Tapes had two sides, both 45 minutes long. You had that long to say what you needed to say and then it was time to move on. We’re bringing that challenge back. 45 minutes to convince someone why they should like a certain band, artist, genre, or era.
It’s been a little while since I’ve made one of these Mixtapes and today I’m focusing on a genre rather than an artist. I’m a relatively ‘new’ fan of country music and I’d say I’ve probably been a fan for just under a decade. Country music in 2021 is very different to your Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson era, pulling from all sorts of other genres crossing over into Pop, RnB, Rock and even Rap and EDM. I’ve tried to sum up ‘modern’ country here in just 45 minutes which definitely isn’t the honky tonk and rodeo you might be expecting.
Girl Crush – Little Big Town (3:13)
By far the defining country record of the last 10 years, I just had to start with ‘Girl Crush’. This track is timeless and every single time I’ve heard Karen Fairchild and her bandmates perform this I’m stunned. Sort of what would happen if Fleetwood Mac had moved to Nashville and fully committed to making country music, Little Big Town are one of the most accessible entry points into the genre for anyone who’s on the fence too.
I Was Wrong – Chris Stapleton (3:11)
If ‘Girl Crush’ is the defining song, then Chris Stapleton is the defining voice of the modern country era, a songwriter for so many years and lead singer in a bunch of bands his classic bluesy sound has become the gold standard for ‘unexpected’ commercial success. I’ve picked ‘I Was Wrong’ from what I would say is his best album yet, From A Room Vol 1, because it’s just stacked full of soul and emotion. The arrangement is simple but the impact is huge. There’s very few singers right now who can out perform Chris on songs like this.
Stop Drop and Roll One – Pistol Annies (3:02)
Chosen not only for a title that’s so country it hurts, but for how it reinterprets a much older classic sound for a new era. A supergroup of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley it’s the blend of three very unique performers that makes their music really stand out. I love the steel guitars all over this, while the lyric are full of wit and genuinely hilarious moments – ‘Get this thing off a me, where in the hell is my bra? This hurts a lot more than the last time we did Mardi Gras’ a standout for me.
I Wish I Was – Maren Morris (4:00)
Definitely the most ‘pop’ of the artists I’ve mentioned so far – Maren Morris had a huge hit with DJ Zedd a few years ago – it still wouldn’t feel right to not include her here. This song wasn’t even a single, but acts more as the title track of her debut album Hero, a massively diverse and exciting country pop album that all but confirmed she was going to be huge star. I love the mix of the vocals on this song, it feels more like an intimate performance than a heavily produced track.
The Outsiders – Eric Church (4:13)
I needed to kick it up a gear at some point and there’s no one that pulls off Country Rock better than Eric Church has been doing for the last decade. This song especially was one of the first that truly broke through to me as someone who was just dipping their toe into the genre back in 2014. It’s a stadium anthem, nothing at all like most stuff coming from Nashville but it had me hooked for some reason. It’s ridiculously over the top, the ending guitar solo is like something from a Guns and Roses gig, but I absolutely had to include it here. Big big fan of Eric Church.
Girl Goin Nowhere – Ashley McBryde (3:26)
That uptempo moment didn’t last long did it? I just love ‘Girl Goin’ Nowhere’, a true songwriters song full of specific memories and pictures for the listener to fully grab onto. It’s absolutely meant to be performed live, even pointing out the crowd watching in the song and hearing Ashley sing this to a sold out festival show in the UK was magic.
Happy & Sad – Kacey Musgraves (4:03)
I have absolutely no issues with choosing such deep cuts for many of the artists I think are making the best music in the genre and this from Kacey Musgraves is the best of them all. It’s the centrepiece of the mixtape because I can’t quite believe that someone was able to write and record a song that feels as relatable as this. If you get nothing from this song then you must be dead inside, an essential track.
All Night – Brothers Osborne (2:48)
I wanted to include another example of the rockier side of country so I was going to include Luke Combs or Midland, but I ended up going with this from Brothers Osbourne. It’s pretty typical of them, full of energy and the sort of guitar riffs that rock purists probably hate, but I definitely enjoy it a lot.
Getaway Driver – Miranda Lambert (3:54)
Miranda already appeared above as part of Pistol Annies and while I’m a little ashamed that I’ve gone with her again here over the likes of Carrie Underwood, Brandi Carlile and Dierks Bentley no one has been as consistent as Miranda Lambert over the last decade. This track from her all time best album The Weight Of These Wings is a big favourite of mine, performed so plainly to give it such poignancy, it’s modern country in it’s purest form.
29 – Carly Pearce (3:43)
By far the most recent thing on my mixtape, Carly Pearce has released the best country music of 2021 so far for me. The whole of the 29 ‘EP that became an album’ is excellent for how brutally honest and to the point it is lyrically. A very public wedding and then even more public divorce in the same year has made for her best music yet because she’s taken full control of the narrative in these lyrics. Definitely go and listen to the full album as it’s the best ‘Divorce’ record I’ve heard in years.
Call to Arms – Sturgill Simpson (5:30)
Pivoting away from Nashville for the final two songs in the mixtape you’d probably lump Sturgill Simpson in with Americana rather than country. For me it’s kind of one and the same and this almost bluegrass inspired song that kicks off into a wild bluesy finale is a thrill. I’ve written on here before about the often baffling, but consistently very good music that Sturgill Simpson creates and this is a true highlight of his live shows.
Faraway Look – Yola (3:10)
Closing out a modern country mixtape with someone from Bristol might sound strange, but Yola defies all expectations. Again she seems to be placed in Americana more than country perhaps because she’s not on commercial radio, but the steel guitar and country twang is totally here. It’s that voice that I wanted to close with though, I can’t imagine anyone hearing Yola sing ‘Faraway Look’ and not at least appreciate the talent she clearly has.
What other artists, genres and eras of music should we be sum up in 45 minutes? Let us know in the comments below or over at @PickyBs on Twitter.
Words by Sam Atkins.