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American Pride? 11 Songs About A Complicated America, From Prince, Dolly Parton & More
In America's current political climate, 4th of July 2022 may be approached with mixed feelings. But as artists like Childish Gambino and Nina Simone have expressed in song, the U.S. has long had its challenges.
As America turns 246 years old on July 4, this Independence Day may not find most Americans feeling as free as they might have on Fourth of Julys past. Yet, as the fight to maintain democracy heats up to an uncomfortable degree, we can still seek solace and strength from the songs that are written about America and use them to inspire change.
The 11 songs presented here span more than 50 years of social activism. They collectively illuminate how fighting for rights and equality have threaded American society, and how there's still plenty of room for growth. There's a lot to despair over right now, but the accompanying playlist is intended as a reminder not to lose hope during the long fight ahead.
However you're commemorating the holiday, dive into these powerful songs from Prince and The Revolution, Rage Against the Machine, Dolly Parton and more.
Nina Simone — "Mississippi Goddam" (1964)
Racial segregation and oppression in the civil rights movement battleground states — Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee — are Nina Simone's focus in "Mississippi Goddam." "Desegregation," she sings, as her band responds, "Do it slow." "Mass participation (do it slow)/ Reunification (do it slow)/ Do things gradually (do it slow)/ But bring more tragedy (do it slow)/ Why don't you see it/ Why don't you feel it?"
"I didn't like 'protest music' because a lot of it was so simple and unimaginative it stripped the dignity away from the people it was trying to celebrate," she wrote in her 2003 book I Put a Spell On You. "But the Alabama church bombing and the murder of Medgar Evers stopped that argument and with 'Mississippi Goddam,' I realized there was no turning back."
Gil Scott Heron — "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1971)
Originally recorded as a poem for Gil Scott Heron's 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was set to music for his Pieces of a Man album that was released the following year. The idea of not being able to just sit home and watch real change take place still resonates in a digital activism era.
"The revolution will not be right back/ After a message about a white tornado," he says in the piece. "White lightning, or white people/ You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom."
Pointer Sisters — "Yes We Can Can" (1973)
Oakland's hit-making Pointer Sisters recorded "Yes We Can Can" the same year as the case of Roe vs. Wade was decided in the Supreme Court. It's an apt time to return to the song's hopefulness as fuel in the fire to regain reproductive rights.
"We got to iron out our problems/ And iron out our quarrels," the Sisters sing. "And try to live as brothers/ And try to find peace within/ Without stepping on one another/ And do respect the women of the world/ Remember you all have mothers."
Prince and The Revolution — "America" (1985)
Thanks to a funked-up thread of the familiar refrain of "America, America, God shed his grace on thee" — from the 19th Century standard "America the Beautiful" — Prince's "America" can pass as a thoroughly patriotic song to people who don't dig deeply into the still-relevant critiques in his lyrics.
"Jimmy Nothing never went to school/ They made him pledge allegiance/ He said it wasn't cool/ Nothing made Jimmy proud/ Now Jimmy lives on a mushroom cloud."
The anxiety of nuclear war that weighed heavily on songs of this era can be understood in the context of the present, with Russian attacks on Ukrainian nuclear power plants that have taken place in just the last few months.
Rage Against The Machine — "Take The Power Back" (1992)
This early Rage Against The Machine song from 1992 stands well today as an activist anthem in the disinformation age of book-banning and school curriculum upheaval. "Take The Power Back" advocates for the truth to be told and for the power to return to the people.
"In the right light, study becomes insight," sings frontman Zack de la Rocha. "But the system that dissed us/ Teaches us to read and write/ So called facts are fraud/ They want us to allege and pledge/ And bow down to their god."
Tune-Yards — "My Country" (2011)
It's been over a decade since Oakland musicians Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner — together, known as Tune-Yards — released "My Country." But the song's lyrics about America's vast inequalities, especially for those seeking a new home here, still apply just as much as they did in 2011.
"My country, 'tis of thee/ Sweet land of liberty/ How come I cannot see my future within your arms," Garbus sings angrily.
