to creating alternative country music, Earle has written a play, novel and book of short stories. He is also a vocal opponent of capital punishment and has recorded a few songs, including "Billy Austin" and "Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)," about the experiences of death row inmates.

Rosanne Cash

Singer/songwriter Roseanne Cash performs on stage at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival at Golden Gate Park on October 5, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

Scott Dudelson/FilmMagic

Rosanne Cash may be the eldest daughter of country legend Johnny Cash, but her music and talent speaks for iteself. Her breakthrough hit, 1981's "Seven Year Ache," topped the country charts and became a crossover hit. Cash won a Grammy for in 1985 for "I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me," but it was the introspective 1990 album Interiors that earned her even more critical acclaim for daring to go beyond traditional country. She has released 14 studio albums to date, including 2018's She Remembers Everything, and also works as an author, having written three books, short stories and many essays.

Lyle Lovett

Lyle Lovett performs with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra during the Dr. Phillips Center Grand Celebration at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on January 25, 2022 in Orlando, Florida.

Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

Four-time Grammy winner Lyle Lovett is best known for his hit song "Cowboy Man." His music is a fusion of many different genres, including rock, country, folk blues and gospel, but it's his clever lyrics that have made him an alternative country legend. Lovett, who moonlights as an actor and was married to Julia Roberts for two years, released his most recent album, 12th of June, in 2022.

The Jayhawks

The Jayhawks, photographed before going on stage last month. They are, from left, Tim O'Reagan, Karen Grotberg, Gary Louris, and Mark Perlman. They were photographed before playing a private party.

Jeff Wheeler/ Star Tribune via Getty Images

The Jayhawks were at the forefront of the Twin Cities music scene during the 1980s and early 1990s. Their 1992 album, Hollywood Town Hall, is often cited as one of the most influential alternative country albums of all time. Guitarist-vocalist Gary Louis once said, "We defined our own little pocket and found our own voice." The band, whose most notable songs include "Waiting for the Sun," "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" and "Save It for a Rainy Day," released their 11th studio album, XOXO, in 2020.


Jason Isbell

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Jason Isbell of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit perform live on stage at the Luck Reunion on March 17, 2022 in Luck, Texas.

Jim Bennett/WireImage

Jason Isbell is a former member of Drive-By Truckers who is also known for his work with the 400 Unit and as a solo artist. The Alabama native released his first solo album in 2007. Isbell, a four-time Grammy winner, cites Neil Young as a major influence on his music. Some of Isbell's most lauded singles include "Alabama Pines," "Cover Me Up," "24 Frames" and "If We Were Vampires." He is pictured above performing with 400 Unit in Luck, Texas in March 2022.

READ MORE: Brennan Leigh + Asleep at the Wheel Strike Balance Between Western Swing Preservation and Innovation

Related Videos