Seven Mainstream/Top 40 Country Acts That Don't Suck

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Eden's Edge
For almost as long as country music has lived as a genre, the argument about what makes a song, album, singer or group "country" has existed. Depending on who you ask, over time, and especially in the past couple of decades, country music has either splintered into dozens of wildly different and completely independent sub-genres and styles, or the umbrella that covers country music has simply grown bigger, keeping anything that has a hint of twang in the family.

It's become painful to listen to Top 40 country radio, or catch a few of the top videos on CMT and GAC. So, let's focus on the positive, shall we? There are a number of quality, inventive and decidedly non-cheesy artists excelling under the mainstream country umbrella these days. Eden's Edge, a young, rootsy trio from Nashville, is one of the bands that fits such a description, and will be playing at Poor David's Pub tonight. Miranda Lambert rolls into town tomorrow night.

Here's a rundown of acts that might help you look beyond Jason Aldean's hoop earring or the collective amount of highlights in Rascall Flatts' hair.

Dierks Bentley
It would've been easy for Bentley to follow the pop-rock pack to even greater stardom, but he's stuck to some rootsy guns and, in the process, has managed to be a high-profile country rocker who can climb the charts while not completely selling his soul. His second and third albums, a self-tiled disc that went platinum and Modern Day Drifter (also platinum) are two of the better examples of modern country music of the past decade. Add in his passion project, the bluegrass-driven Up On the Ridge, and you have a guy who knows how to plan for the future by saluting his past, while making some seriously good music.

Eden's Edge
The young group have already had chart success with their debut single, "Amen," which they wrote and have already performed on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. As always, the use of dobro and acoustic instrumentation to make one's musical point in the mainstream is admirable and more than appreciated when it works out as well as it has for this promising trio.

Miranda Lambert
Another marquee name, and perhaps an obvious one for this list. Between her 2001 self-titled debut, her present involvement with the Pistol Annies, and her latest album, Four the Record, the ACM and CMA award-collecting Lindale native is perhaps the most immediately identifiable voice in country music, male or female.

Pistol Annies
While we're at it: The best female trio to hit country airwaves since the Dixie Chicks have not only helped cement Lambert's rep as a bad-ass, but the project, which has spawned a number one album and a gold single, the powerhouse "Hell on Heels," has also given Music Row vet Ashley Monroe some justified shine.

Carolina Chocolate Drops
We know, this one's a bit of an odd choice for any sort of mainstream list, but thanks to the insanely talented trio's single, "Country Girl," from stellar recent release Leaving Eden, the band is gaining mainstream momentum. The video for the aforementioned single has been on the top of CMT's charts for some time and it's clear this band is destined for a deservedly wider audience.


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19 comments
rogerthat12
rogerthat12

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are not mainstream/ top 40 country.

GinaRD
GinaRD

While I disagree that it's painful to listen to the country top 40 -- there's all kinds of good stuff in there if one is willing to expand one's horizons a little! -- there are some great acts highlighted here. Especially Edens Edge, my favorite group EVER. Also liked the Pistol Annies shoutout.

BubbaCo
BubbaCo

You can put Zane Williams on the list.

Mervis
Mervis like.author.displayName 1 Like

Thanks to all the tractable pliable country fans.

Tyler
Tyler

Carolina Chocolate Drops are the only one I say doesn't suck!

Steve
Steve

Taylor Swift is a joke. 

And speaking of jokes, aren't most of Brad Paisley's songs Joke Songs?  He seems to waste his considerable musical talent with throwaway lyrics.  But he doesn't suck.

Chris&Wesson
Chris&Wesson

How is Taylor Swift a joke? Because you don't like her? Because she writes kid-friendly pop-driven country songs? Because her voice is less than perfect?

I'm a 29 year old father of two and I think she is a fantastic songwriter (see "Dear John", "White Horse", "Mean", "Back to December", etc). By her third album, which is by far her best, she wrote every song on the album. And I'd much rather have a flawed voice with excellent writing than a perfect voice with derivative crap.

just sayin'
just sayin'

Excellent writing? Maybe if you are a 14 year old girl. Or once were a 14 year old girl. I don't know why anyone even calsl her music country anymore. Like 99% of shit on "country" radio these days, Taylor Swift is nothing but tween pop with a fiddle in the background.

Jasa
Jasa

Miranda lambert & pistol annies try waaay to hard. I want to like her cus she's from Texas but I'd rather shoot myself in the face than listen to her voice

East Dallas Dad
East Dallas Dad

I love the Carolina Chocolate Drops but don't know a lot about the others.

The only way for a "country" act not to sell out these days is to stay the hell out of Nashville.  Life is too short and there's too much real country music (often called Americana or Outlaw Country or any of about another dozen monikers) out there to waste time on the over-produced, watered down pop that Nashville spews out as fast as the house fraus can gobble it up.

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

since you put Paisley in there, i'll confess my love for Martina McBride. she doesn't write her own stuff but the tiny lady can really belt out a song. blows away Faith or Shania. and George Strait makes me cringe sometimes, but ocassionally puts out a classic. watch for the Mavericks comeback this year.  

Kelly D.
Kelly D.

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Carrie U and Taylor Swift are indeed talents, but as this is a personal, subjective list, I just couldn't add them. I mainly hated to leave Jamey Johnson off the list. I only did that as he doesn't have anything current or new out at this time. For my $$, there isn't a finer country artist that has been commercially popular (two gold albums in the past few years) while being decidedly non-poppy.

Mickister
Mickister

Dierks Bentley does a lot with not a lot of talent.  The guy flat out can't sing, but he chooses songs that match his raspy voice.  He sticks to his bluegrass roots, and he has fun with a lot of his songs.

I don't like Miranda Lambert's music that much.  The acoustic guitars were fun in "White Liar" and some of her earlier songs had quite an edge to them.  But her thick East Texas accent, some of the loud, clanging guitars, and moralizing lyrics wear on me.

Nick R.
Nick R.

Love the Carolina Chocolate Drops. 

Chris&Wesson
Chris&Wesson

A surprisingly decent list I must say. I've never been one to rule out an entire genre like many people do, but I've also admittedly stayed away from most country music. I even have a general rule of thumb that I won't listen to any country made after 1990 save for early Garth Brooks (I know - I can't help it). There have been a few artists since then that don't make me cringe but not many. My main concern is that you left out (some would say rightfully so) the two biggest names in country today: Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift. Don't get me wrong, Carrie loses points for lack of originality, but damned if she doesn't have the most powerful and technically brilliant voice in country. That's gotta count for something. As for Taylor, her voice may leave something to be desired for a lot of people, and people may not accept the pop aspects, but for her age (and understanding her spot in country music) I don't think there is a better songwriter in the genre.

Mickister
Mickister

I agree with these assessments.  Underwood probably has one of the best voices in pop music, but her sound is very derivative.  Swift is a good songwriter, but her vocals are below average, and she probably needs to evolve a little from the ex-boyfriend lyrics.

I didn't comment on Paisley, but he's an incredible guitarist.  Ever notice that most country frontmen have a guitar, seem to be playing the guitar, but you can't actually hear any guitars that match what they're doing? 

If I created list, it would probably include Josh Turner, Little Big Town, Zach Brown Band, and Street Corner Symphony.  I think what all those acts have in common is that, for me, being able to sing and harmonize covers a lot of other flaws.

biff
biff

Watch out, the Toby Keith internet brigade will be here in a minute to avenge him not being in this list

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