Childish Gambino — "This Is America" (2018)
Donald Glover's unflinching look at being Black in America hits hard — and is especially potent when absorbed with the accompanying music video, which won the GRAMMY for Best Music Video in 2019. The video brings the song to life in vivid detail, including burning cars, police terror and Gambino murdering a choir with a machine gun.
The song's lyrics about the anxiety of guns expresses a sentiment that unfortunately still holds true today, as the first half of 2022 has been particularly deadly with gun violence across the country. "Yeah, this is America," he raps with increasing alarm on the song. "Guns in my area/ I got the strap/ I gotta carry 'em."
"I just wanted to make, you know, a good song," Glover told E! in an interview on the red carpet at the Met Gala in 2018. "Something people could play on Fourth of July."
Glover took home three more GRAMMY Awards for "This Is America" in 2019: Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance.
Dolly Parton — "19th Amendment" (2018)
Dolly Parton steps in with some crucial history about women's rights in "19th Amendment," presented in her endearingly bubbly style. The song is a highlight of 27: The Most Perfect Album, a compilation of songs from various artists who wrote about one of the 27 Amendments to the Constitution. (On the album, it's titled "19th Amendment," as each track's title is the Amendment it's about. Parton refers to the song as "A Woman's Right.") The project was released in 2018 by Radiolab at New York's WNYC Studios before the midterm elections.
"It is the duty of the women of this country to secure for themselves the sacred right to vote," she insists in the song.
"Being lucky enough to be a successful woman in business, I wanted to exercise my right to write about the 19th Amendment to praise and uplift women," Parton said in an interview with WNYC.
Gary Clark Jr. — "This Land" (2019)
Gary Clark Jr. is a six-time GRAMMY winner who is lauded around the world for his artistic prowess. But as an American — and, more specifically, as a Texan — he is still keenly aware of how racism still persists in this country. "This Land," which is the title track to his 2019 album, was written after a neighbor confronted him in disbelief that a Black man could own the property where Clark lives, a 50-acre horse ranch in Kyle, Texas.
"N<em></em><em></em> run, n<em></em><em></em>a run/ Go back where you come from," stings the chorus.
"I just wanted to let it be known: this land is your land, but it's mine too, and we all, as Americans, as citizens of this country, should all have an equal shot," he told The Guardian.
Maino — "I Can't Breathe" (2020)
The death of George Floyd inspired a lot of powerful music in 2020. Before the late Eric Garner was killed at the hands of NYPD in 2014, he said, "I can't breathe," which Floyd also said when he was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The phrase is now associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and international activism against police brutality.
While several artists have released songs pertaining to police brutality, a few have specifically named songs "I Can't Breathe" — including H.E.R., whose single won the GRAMMY for Song Of The Year in 2021. "Stripped of bloodlines, whipped and confined/This is the American pride," she says in a spoken word portion of the song.
Brooklyn rapper Maino also released a song called "I Can't Breathe" in 2020, using the compelling track to call out the history of the continued police brutality against Black people. "Think I'm tired of bein' silent," he rhymes over an interpolation of the music from Fugees' "Ready or Not." "Tired of people not tired to see us dyin.'"
Lukas Nelson — "Untitled" (2022)
On June 27 — three days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade — Lukas Nelson performed an untitled song on his Instagram account that reacts to the controversial decision.
"Now the stars don't shine for her at night/ They're just holes in the sky," sings Nelson (who is Willie Nelson's son and the frontman of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real). "They don't give no light/ And the darkness lingers/ Endlessly/ For she must carry the seed."
Rolling Stone noted that it joins notable songs about abortion that have recently been released, such as "Disorders" by Ani DeFranco and Stone Gossard, or re-recorded, like Cyndi Lauper's new version of 1993's "Sally's Rights."
The soul of America has long been reflected in the music that's written about it. As history has shown, artists aren't afraid to speak their minds in song — and as the fight for a more equal, peaceful country continues, there are likely many more to follow.
How The Pandemic And Political Turmoil Inspired 2022 GRAMMY Nominees: Alicia Keys & Brandi Carlile, Foo Fighters & More
Photos (L-R, clockwise): Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation, Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ACM, Terry Wyatt/Getty Images
Listen To GRAMMY.com's Women's History Month 2023 Playlist: Swim In The Divine Feminine With These 40 Songs By Rihanna, SZA, Miley Cyrus, BLACKPINK & More
Who run the world? Harness positive energy during Women's History Month with this immersive playlist honoring Beyoncé, Rina Sawayama, Kim Petras, and more female musicians.
