Yesterday Once More (Twice Over): An Oral History Of The 1994 Carpenters Tribute Album, 'If I Were A Carpenter'


Yesterday Once More (Twice Over): An Oral History Of The 1994 Carpenters Tribute Album, 'If I Were A Carpenter'

25 years after the release of Carpenters tribute album 'If I Were A Carpenter', the Recording Academy speaks to those involved about the project's legacy

GRAMMYs/Sep 13, 2019 - 08:26 pm

In popular culture, the cyclical adage "Everything old is new again" is often embodied in the form of the tribute album—an unwieldy vehicle of veneration whose success lies as much with the source material as with those interpreting it. A tribute album’s chances of hitting that sonic sweet spot are also enhanced when it follows the loosely structured (and hotly debated) 20-year nostalgia cycle—the idea that one’s generational fads of music, fashion, technology, books, slang and other cultural touchstones resurface after a couple decades (give or take) of mainstream dormancy. With its roster of 1990s alternative music rabble-rousers celebrating the 1970s clean-cut, musical prodigy duo The Carpenters, the left-of-center tribute album If I Were A Carpenter wonderfully delivers on these concepts in spades.    

This month marks 25 years since the release of If I Were A Carpenter, providing a nice echo of its origins, as the tribute album was initially conceived as a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of The Carpenters' debut album, Offering. On its surface, the idea of rowdy alt-rockers running bubbly Carpenters songs through cranked guitars and buzzy amplifiers might've seemed like nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek goof. As KROQ’s music director Darcy Fulmer said of the album at the time, "It shows that people who like alternative music liked dork music when they were little, too."

However, the story behind If I Were A Carpenter involves no winks or chuckles. In fact, it's downright irony-free. It was a labor of love hatched by two longtime friends, Matt Wallace and Dave Konjoyan, who bonded over their love of the exemplary music crafted by the sibling duo of Karen and Richard Carpenter. Both ended up working in the music industry—Dave as a music journalist and Matt as a record producer—and when they first started working on the idea for a Carpenters tribute album, they ended up wrangling a disparate group of alternative artists, punk bands and college-rock crooners who all seemed to share in their genuine affinity for The Carpenters' inescapably infectious pop perfection.

To salute two-and-a-half decades of the If I Were A Carpenter tribute album (as well as 50 years of The Carpenters' own musical magic), the Recording Academy conducted an oral history featuring the album's co-producers Matt Wallace and Dave Konjoyan, legendary songwriter (and Carpenters collaborator) Paul Williams, and many of the artists involved, including Matthew Sweet, Johnette Napolitano, Grant-Lee Phillips, members of The Cranberries, Cracker, Dishwalla and more.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): Dave and I met in Physical Education class in high school and became friends after we bonded over singing Carpenters songs in the locker room one day. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do at that moment in time because there was probably no quicker way to get your ass kicked in high school during the 1970s, other than to maybe sing Barry Manilow songs. Fast forward to the early '90s, Dave brought up the idea of this tribute record to me because I had produced some big records for Faith No More and The Replacements, as well as a few bands on A&M Records, which The Carpenters had been on. We pitched it to A&M and thankfully got the greenlight.

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): I was doing some music journalism at the time and I was noticing a lot of artists were expressing appreciation for The Carpenters, especially for Karen's voice. It was artists like Chrissie Hynde, k.d. lang, Sonic Youth, Babes In Toyland and a few others. Tribute albums were also starting to really become a bigger thing, so I thought there might be enough artists interested in doing one dedicated to The Carpenters.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): The contrast of the impeccably arranged, glossy pop of The Carpenters with bands that were a little scrappier and less refined is what made it so interesting. You look at "Goodbye to Love" by American Music Club or "Superstar" by Sonic Youth or "Rainy Days And Mondays" by Cracker and you get these dark readings of the songs that feel really aligned with how Karen was singing them and how she was probably feeling at the time. Though, to flip that, some of the bands also did really well at turning in brighter versions of what The Carpenters did, like the beautiful version of "Close To You" by The Cranberries and "Top of the World" by Shonen Knife. 

