Country punk. Cow punk. Alt-Country. Alt-American. Y'all-ternative. Call it what you want, but in recent years the idea of blending the musical ideals of punk and alternative rock with those of country and Americana has become more common. The idea is nothing new, going back well over a decade, but there seem to be more of these bands now than ever before. I feel like this is a weak intro, so I'll just jump into the meat of this post, some of my favorite bands of this genre:
Tim Barry - The first alt-Americana artist I ever heard, thanks to his track "Idle Idylist" being featured on the Protect compilation. Tim was the front man of a punk band called Avail, but when that band took a break he picked up his acoustic guitar and started recording heartfelt folk songs that still maintained his punk rock spirit. He also jumps freight trains and until recently lived in a shed with no plumbing and only a little electricity, which makes him way more country than Toby Keith.
Two Cow Garage - The first full band I ever heard that was described as cow-punk. Also one of the first three albums I got from Suburban Home Records was their album III (the other two being Tim Barry, which is the album I originally intended to buy, and Josh Small). Originally a three-piece band, but I think they have a fourth member now. A perfect blend of country and alternative rock, they define the genre better than Wilco's predecessor Uncle Tupelo, who are more well-known but not as good.
Tarkio/Happy Cactus - Long before he formed the hyper-literate prog rock (Stephen Colbert's description) The Decemberists, indie rock icon Colin Meloy made alt-Americana. First as part of the Montana based Happy Cactus (their only album, Cricket, can be downloaded here), then later with the relatively more well-known Tarkio. Happy Cactus ain't so great, they are mentioned here mainly because they were a precursor to Tarkio and Meloy's later work. Tarkio, on the other hand, are excellent. Acoustic guitars, banjos, slide guitars, etc, back up some great lyrics that sound fittingly like if The Decemeberists recorded a concept album about working on a farm in Montana.
Lucero - I'm wearing my Lucero shirt right now. It might be why I decided to write this post, or it might just be coincidence. I first heard about Lucero last year when I was going through a pretty heavy Jawbreaker phase (the band, not the candy or the Rose MacGowan movie). I heard that Lucero had released a cover of Jawbreaker's "Kiss The Bottle" on their b-sides and rarities collection The Attic Tapes and I decided to give it a listen. They quickly became one of my favorite bands (their newest album, 1372 Overton Park, just barely missed being in my top 10 albums posts, cut only because it's so new). Like Two Cow Garage, a perfect blend of country and punk, but with a fuller band sound (the two bands' singers even have the same rough quality). Frontman Ben Nichols can pull off heartbreaking like nobody's business (check out Overton's "Can't Feel A Thing," especially the line "nothing short of dying's gonna bring me any peace, but I ain't really worried cuz I can't feel a thing").
Chuck Ragan - Former/current co-singer/co-guitarist of Hot Water Music. When that band went on hiatus a few years ago, Chuck went back to construction. Feeling the itch to make music, he picked up an acoustic guitar and harmonica and started playing open mics. This eventually led to a live album, Los Feliz, which led to a studio album, Feast Or Famine, which led to other albums, including a collaboration with fellow punker-turned-folker Austin Lucas. Despite one of my two favorite HWM tracks being sung by the other gutiarist/singer Chris Wollard ("Trusty Chords" from 2002's Caution), Chuck was always my favorite element of HWM. HWM are back together again, but Chuck keeps playing solo on the side.
Drag The River - The ultimate semi-obscure underground country-punk band. Drag The River formed from the ashes of the pop-punk band Armchair Martian. After several fan-acclaimed albums, the band called went on hiatus not too long ago, and I'm not sure of their current status. The co-founders Jon Snodgrass and Chad Price have released solo albums (Visitor's Band and Smile Sweet Face, respectively). With a revolving-door membership, other members have included punk scene favorites J.J. Nobody and Karl Alvarez.
The Revival Tour - This is not an artist, more a very loose collection of artists that tour together. Chuck Ragan (who I believe started the tour), Tim Barry, Austin Lucas and Ben Nichols are all regulars. The tour has also featured Jon Snodgrass, Chris Wollard, Tom Gabel of Against Me! and Kevin Seconds of 7Seconds.