In the words of recent GRAMMY winner Lizzo, it's bad b— o'clock. To kick off Women's History Month, GRAMMY.com is celebrating with an extensive playlist spotlighting women's divine musical artistry. Perpetually shaping, reinvigorating, and expanding genres, women's creative passion drives the music industry forward.
This March, get ready to unlock self-love with Miley Cyrus' candid "Flowers," or hit the dancefloor with the rapturous Beyoncé's "I'm That Girl." Whether you're searching for the charisma of Doja Cat's "Woman" or confidence of Rihanna's "B— Better Have My Money," this playlist stuns with diverse songs honoring women's fearlessness and innovation.
Women dominate the music charts throughout the year, but this month, dive into their glorious energy by pressing play on our curated Women's History Month playlist, featuring everyone from Dua Lipa to Missy Elliott to Madonna to Kali Uchis.
Listen below on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
Photos: Michael Hickey/Getty Images; Gus Stewart/Redferns; David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns; Gie Knaeps/Getty Images; Josh Brasted/FilmMagic
2022 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Rock
Our concept of and interest in various forms of rock is expanding. Whatever rock is, it’s not dead, and GRAMMY.com has rounded up five trends that attest to the strong pulse of rock music in 2022.
Can rock 'n' roll be defined as the loud blues- and guitar-based stylings purveyed by everyone from the Rolling Stones to Greta Van Fleet? Perhaps it's the smart, Brit-punk energy of Idles, or the lush new wave-alt-rock stylings of Phoenix? Or maybe rock is really in the grooves of stoner/doom band Windhand, or classic thunder of NWOBHM icons Iron Maiden?
In a word, yes.
Established radio formats and charts have long organized and codified an ever-increasing amount of bands, artists and songs. But that organization is a trap, making it necessary to divide rock — sometimes randomly and incorrectly — into pigeon holes. Terrestrial and satellite radio and streaming service playlists remain divided, creating categories such as active rock, classic rock, or Adult Alternative. Yet these categories inevitably leave out key bands and songs, or include questionable entries.
In reality, listeners aren’t bound to genre as in the past. Today’s music world is proof positive that as lines blur, our concept of and interest in various forms of rock is expanding. An arena might see the fans at a Rage Against The Machine or Ghost show coming back on a different night to see Harry Styles or Rhianna.
The colloquial expression "I know it when I see it" (first used as a threshold test for obscenity in a 1964 Supreme Court case!) could also be applied to an attempt to define rock. Whatever rock is, it’s not dead, and these five trends that attest to the strong pulse of rock music in 2022.
Girl Power Makes A Comeback
Although powerful women like Lizzo and Lady Gaga top the pop charts — female representation is more scarce in the higher echelons of the rock world. While Lzzy Hale of Halestorm and Taylor Momsen of the Pretty Reckless play with the boys at the big venues, a new wave of rock bands featuring women and all-female bands are bubbling up, claiming their power.
From Los Angeles comes punk-glam-pop-rock powerhouse lineup Starcrawler, fronted by bold changeling Arrow De Wilde. On the darker City of Angels tip is the heavy charm of "satanic doo-wop" band Twin Temple, who made major inroads opening arena shows for Ghost. Also making noise from SoCal are garage-rock trio L.A. Witch, self-described "California doom boogie" band Death Valley Girls, disarming old-soul singer Lauren Ruth Ward, punk singer/guitarist Suzi Moon, and a host of other creatively bold women.
NYC is home to the firebrand vocalists of SuSu (Liza Colby, Kia Warren) and Woodstock, NY birthed fuzzy punk weirdos the Bobby Lees. Elsewhere, Australia's Amyl & The Sniffers bring propulsive, in-your-face songs like "Guided by Angels" and ‘Hertz." Other shining lights include former Melvins collaborator and bilingual powerhouse Teri Gender Bender, plus plenty of young women making noise, like Pinkshift. While punk schoolgirls the Linda Lindas owe more to X than the Runaways, their cohort gives hope that the kids are alright.