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): A&M might've been interested in us pursuing a more mainstream group of artists, but from the beginning the concept for Matt and I was always the alternative band route. A lot of bands on the record—Sonic Youth, Sheryl Crow, The Cranberries, Babes In Toyland—are ones that we really targeted right from the beginning. We got a lot of artists agreeing to it right of the bat.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): We also had a couple bands—Smashing Pumpkins, Paul Westerberg, Stone Temple Pilots—that were really on board but just didn't work out due to scheduling conflicts or various other reasons. But I'm super pleased with all of the bands who participated and how it all turned out. I mean, Sonic Youth liking The Carpenters? That was mind-blowing to most people at the time.

All throughout the 1990s, there was a seemingly constant rotation of alt-friendly tribute albums dedicated to popular '70s artists: Kiss (1994's Kiss My Ass), Led Zeppelin (1995's Encomium), John Lennon (1995's Working Class Hero) and The Clash (1999's Burning London), just to name a few. There were even a couple alt-heavy tribute albums playfully dedicated to 1970s television, including 1995's Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits and 1996's Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks. Released in the fall of 1994, If I Were A Carpenter was certainly on the front end of that wave, an important note that helps contextualize the album's peculiar subject matter, its assorted roster and its unquestionably raucous-yet-reverent tone.

David Lowery (Cracker): When I first heard about the opportunity of being a part of a Carpenters tribute album, I thought it was kind of odd and cool. Like, who is thinking about The Carpenters right now? Stacked up against some of the other tribute records of the time, The Carpenters seemed like a much less obvious choice and that made it more interesting to us. They were one of my guilty pleasures that weren't exactly in vogue in the early '90s.

Matthew Sweet: The Carpenters were kind of omnipresent when I was a kid. You heard them whether you were seeking them out or not. Both Karen and Richard were so talented and their catalog provided such a wealth of material for this tribute record to pull from.

Fergal Lawler (The Cranberries): I thought The Carpenters were great. They made fantastic, heartfelt songs that still sound great today. They were actually really big in Ireland. We definitely heard them on the radio all the time, especially "Close To You."

Naoko Yamano (Shonen Knife): Since I'm Japanese and can't understand their English lyrics very well, it was their sound that really reached my mind. But that was enough because their melody lines and Karen's vocals were so attractive to me. Their song "Sing" was in one of our school textbooks, so I thought that their music was only for good children. My friends liked them, though.

Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde): I was so happy to be able to be a part of this record because The Carpenters absolutely owned AM radio during my junior high and high school years. Richard's certainly a talented arranger, but for me it was really all about Karen. Karen’s voice was so incredibly soulful and totally made for radio. You hear a hundred voices when you hear her sing. Plus, she could really play the drums, which is not something you saw women doing at the time.

J. R. Richards (Dishwalla): The Carpenters were cool because there was such a weird, darker tinge underneath all of the beautiful background vocals and lovely sentiments. I really liked the juxtaposition they brought to their songs.

Mark Eitzel (American Music Club): When we first got asked to be involved, I was like "Absolutely, I love The Carpenters!" They made incredible records. For all the schlock that you would hear on the radio at the time, they never offended me. Their songs were so well written, perfectly arranged, and just sung so beautifully.

Grant-Lee Phillips (Grant Lee Buffalo): For me and for so many other bands of that era, The Carpenters were the music of our childhood. The '70s were a mixed bag. It was the age of the superstar and it was gaudy. There was a strange patriotic flair juxtaposed against scandal and violence. Yet, here was this duo trying to breakthrough with some light in a very bizarre and clouded era. I vividly remember being a kid and riding around in the car with my mom singing along to The Carpenters. They were really close to me, no pun intended.     

On the combined strength of Richard's instrumental prowess and Karen's soulful three-octave contralto (as well as her complex, skilled drumming), The Carpenters released 14 studio albums and over 40 singlesmany of which attained platinum-selling status and reached the top of the charts in multiple countries. Their biggest Billboard Hot 100 hit singles—"(They Long To Be) Close To You," "We’ve Only Just Begun," "Rainy Days And Mondays," "Superstar," "Top of the World," "Please Mr. Postman"charted in the early '70s, but the sibling duo released albums, produced television specials, and remained a fixture on Top 40 radio all the way up until Karen’s untimely death in 1983 from anorexia-induced heart failure. As The Carpenters legacy has continually been reassessed over the years, it is Karen’s emotionally resonant vocals that remain the summit of their many creative talents.  

Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde): Karen was really something special and she just gave everything she had. She was a fragile wick that just burned herself all the way down and didn’t say no to anything. She was almost sacrificed in a way, but out of that came some of the most beautiful music to ever be recorded. 

Paul Williams (songwriter): The wonderful thing about the way Richard produced their albums was that with everything going on in the track—instrumentation, orchestration, the background harmonies—there was never anything that threw a shadow on Karen. Her vocals were kept front and center so you could experience the emotion they carried and the elegance of her voice that was such a hybrid of melancholy, sensuality and sadness.

Grant-Lee Phillips (Grant Lee Buffalo): Karen's voice was so gorgeously unique, the way she sang in that lower register. This tribute album is interesting because Karen had died just a little over a decade before and that strange grief was still somewhat in the air. It actually gave me some pause because I didn’t want to be disrespectful in any way.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): Karen's voice was one of the most incredible instruments of pop music ever. Her tone and her control were incredible, but it was also the subtext—that anybody who has ever had any feelings of melancholy or has been down, can really connect to it. As much as Richard tried to polish and create so much gloss and sheen to the instrumentation, the emotional resonance in her voice hit so deep and would not be denied.

When it came time for the bands involved to pick which Carpenters song they were going to perform, there was surprisingly little drama. While this could be somewhat expected from an artist's catalog as deep and rich as The Carpenters, it also speaks to the varied musical tastes of the bands paying tribute. Some artists like Matthew Sweet, Grant-Lee Phillips and The Cranberries delivered performances fairly true to the originals, while other artists like 4 Non Blondes, Babes In Toyland, Bettie Serveert and Sonic Youth took decidedly broader creative liberties. Others found a contrasting middle ground between the slick pop craftsmanship of the originals and their own sonic predilections.

Paul Williams (songwriter): Songs are not written in cement. They're just a starting place to bring your own emotions and express your own feelings through your own interpretations.             

Matt Wallace (co-producer): I love that most of the bands shifted towards the brooding, melancholy side of what The Carpenters did. Richard and Karen were more than just the bright, shiny, effervescent side of what they are sometimes most remembered for. Most of the bands were pretty flexible because we asked everyone to pick two or three songs. That way we could make sure to hopefully get at least one of their picks. Some of the bigger artists like Sheryl Crow or The Cranberries might’ve been able to pick theirs a little earlier.  

David Lowery (Cracker): I knew everyone was going to want to do "Superstar," but I've always loved "Rainy Days And Mondays." I’d like to say we were musical geniuses by discovering the beauty in giving it an even more down tempo groove, but what you hear on the recording is actually a take where we’re still learning the song. Bob Rupe, who was playing bass for us then, was walking us through the chord progression really slowly as we figured everything out. Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse was sitting in with us, just listening along and throwing a couple guitar lines in here and there. I think we also tried a more upbeat, alternative take on it that didn’t work as well. So, we went back to this warm-up take, added some strings and background vocals to it a couple weeks later, and it became this weird accidental hybrid that we just loved.

Naoko Yamano (Shonen Knife): We were shown two or three songs to cover and I firmly picked "Top of the World." There was no other choice for me. I really love that song and the melody lines are perfect.

"Songs are not written in cement. They're just a starting place to bring your own emotions and express your own feelings through your own interpretations."           

Fergal Lawler (The Cranberries): We picked "Close To You" and we were delighted when they said it was still available. I remember I had just heard a cover version of Smashing Pumpkins doing Thin Lizzy's "Dancing In The Moonlight" and I really loved their slowed down version of it, so I suggested we try it that way. I remember when Dolores [O'Riordan] was recording her vocals, she didn’t want to sing the line "They sprinkled moondust in your hair" because she thought it sounded a bit spacey. She felt a bit embarrassed about it, so she wanted to just kind of mumble her way through that part.

Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde): I was really hoping to get "Superstar" because I was really close with Leon Russell, who was one of the song's co-writers. I was pissed when Thurston [Moore] got it because it's a singer's song and he blows. But Marc Moreland and I had a lot of fun recording "Hurting Each Other." All the girls wore "Karen" nametags and all the guys wore "Richard" nametags. We rented concert chimes—the huge, six-foot tall brass tube kind that you hit with a hammer. That was when you could still smoke indoors, so I have this vivid memory of Marc Moreland in a cloud of smoke just banging on the concert chimes through all the guitar craziness at the end of the song. 

Matt Wallace (co-producer): I recorded Sheryl Crow doing "Solitaire" in Los Angeles because I was having to catch her between shows while she was touring in and out of Europe. I remember it took us three different studio sessions to get the exact vocals we wanted for her. For one of those sessions, she flew in from Germany, threw her bags down in her apartment, and came directly to the studio to sing. She's probably the hardest working person I've run into in this business and I’m such a fan of what she did on that somber version of "Solitaire."

Peter Visser (Bettie Serveert): We did "For All We Know" and in retrospect, I think my guitar is a bit over the top, too desperate to make a "rock song" out of it. For the ending, I thought the song could use some cowbells, so in the lobby of the studio we found an aluminum lemon squeezer, put it on a piece of rope, and beat it with a fork. I think Carol did a great job with the singing. Her voice sounds really close and warm in the verses and goes full on in the choruses. 

Carol van Dyk (Bettie Serveert): After recording all the music, we came up with the idea to have me lying flat on my back on the floor in the middle of the studio. They hung the microphone right above my face and the guys placed little tea lights around me and turned off the studio lamps to create a nice soft atmosphere. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a camera with us, so no pictures.

J. R. Richards (Dishwalla): Recording "It's Going to Take Some Time" was officially the very first thing we did after getting signed to A&M. The tribute album was already in motion, like most of the bands had already picked songs and were in the process of recording them. In fact, we actually recorded a full demo of "Close To You" to show them that we wouldn’t do a sh*tty job. When we took it to A&M to show them, we were told it had already been picked by another band. So, we took a shot at "It’s Going To Take Some Time" and tried to take it to a different rhythmic place. We speed it up quite a bit because we didn’t want it to sound too sweet. I played the original keyboard intro on a Wurlitzer right at the beginning and then we took it off into its own journey.   

Mark Eitzel (American Music Club): We just wanted to approach "Goodbye To Love" really simply with no key changes and no orchestration or anything. Just a simple band vibe. All the way up until the final mixes our producer was trying to get me to re-record my vocals because he thought Richard wasn’t excited about the idea of people recording his songs in a bastardized way. Like, Richard’s already made them perfect, so why would you want these messy rockers to spoil the perfection? Nowadays I would’ve worked my ass off to make it perfect, but back then I was just a young idiot. I think the track turned out really great though.

Grant-Lee Phillips (Grant Lee Buffalo): Our version of "We've Only Just Begun" is a little more reverent to the original because we were really struck by the musical architecture of the song. We studied how it was put together and tried to be true to it. It was a natural thing for me to interpret it by singing it a bit higher and trying to meet Karen's vocal in the middle.

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): I remember there being such a sense of excitement about every track as they came in. From our conversations with the bands, my impression was that they were all doing it from a heartfelt place. They certainly all brought their personalities to their tracks and they all seemed to have some affinity for the music and for The Carpenters as artists.

Deep into the project, Wallace and Konjoyan ended up getting the ultimate seal of approval, as Richard Carpenter agreed to sing and play on one of the tracks. Matthew Sweet had requested Richard’s participation on his true-to-form adaptation of "Let Me Be The One" (a syrupy ballad from the quadruple-platinum Carpenters album from 1971) and somewhat surprisingly to most everyone involved, he agreed.

Matthew Sweet: It was my request to see if we could find him and get him to play on it. At the time, I had this 1970s Dodge Challenger and he had a huge car collection that was in a big building in an office park. He took me out there to see it, which was really cool. He was super nice to me and seemed really supportive of doing the track.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): From the beginning, we knew we wanted to get Richard on board, but we also knew we were limited in regards to which artists he would fit with and feel comfortable. I think he wanted to make sure he wasn't straying too far from the legacy of The Carpenters and he didn't want to do a disservice to what he and Karen had so carefully built.

