The 10 Greatest Alt-Country Bands Ever

Categories: Commentary

Uncle+Tupelo.jpg
The late, great Uncle Tupelo
With Jay Farrar and Son Volt playing at the Sons of Hermann Hall this weekend, it seems a good time to evaluate the entire Alt-country semi-movement. For all practical matters, Alt-country began with Uncle Tupelo's album No Depression in 1990. Shortly thereafter, the magazine of the same name was published and it seemed that every city had its own selection of Alt-country acts.

Although none of the following bands were commercial blockbusters, all of them have made some incredible music by fusing country, folk, rock and punk and the majority of them are still going strong.

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10. The Bottle Rockets - Closely associated with Uncle Tupelo, Missouri's The Bottle Rockets began life in 1992 as a balls-to-the-wall, extremely loud alt-country act, and these guys have never looked back. In fact, it's pretty hard to discern much difference in any of the band's ten albums (acoustic forays notwithstanding). However, when it worked, as it did on 1995's The Brooklyn Side, the results were bone crunching and anthemic.


9. The Blood Oranges - Led by one Mark Spencer (who now plays with Son Volt), the Blood Oranges are another band that deserved better recognition. Between 1990 and 1994, the band released three superb albums. The final one, The Crying Tree, is an alt-country gem waiting to be rediscovered. Bassist Cheri Knight has made a couple of solid solo efforts as well.


8. Old 97s - A DFW institution, the Old 97's tried to part ways with alt-country after the release of the seminal Too Far to Care in 1997. After not making it to the mainstream, Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond steered the band back to the fold with 2004's Drag it Up. Impressively, the band seems to be back on track to making music better suited to honkytonks than corporate shindigs.


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28 comments
BOWG
BOWG

I don't mind admitting my age....Parsons and the Burritos are way more than honorable mention.  Doesn't anybody remember Pure Prairie League?  Bet Vince Gill does.  Great list nonetheless.  Thanks to all for the insight into some bands I did not know.

sterno1
sterno1

Bellwether? Where is Bellwether?

mhklapper
mhklapper

I'd say that's  a pretty damn good list, but IMHO - the biggest miss here is The Reivers.  They were among the pioneers back in the day (along with UT) that defined the genre.  The Reivers staked out the more melodic common ground while UT went for the mash-up of extremes.    In my book, these two bands  formed the original core of the alt-country movement.  You'd also have to think hard about including Alejandro Escovedo, tho I'd admit that shoehorning his best work into the alt-country silo is a bit of a stretch.

ricolocohb
ricolocohb

@mhklapper Well played.  Saw the Reivers (then Zeitgeist) play with the True Believers numerous times during my College Daze.  I remember hearing the Reivers version of "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" several times on Austin Radio.

weemd1
weemd1

Bludgers opened for #1, 8, 10 and our drummer drummed for #6.

weemd1
weemd1

Bludgers opened for #1, 8, 10


inthegarden1
inthegarden1

Gotta get the Gear Daddies and Hangdogs in there and pretty high up on my list.

darrylrs
darrylrs

both great bands, but they would both land in the bottom half of a top twenty list. maybe one and a half good albums between the two of them.

inthegarden1
inthegarden1

Gotta get the Gear Daddies and Hangdogs in there and pretty high up on my list.

princesscowboy
princesscowboy

Horse shit. Only a shitty Texas weekly would bother with the Gourds or 97's.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

The Old 97's albums Wreck Your Life and Too Far To Car were the soundtrack of my twenties. Both of those albums are fantastic from beginning to end. 

gifford.linda2
gifford.linda2

Hard to pin it down to 10, but definitely a good list...all in my top 20, for sure <3

ulysses
ulysses

Apparently you've never heard of the Bad Livers, Split Lip Rayfield, Handsome Family, or Texas Meat Purveyors?

darrylrs
darrylrs

Of course, I've heard of these bands, but they didn't make the cut. Bad Livers? Pleeeeeze.

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

I knew the DO would produce a good list in this century; somebody "done" homework!  Maybe expand the list to 11, and include The Long Ryders......would have been none of these bands without the Cow Punk pioneers. 

Zach
Zach

No Rank and File? The Kinman brothers pretty much started the genre.

TheIndigoRider
TheIndigoRider like.author.displayName 1 Like

An interesting list, especially since there are a couple of bands that I haven't heard of and a couple others that I've heard of but aren't familiar with.  But I'm not sure that I'd call all these alt-country.  Americana, yeah.  Roots rock, yeah.  But I always thought alt-country had a bit more of a twang to it, or country acts that were pretty much ignored by Nashville.  That said, I'd expect to see artists like BR5-49, Robbie Fulks, Jason and the Scorchers, Billy Joe Shaver, The Derailers, Chuck Mead, The Handsome Family...  I could go on, this is such an underrated and ignored genre...

kfries1
kfries1

Leaving out Neko and the Junkies shows how pointless this is.

Jason Haisler
Jason Haisler

Yeah, Isbell era DBT should definitely make the cut.

Noah Bailey
Noah Bailey like.author.displayName 1 Like

Good list, but Drive-By Truckers belong in the top three.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@Noah Bailey  I like DBT but I don't know if I would place them that high. They should have been on the list though. This easily could have been a top 20.

nothingnessdarren
nothingnessdarren

No 16 Horsepower? By far my favorite of what i'd call alt-country.

darrylrs
darrylrs

I tried to get into these guys and i kept thinking they sounded like stone temple pilots trying to play alt-country. but that's just me.

Steve
Steve

Pretty much my top-ten bands

KellyDearmore
KellyDearmore

Great list, but a safe one, maybe? Even dipping down to a Top 15 would've forced some seriously tough decisions and arguable exclusions or inclusions (V-Roy's, Drive by Truckers, Lucero, Jason and Scorchers). Regardless, every band on the list has made seminal albums at one point or another.

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