Classics Rock The Small Screen
Rock, mainstream and otherwise, helped make some of the coolest television shows even better in 2022. "Stranger Things" gave the 36-year-old Metallica song "Master of Puppets" new life among a younger crowd. (During their Lollapalooza set, Metallica paid tribute to the sci-fi show, and jammed with actor Joseph Quinn backstage.)
The Cramps’ goth-kitsch stylings made an appearance on TV sets via Tim Burton’s "Wednesday." The titular Wednesday Addams character danced her way into weird-girl hall of fame with the lo-fi legends’ 1981 version of "Goo Goo Muck." (And let’s not forget Ms. Addams' stellar cello version of the Stones’ "Paint It Black.")
The psycho-billy/horror-punk track was streamed on-demand over 2 million times in the U.S. — a more than 8,650 percent increase from the average 47 weeks before this year, Billboard reported. While it’s not quite Kate Bush-in-"Stranger Things"-numbers, it’s a nice bump that indicates a new generation of listeners for the wild and wooly lo-fi legends.
Other 2022 small-screen rock surprises include the sci-fi German epic period drama 1899, which uses a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s "White Rabbit" as its theme music. In an interesting anachronistic approach, the surreal period show uses songs that wouldn’t be created for more than six decades. The classic rock cuts include "Child in Time" by Deep Purple, Echo and the Bunnymen’s "The Killing Moon" and Black Sabbath’s "The Wizard." The sometimes-subtle song use certainly led to Shazams from kids and cheers from older folks.
Festivals Continue To Diversify
Once upon a time (not that long ago!) Ozzfest and Family Values were the "metal" festivals, Lollapalooza ruled the alternative nation, and rarely would the twain meet. (In a nod to the times, Ozzfest held a free, online-only virtual 2022 version that didn’t exactly draw raves from rock fans.) But 2022 saw the continuation of a sea change, with heaviness becoming the common denominator in a variety of festivals.
As demonstrated by Metallica at Lollapalooza 2022, and Nine Inch Nails and Slipknot billed alongside KISS and Red Hot Chili Peppers at the four-day Louder Than Life fest in Kentucky, sub-genres of industrial, metal, glam and alt-funk are meshing with ever-increasing ease. At Psycho Las Vegas, thrash band Suicidal Tendencies were billed alongside Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, while Wu-Tang Rapper GZA headlined a night that also featured black metal group Mayhem.
Vegas was also a destination in 2022 for the inaugural ‘90s and ‘early-2000s When We Were Young Festival, which served up nostalgia (and a few contemporary acts) from 64 of the biggest names in pop-punk, emo and hardcore. The sold-out event featured performances by My Chemical Romance, Avril Lavigne, AFI and Dashboard Confessional — acts which, back in the day, were often seen as reflecting separate subgenres.
Diverse rock festivals will continue in 2023 with the inaugural Sick New World festival. Set for May, the festival will feature bands once in the "nu metal"-plus genre — such as System Of A Down, Korn, Deftones and Incubus — alongside more diverse groups like Evanescence, GRAMMY-nominated hardcore hitmakers Turnstile, Chevelle, Mr. Bungle, Placebo, Spiritbox, and the Sisters of Mercy.
A Reignited Rage
Rage Against The Machine were one of the bigger bands that reunited for a tour in 2022 — joining the ranks of Pantera, the Mars Volta, Biohazard, Yellowcard, God Forbid, Roxy Music, the Gaslight Anthem, Taproot, and Sunny Day Real Estate.
But their tour was a long time coming. Rage first announced dates for a reunion tour in 2020 — their first full-length world jaunt in 20 years — but were sidelined by COVID. As the pandemic raged on, racial and political unrest gripped America and the world, making Rage’s political musical messages in songs like "Killing in the Name" as relevant as ever.
The bright side? Rage’s self-titled debut (which celebrated its 30th anniversary in November) jumped back on to the Billboard 200 charts. So when the quartet played their first concert in 11 years on July 9, 2022 in East Troy, Wisconsin, hopes were high — and fan expectations were more than met. Yet two days after the tour began, singer Zach De La Rocha injured his leg; one month later, they canceled the European leg of their tour on doctor’s orders, and the remaining shows on the 2023 North American leg of the tour were scuttled due to the severity of de la Rocha's injury.