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): I was there at the studio the day Matthew and Richard recorded "Let Me Be The One" and I remember them having a great time doing it. I think Richard felt appreciated. It was a really great moment for Matt and I to get to bring these different musical worlds together on the album and it really came together in that moment in the studio.

If I Were A Carpenter was officially released on September 13, 1994. A split single between Redd Kross's "Yesterday Once More" and Sonic Youth's "Superstar" was released to radio, and the music videos of both tracks got substantial airplay on MTV. Dishwalla even got to perform "It's Going To Take Some Time" on the short-lived late-night talk show The Jon Stewart Show. Rolling Stone called the album "affectionate, almost reverent" and Entertainment Weekly had a listening party with Richard to get his thoughts, from Sonic Youth ("I love it. From the heart. It's quite haunting") to Shonen Knife ("I like the energy, but they've left out a couple of chord changes"). But what did those involved with the project think about each other's tracks?     

Grant-Lee Phillips: Reverence can come in many packages.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): Once we got all of the tracks back and heard that the arc of the record was leaning a little more somber, we knew that we wanted to start the record off with American Music Club's "Goodbye To Love." Then, Shonen Knife's "Top of the World" became the perfect follow-up track because it's so upbeat and effervescent. They beat The Carpenters at their own game on that one.

Naoko Yamano (Shonen Knife): I love Redd Kross so much and Jeff McDonald's vocals on "Yesterday Once More" are really great!

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): I really liked what Cracker did with "Rainy Days And Mondays." It was certainly a different interpretation than the original, but it was very fitting for who they are as a band.        

Grant-Lee Phillips (Grant Lee Buffalo): I most enjoyed The Cranberries take on "Close To You" and the way Dolores delivered the lyrics in her way of bending the notes and just wrapping them around her finger.     

Paul Williams: I love David Lowery's singing on "Rainy Days And Mondays" and the way those strings roll in about midway through. Initially I thought it may have been a little tongue-in-cheek, but I love how they totally made it their own. I really believe him when he sings "What I got they used to call the blues."

J. R. Richards (Dishwalla): Shonen Knife's "Top Of The World" is just completely out there and fun. Sonic Youth's "Superstar" is also amazing. It's just so harrowing. 

Fergal Lawler (The Cranberries): I really enjoyed the Sonic Youth track. That one stood out the most to me when we listened to the whole thing.

Peter Visser (Bettie Serveert): My favorite is "Superstar" by Sonic Youth because Thurston Moore sings it so beautifully. I really liked the music video with the golden microphone as well.

Paul Williams (songwriter): The wonderful thing about listening to Thurston sing "Superstar" is that it's totally believable. That one feels so much like it's about Karen. You really get the sense of remembering her and missing her in his performance. It's just marvelous.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): At the time, the most forward-leaning track was Dishwalla's "It's Going To Take Some Time" because of that blending of loops and real drums. It feels like five years ahead of its time. They were the only band on the tribute that hadn’t already released an album but we just really liked them.

While the last 25 years has seen If I Were A Carpenter serving double duty as an authentically celebratory tribute to the legacy of The Carpenters and also a telling sonic snapshot into the unaffected, unpretentious side of '90s alternative music, the album does have one nagging (albeit trivial) piece of unfinished business: as of yet, there's no 12" LP vinyl version of the record. Although the tribute did get an original-run vinyl release as a boxset of seven 7" singles (a very nostalgically appropriate approach in itself), vinyl collectors have been clamoring for a full-size 12" LP for years, hoping for either a label-sponsored vinyl debut reissue or even a limited-run Record Store Day exclusive offering.   

Matthew Sweet: I remember they did a bunch of 7" singles but it never got the full 12" record treatment. In the '90s, you weren’t guaranteed vinyl at all. So that was kind of a special and unusually cool way to release it.  

Carol van Dyk (Bettie Serveert): A while back somebody asked us if we had a spare Carpenters tribute vinyl boxset. We had to disappoint them, but I totally understand why they wanted one, it’s such a cool thing to have as a fan.

David Lowery: When I became a thrift store loving college kid in the '80s, Carpenters records were always an interesting novelty to come across. It’d be nice to see this album get that treatment too.

