beyonce cowboy carter

The new sound of country music. Credit: Getty Images

Beyonce’s surprising revelation that her long-awaited eighth album, due for release on March 29, would be a country record has sparked a plethora of think pieces and essays in recent weeks. Love it or hate it, one thing that can’t be disputed is that the fervent discourse has brought the underappreciated genre back into mainstream attention.

Though Cowboy Carter is indeed a fascinating new addition to the country music canon, the blue-collar genre has been thriving over the last century. From Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline to Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, its history is an evergreen treasure trove.

And that storied tradition continues well into the 2020s, with plenty of younger artists carrying the torch for newer generations. If you need proof, these excellent modern country albums should get you on board.


MEGAN MORONEY: LUCKY

Describing herself as a “professional emo cowgirl,” country music’s newest sensation is a 26-year-old starlet from Savannah, Georgia. Megan Moroney’s debut album is a colourful and vibrant revival of neotraditional country that has garnered rave reviews and commercial success since its release in 2023.

Powered by her captivating voice, sly lyricism, and infectious melodies, Moroney’s songs of heartbreak and empowerment are as beguiling as they are beautiful. Led by breakout hits such as Tennessee Orange, I’m Not Pretty, and Girl in the Mirror, this wonderful album deserves all the praise it has received.


TYLER CHILDERS: RUSTIN’ IN THE RAIN

Hailing from Lawrence County, Kentucky, Tyler Childers’ unique blend of bluegrass and folk has seen him become one of country’s finest talents over the past decade. Recorded with his backing band, the Food Stamps, Rustin’ in the Rain was a revelation when it was released last year.

Featuring stirring narratives ranging from a romance between two coal miners in the 1950s on In Your Love to the anxiety of being left on read on Phone Calls and Emails, this record is a great example of how country music can evolve with the times.


BRITTNEY SPENCER: MY STUPID LIFE

Starting as a background singer and vocal teacher before moving to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue country music full-time, Brittney Spencer’s career has been a long, hard road. But fame came unexpectedly when her cover of The Highwomen’s Crowded Table went viral on Twitter in 2020.

Since then, she has become one of country’s most buzzworthy artists, culminating in the release of her versatile debut album this past January. My Stupid Life is a bright and bold record that combines her honky-tonk country roots with elements of gospel, jazz, and soul.


BILLY STRINGS: RENEWAL

This Grammy Award-winning artist is a multi-instrumental whiz, known for his prodigious proficiency on the guitar, mandolin, piano, synth, banjo, bass drum and more. But on Billy Strings’ awe-inspiring 2021 album, Renewal, it was his yearning vocals and the complexity of his lyrics that stole the show.

Headlined by deeply personal songs about the last texts one of his friends sent to him before committing suicide (Hide and Seek) and a devastating deep dive into a failed relationship (In the Morning Light) – Strings’ fifth LP is a bluegrass masterpiece.


MARGO PRICE: STRAYS

Hailed by The Fader as “country’s next star”, and with endorsements from Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris, Margo Price had plenty of lofty expectations heaped upon her when she debuted in 2016. Now, eight years later, we can safely say that the Americana songstress has lived up to her early hype.

In fact, her 2023 effort Strays will almost certainly go down as a future classic. Buoyed by evocative storytelling and emotive songwriting, this record is a propulsive journey through wide-open spaces that features contributions from Mike Campbell, Sharon Van Etten, and Lucius.


MJ LENDERMAN: BOAT SONGS

Although best known as the guitarist of countrygaze (a mix of shoegaze and country rock) band Wednesday, Jake Lenderman has recently broken out as a solo artist as well, under the alias of MJ Lenderman. Characterised by lo-fi fuzziness and laidback melodic phrasing, Lenderman’s noisy, alt-country output is absolutely invigorating.

His 2022 record, Boat Songs, is the ideal encapsulation of his distorted sound. Goofy, unpretentious and playful – this album is imbued with slacker charm on songs such as Hangover Game and the WWE-inspired TLC Cage Match.


WAXAHATCHEE: TIGERS BLOOD

On her previous album Saint Cloud, which was written as Waxahatchee struggled to get sober, the indie rocker stunned fans as she turned to the country sounds of her Birmingham, Alabama youth for inspiration.

Her latest LP, released this March, sees the singer-songwriter stick to her new sonic direction to craft one of 2024’s best alt-country records. Tigers Blood is nostalgic and rootsy Americana embedded in tender twang, magnetic melodies and poetic observations. This warmly intimate album also features guests like Brad Cook, Phil Cook, MJ Lenderman, Spencer Tweedy, and more.