Rage closed things out with an incendiary three-night stand at Madison Square Garden beginning Aug. 11. De La Rocha was carried onstage by crew members and sang seated on an amp — but he brought the noise.
Backing Tracks Get The Spotlight
As metal and rock stalwarts continue to perform into their 60s and 70s (Mick Jagger turns 80 in 2023), fans still demand that their heroes sound like they did in their heyday, so it’s likely they might need some assistance. While it’s been a not-so-hidden secret that Ozzy used singer Robert Mason, hidden offstage, to supplement his vocals, bands like Aerosmith make backing tracks less of a secret, using singing keyboard players.
In October, a Twitter war began after Falling in Reverse canceled an Illinois festival gig, citing lost laptops. Reverse's Ronnie Radke posted an explanatory video message on TikTok where he said the band had "no other option" to cancel, because "as a band in 2022, you need your laptops. It's like driving a car without an engine."
Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx jumped online to agree with the use of backing tracks, but Sirius XM DJ/author Eddie Trunk was astonished. "First I heard about this I thought it was a joke to wind me up. How much longer are fans, promoters , media, just going to accept the epidemic of live rock shows… not really being live?"
Former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach, a veteran of Broadway, concurred with Trunk, while Radke tweeted at the metal DJ, writing: "you wanna talk hella s— about laptops but go watch kiss lip sync, Steven Tyler plays the piano then half way through the song he stands on top of piano while it sill [sic] plays yet here we are acting like they all don't use tracks you f—ing idiot."
Blackie Lawless, whose 40-year celebration tour with metal band W.A.S.P. earned rave reviews, admitted to using backing tracks. "If I'm a fan and I'm coming to a show, I want that thing to sound as good as it can," he said during a fan meet and greet that was posted on YouTube."When we go into a studio — and let me clarify that statement; that's me singing — we do choruses, we double, triple, quadruple the vocals," he said. "When I listened to live YouTube [recordings of our shows] and we weren't doing that, it sounded thin. When we started supplementing it, it sounded better.
"If I'm a fan and I'm coming to a show, I want that thing to sound as good as it can," he continued. "There are other bands — the QUEENs of the world — they cannot duplicate 24 vocals at one time. That's what they do on those records. If you want it to sound like those records, you've gotta have some help."
Even if Falling in Reverse got blowback from peers, their transparency is becoming the new norm. It brings the fans closer to their heroes, mere mortals who struggle with addiction, have personal lives, and occasionally use backing tracks.
Photo: (L-R) Mickey Bernal/Getty Images, Neil Lupin/Redferns, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images
2022 In Review: 6 Trends That Defined Country Music
From Dolly Parton to Zach Bryan, country music's veterans and new generation found room to grow within the genre in 2022.
Country music isn't always heralded as a haven for artists who fall outside the genre's accepted mainstream. But 2022 saw country music claim a bigger piece of the cultural pie than it has in recent years.
Artists are discovering new paths to success, driven by the meme-ification of culture and music and templated by stars like Walker Hayes, whose GRAMMY-nominated song "Fancy Like" broke through in mid-2021 thanks to TikTok and ended 2022 among the top five of Billboard's Hot Country Songs. Breakout stars Zach Bryan and Bailey Zimmerman also rode online acceptance to mainstream success — the former built a career on his YouTube buzz, while the latter turned his TikTok virality into Platinum sales.
The genre expanded in other non-traditional ways in 2022 as well. In particular, indie-rock and LGBTQIA+ artists are no longer hovering in the periphery, but making real impacts on country music listenership, thanks to worthy efforts by Waxahatchee and Adeem the Artist, among others.
As country music continues to expand its horizons into 2023, here are six trends that defined country music in 2022.
New Artists Dominated
If the emergence of new talent is a barometer of a genre's health, country music has nothing to worry about. Not since 2015 has a country artist landed on Billboard's top five Best New Artists, when Sam Hunt broke through big. But this year, country music landed two of the five spots on the year-end chart, thanks to newcomers Zach Bryan and Bailey Zimmerman.