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Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): That’s a little bit of a sore spot. Physically, the record's been out of print for years but I think it would be really great if they ever put out a full vinyl version. I'd really love to see it.

Matthew Sweet: To finally get a full vinyl pressing of it would be a no-brainer for something like Record Store Day. Somebody's got to make that happen! That would really bring the whole tribute full circle.

GRAMMY Rewind: Sheryl Crow Takes Home Record Of The Year For "All I Wanna Do" In 1995
Sheryl Crow at the 1995 GRAMMYs

Photo: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images


GRAMMY Rewind: Sheryl Crow Takes Home Record Of The Year For "All I Wanna Do" In 1995

During their Record of the Year acceptance speech for "All I Wanna Do," Sheryl Crow and her producer Bill Bottrell made sure to praise the songwriting group who started it all: the Tuesday Music Club.

GRAMMYs/Aug 4, 2023 - 04:58 pm

Sheryl Crow's debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club, shot her to stardom in 1993, helmed by her breakthrough single "All I Wanna Do." And in 1995, the song and the album helped Crow win her first golden gramophones — including the coveted Record Of The Year.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, relive the moment Crow celebrated her Record of the Year win for "All I Wanna Do," alongside her producer Bill Bottrell.

Bottrell began the speech by acknowledging the group of musicians, Tuesday Music Club, who inspired the name of the record and consists of David Baerwald, Kevin Gilbert, Brian McLeod, and Dan Schwartz. Before passing the microphone to Crow, Bottrell gave a quick shout-out to his wife and children.

"I'd like to thank Bill, first and foremost," Crow said. "For teaching me how to make a record that's fun to make with a bunch of people who are inspired to write."

Crow closed her speech by praising everyone that was involved in the making of Tuesday Night Music Club and her family.

Earlier that night, Crow also won GRAMMYs for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. To date, Sheryl Crow has won nine GRAMMYs and has received 32 GRAMMY nominations overall.

Press play on the video above to watch Sheryl Crow's complete acceptance speech for Record Of The Year at the 37th Annual GRAMMY Awards, and check back to for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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2023 GRAMMYs To Pay Tribute To Lost Icons With Star-Studded In Memoriam Segment Honoring Loretta Lynn, Christine McVie, And Takeoff
(L to R): Takeoff, Christine McVie, and Loretta Lynn

Photos: Jeff Hahne/Getty Images; Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Erika Goldring/WireImage


2023 GRAMMYs To Pay Tribute To Lost Icons With Star-Studded In Memoriam Segment Honoring Loretta Lynn, Christine McVie, And Takeoff

The GRAMMY Awards segment will feature Kacey Musgraves in a tribute to Loretta Lynn; Sheryl Crow, Mick Fleetwood and Bonnie Raitt honoring Christine McVie; and Maverick City Music joining Quavo as they remember Takeoff, airing live on Sunday, Feb. 5.

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The lineup for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Sunday, Feb 5, will include an In Memoriam segment paying tribute to some of those from the creative community that were lost this year with performances by GRAMMY-winning and -nominated artists.

The segment will feature Kacey Musgraves performing "Coal Miner's Daughter" in a tribute to three-time GRAMMY winner and 18-time nominee Loretta Lynn; Sheryl Crow, Mick Fleetwood and Bonnie Raitt honoring three-time GRAMMY winner Christine McVie with "Songbird"; and Maverick City Music joining Quavo for "Without You" as they remember the life and legacy of Takeoff.

The 2023 GRAMMYs, hosted by Trevor Noah, will broadcast live on Sunday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network live from the Arena in Los Angeles. Viewers will also be able to stream the 2023 GRAMMYs live and on demand on Paramount+.

Before, during and after the 2023 GRAMMYs, head to for exclusive, never-before-seen content, including red carpet interviews, behind-the-scenes content, the full livestream of the 2023 GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony, and much more.

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2022 In Review: 6 Trends That Defined Country Music
(L-R): Zach Bryan, Shania Twain, Brandi Carlile, Billy Strings, Orville Peck

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.

GRAMMYs/Dec 22, 2022 - 06:49 pm

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.

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A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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