Bryan emerged with an audacious statement, claiming country's biggest first-week sales with his major-label debut, the triple-album American Heartbreak. The album landed at No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200 and topped country streaming tallies on both Spotify and Apple Music.
Like Bryan, who first found success when his music went viral on social media, Bailey Zimmerman parlayed his online following into an impressive run with Platinum singles "Fall in Love" and "Rock and a Hard Place." Both are off of his first EP on Warner Music Nashville, Leave the Light On, which became the most-streamed all-genre debut of the year and the biggest streaming country debut of all time.
Lainey Wilson also had a banner year, proving that her No. 1 hit on country radio with "Things A Man Oughta Know" in 2021 was no fluke. In between winning new artist honors from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association this year, she landed her second No. 1 on country radio with the Cole Swindell collab "Never Say Never" in April. Most recently, Wilson became the latest country star to appear on the hit Paramount TV drama "Yellowstone"; she debuted on season five as the character Abby, performing her original songs "Smell Like Smoke" and "Watermelon Moonshine," and has become a recurring character.
After Jelly Roll made waves with his 2021 single "Dead Man Walking" and the 2022 Brantley Gilbert collaboration "Son of the Dirty South," the Nashville country rapper solidified himself as a newcomer to watch with "Son of a Sinner." The slow-burning single scored Jelly Roll his first top 10 hit on Billboard's Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts, and it broke the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. He also proved his hometown pride is strong: On. Dec 9, he headlined a sold-out show at Nashville's 20,000-cap Bridgestone Arena.
Bluegrass Saw A Resurgence
You'd be hard-pressed to find another artist who has broadened the bluegrass horizon in recent years more than Billy Strings; his progressive approach to the foundational country genre pulls in elements of rock and psychedelia. While he titled his 2019 Grammy-winning album Home, on his 2022 set Me/And/Dad, Strings came full-circle to play traditional bluegrass standards with his father, Terry, like they did when he was a kid. Strings (whose birth name is William Lee Apostol) even located the Martin acoustic guitar Terry played in those early days but pawned to support the family, fulfilling Billy's bucket-list bluegrass album in more ways than one.
Representing the more traditional approach to the genre, bluegrass icon Del McCoury issued his 17th album, Almost Proud, in February. A peer and collaborator of the genre's Mt. Rushmore (Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs), McCoury is keeping the flame lit in his ninth decade — and he hasn't lost a lick of his abilities. McCoury and his sons Ronnie and Robbie pick, roll and harmonize like it's a Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry.
Up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the Po' Ramblin' Boys have tapped into a similar authenticity by playing bluegrass standards like their forebears. Although they formed around a regular gig at a moonshine distillery, their 2022 album God's Love Is So Divine walks the straight and narrow on 13 gospel bluegrass tunes.
Old Crow Medicine Show have come a long way since O.G. bluegrass musician Doc Watson discovered them busking on the streets of Boone, North Carolina in 2000. While that growth is evident throughout 2022's Paint This Town, they incorporate bluegrass on tracks like "Painkiller," "DeFord Rides Again" and "Hillbilly Boy." The group also invited Americana mainstay Jim Lauderdale to co-write a couple of tunes, and Mississippi fife master Sharde Thomas to guest on "New Mississippi Flag."
Punk Went Country (And Country Went Punk)
Genre-bending is nothing new in Nashville, and even punk rockers have been acknowledging the raw power of country music since the early '80s — when bands like X, Social Distortion and The Gun Club began incorporating elements into their music, and even covering classics like Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." Fast forward to 2022, and the trend has kicked into high gear.
Woody Guthrie, the iconic folk hero of dust-bowl-era America, left behind a large body of unrecorded songs — evidenced by the three volumes of lyrics that have been set to music and recorded as Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Boston pub punks Dropkick Murphys plucked 10 more uncut Guthrie gems for their 2022 set This Machine Still Kills Fascists, a play on the line Guthrie famously scrawled onto the body of his guitar. For their first country album, Dropkick Murphys recruited two of the genre's brightest lights: Nikki Lane, who guests on "Never Git Drunk No More," and Evan Felker of Turnpike Troubadours, who shares the mic on "The Last One."
Foo Fighter Chris Shiflett — who previously played with speedy punks No Use For A Name — got into the act, too. When he isn't cranking guitars alongside Dave Grohl and Pat Smear, he plays his own Bakersfield-inspired country rock, as heard on 2017's West Coast Town and 2019's Hard Lessons. This year, he issued the singles "Born & Raised" and "Long, Long Year," a pair of breezy, pedal steel-assisted cuts that find him leaning more than ever into his sunny SoCal disposition.
Shiflett previously shredded the guitar solo on "Goin' Nowhere," a collaboration with country hitmaker HARDY on his Hixtape Vol. 2, released in the last weeks of 2021. Now, HARDY's back and flipping the script with his own rock record, the mockingbird & THE CROW, set for release in January. Early singles "JACK," "TRUCK BED" and the title track, all released in 2022, show the influence of Nirvana and post-grunge songcraft alongside his distinctive, rhythmic lyrical delivery.
Legends Got Their Due
In 2022, country music proved that age is irrelevant when the music is this good. Newcomers Chapel Hart captured the national spotlight — and a rare Golden Buzzer — on "America's Got Talent" in July with a nod to icon Dolly Parton. The trio's electrifying performance of their original song "You Can Have Him Jolene," an answer to Parton's 1974 smash "Jolene," elevated them to star status, and they spent the latter half of 2022 playing to sold-out audiences across America. Darius Rucker even recruited them to back him on his song "Ol' Church Hymn."
Parton had her own high point this year, earning her first No. 1 on Billboard's Bluegrass Albums chart with her 48th studio album, Run, Rose, Run. She also released a new compilation album, Diamonds & Rhinestones: The Greatest Hits Collection, in November.
After Shania Twain spent the last couple of years featuring on other artist's songs, the best-selling female country artist of all time returned to her throne in 2022. She announced her sixth studio album, Queen of Me (due Feb. 3, 2023), helmed by the dance-floor bop "Waking Up Dreaming." The announcement followed the Netflix documentary Not Just A Girl (and the companion album that featured more than a dozen unreleased songs) and preceded another huge announcement: a 76-date U.S. tour for 2023.
Twain's fellow genre-bending '90s icon, Sheryl Crow, also issued a documentary in 2022. The Showtime special, "Sheryl," was accompanied by a double-album compilation of the same name, which featured two discs of hits plus collaborations with Chris Stapleton, Stevie Nicks, Jason Isbell and more. Crow also featured on 2022 releases from TobyMac and Lucius. The latter track also featured Brandi Carlile, who has played a big role in Tanya Tucker's recent comeback story — as shown in yet another 2022 doc, "The Return of Tanya Tucker," which featured their song "Ready As I'll Never Be."
The CMA Awards paid tribute to icons Jerry Lee Lewis, who passed away in October, and Alan Jackson, who is in the midst of a farewell tour dubbed Last Call: One More For the Road. Firebrand singer Elle King channeled The Killer's wild moves as she performed his signature hit, "Great Balls of Fire," backed by The Black Keys. Meanwhile, Carrie Underwood led a star-studded Jackson tribute featuring Dierks Bentley, Jon Pardi and Lainey Wilson, who performed a melody of his hits including "Chattahoochee" and "Don't Rock the Jukebox."
The legacies continued both on stage and in studio. Brooks & Dunn's Ronnie Dunn, Reba McEntire and Bonnie Raitt all returned with new albums in 2022; meanwhile, Shenandoah, Billy Dean and Wade Hayes appeared on the Country Comeback Tour, and Wynonna led The Judds: The Final Tour in tribute to her mother, Naomi Judd, who passed away in April.
Indie Rockers Infiltrated Country Music
As '90s-style indie rock has a moment thanks to artists like Big Thief, Momma and Alvvays, Katie Crutchfield is leaning deeper into laid-back country vibes. The leader of Waxahatchee, whose blissful 2020 set Saint Cloud landed her on scores of year-end lists, doubled down in 2022.
Waxahatchee collaborated with Wynonna on the single "Other Side," recorded on the Judds singer's farm in Tennessee — an experience both artists ranked among their favorite recording sessions. Crutchfield also collaborated with Jess Williamson on a new project dubbed Plains, releasing the album I Walked With You A Ways in 2022 to critical acclaim. The 10 songs on Plains' debut rival the artists' soothing solo work and combine their strengths with Fleetwood Mac harmonies.
Madison Cunningham, who is best known for weaving mind-bending melodies and harmonies between her voice and guitar, guested on the second edition of Watkins Family Hour — which pairs siblings Sara and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek with a series of notable collaborators like Fiona Apple and Jackson Browne — contributing her signature spidery guitar playing to "Pitseleh."
Other notables on the indie side of country include Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit, who returned with Palomino, a strummy set of acoustic guitar-driven country pop and their first album in four years. Michaela Anne's gentle LP Oh To Be That Free chronicled a period of personal troubles with compassion, while Sierra Ferrell released the sparse, playful single "Hey Me, Hey Mama" and collaborated with Shakey Graves on "Ready Or Not."
LGBTQIA+ Country Artists Were Celebrated
Acceptance for LGBTQIA+ artists in country music has grown steadily in recent years, thanks to efforts by allies like Kacey Musgraves and Dolly Parton, as well as artists who have publicly discussed their sexuality, including T.J. Osborne, Lil Nas X, Chely Wright, Amythyst Kiah and Shane McAnally. With such star power in their corner, gay and non-binary country artists are now getting a fairer shake.
Non-binary singer-songwriter Adeem the Artist released the acclaimed album White Trash Revelry. Over 11 songs, Adeem chronicles their experiences growing up different in small towns surrounded by smaller minds — from the stomp-along "Going to Hell" to the Heartland rocker "Heritage of Arrogance" and fingerpicked album closer "My America."
Elsewhere, Orville Peck, the masked singer who performs a fever dream of '70s-inspired country music with a deep-throated croon, returned with his second album, Bronco. Peck traded the spare songscapes of his 2019 debut, Pony, for Bronco's more fully realized, cinematic arrangements, broadening his sound and the scope of his persona.
Brandi Carlile, whose pro-LGBTQIA+ activism is tied directly to her music — she founded the Looking Out Foundation early in her music career, and donates a portion of touring proceeds to groups like The Trevor Project — has seen her reputation grow steadily over nearly two decades of releasing music to ever-growing audiences. In 2022, she added to an already storied career by performing with her personal hero, Joni Mitchell, at Newport Folk Festival. Carlile also headlined Tennessee's Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival, marking the first time a woman has headlined the fest.
However country music continues to expand and impact culture as a result, 2022's trends certainly set up a promising future for the genre.
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
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Listen: Get Jolly With New Holiday Music From Dolly Parton, Phoebe Bridgers, Pentatonix, Alicia Keys & More
This year saw several new holiday albums and singles from artists of all genres, from Backstreet Boys to Gloria Estefan. Get in the spirit with this festive 30-song playlist.
As we're all stringing up colorful lights and scrambling to buy last-minute gifts, music shines as the one constant in our lives amid the rush of the holiday season.
Some playlists have been bursting with holiday music since early autumn, with releases such as Dolly Parton's "A Smoky Mountain Christmas" dropping back in August and Joss Stone's Merry Christmas, Love releasing in September. Since then, several more holiday albums arrived, whether they were new projects from artists such as Alicia Keys and Thomas Rhett or polished deluxe editions from the likes of Reba McEntire and Norah Jones.
Beyond releasing albums, many artists have also found their holiday spirit by releasing festive singles. Remi Wolf brings her bubbly personality to warm covers of "Last Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland," Dan + Shay remind us to throw a "Holiday Party" with loved ones, and Phoebe Bridgers shares her annual holiday cover, this year a rendition of the Handsome Family's "So Much Wine." And even stars such as RuPaul, Jimmy Fallon and Ryan Reynolds surprised with holiday singles this season.
Groups such as Pentatonix and Backstreet Boys joined in on the fun with their own cheery holiday albums, and Gloria Estefan and her family capture the joys of love in a snowglobe on Estefan Family Christmas. Collaborations sparkle with holiday magic as well; Ingrid Michaelson and A Great Big World team up for "It's Almost Christmas," and Kelly Clarkson and Ariana Grande perform "Santa, Can't You Hear Me" in a thrilling live version.
So bundle up, grab some hot cocoa, and listen to some new holiday music in this very merry playlist — check it out on Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.