The popularity of certain genres of music is something that constantly waxes and wanes, just ask the hundreds of bands who jumped on the Mumford & Sons retro-folk bandwagon only to find out that they were two years too late for anyone to care. Synth-pop, indie-rock, pop-punk, they’ve all come in and out of fashion over the years, but one genre that seems to keep on keeping on throughout is alt-country, probably because it’s never been all that bothered by being hip in the first place.
Alt-country is a genre in which sincerity and authenticity are as important as any particular sound or instrumental choice. It is a musical form that is all about laying it on the line, of pouring your heart out and trying to stumble upon a musical or lyrical idea that the world can relate to. As Amanda Petrusich explained so brilliantly in her book, It Still Moves, it is a genre of music that takes a melting pot of ideas, styles and influences and comes out with something that gazes not into the past but into the future and continues to soundtrack the world around us.
From Johnny Cash to Wilco, Bob Dylan to Ryan Adams and Neil Young to Bill Callahan, alt-Country has always been at the forefront of alternative music, without ever really becoming pop-music. Long may that tradition and authenticity remain, even if it probably could do with a few more female voices joining the choir.
One band steeped in the tradition and sound of alt-country, if not the location, are Glasgow quintet, The Nickajack Men. Formed back in 2014, the band’s take on alternative-rock is steeped in the Americana tradition of acts like Dawes, Deer Tick and My Morning Jacket.
The band have recently released their new single, Can’t Take It Anymore. As frontman Lewis White explains, the track is, “a song about struggling to deal with a lot of issues going on. Being stuck feeling like you have no real direction in what you’re actually doing day to day”. It’s a feeling that so many acts experience, when living the contradictory lifestyles of the wannabe musical star and the underappreciated part-time office worker. Lewis has described the band’s music as an outlet, “where we can put our depressing thoughts across in a weird semi-happy sounding song”.
Musically, Can’t Take It Anymore is built around a bluesy Band Of Horses-like guitar riff, propelled by prominent drums and thick pulses of bass, as Lewis’ gravelly vocal howl carries much of the melodic and emotional weight. Whether this is a stand-alone moment or the sign of a longer release to come, it’s as exciting as The Nickajack Men have ever sounded.
Today the band have been kind enough to put together a mixtape featuring some of their favourite alt-country artists, featuring the likes of Ryan Adams, Old 97’s and Alabama Shakes.
1. Jason Isbell – Elephant
If you are into country music and not familiar with Jason Isbell’s work then it’s just inexcusable not to check it out. I’m lucky enough to have seen him live 3 times now. I always remember the first time I seen Jason live in Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh, it was just him and his wife Amanda Shires. The way they captured the 600+ audience all with just an acoustic guitar and some world class song writing. Apart from being one of my favourite song writers of all time he’s one of the best guitarists/slide players on the planet.
2. Alabama Shakes – I Found You
Definitely as a band one of our main influences. The soul and power that comes through their music really inspires us. I remember being real hungover at T in The Park 2012 and struggling down to King Tuts Wah Wah Tent to catch Alabama Shakes set and thank god I did. Brittney Howard’s emotive, authentic songwriting always struck me. Their first album for me was just the perfect blend of country music and rock n roll.
3. Nathaniel Rateliff – Nothing To Show For
I found Nathaniel Rateliff back in 2010 when he was on a UK tour with Delta Spirit. Nathaniel opened for Delta Spirit in a small basement venue called Captains Rest in Glasgow. Just himself with an acoustic guitar, what a voice. Beautiful songs, again i had that feeling of seeing something truly great. It’s real inspiring to see what Nathaniel has achieved now, from back in 2010 playing small basement shows to selling out Glasgow’s famous Barrowlands 2 nights in a row last November. It was a real privileged to see that Captains Rest show back in 2010.
4. Kenny Rogers – Coward Of The County
This one is definitely my Grandad’s fault. One of my earliest memories was sitting at the bottom of my stairs listening to Kenny Rogers Coward of The Country over and over and over again! As I grew up and realised he has more songs than just Coward Of The Country you can imagine how immersed I was in Kenny’s songwriting ability. The arrangements and strings on old country stuff really makes me happy. Had the pleasure of seeing Kenny on his final tour last year.
5. Deer Tick – Ashamed
One of the first bands I proper fell in love with. I remember going to see them for the first time in Captains Rest in Glasgow and what a rock n roll show they put on. It was chaotic yet so finely tuned. A lot of early Deer Tick was real country influenced which really got me hooked.
6. Ryan Adams – Touch, Feel And Lose
The album “Gold” is literally one of the best collections of music i’ve ever heard. Every song on it has something about it, a stunning display of songwriting and arrangement of instruments.
7. Josh Rouse – Saturday
Again some of my earliest memories of really getting into music was with Josh Rouse. His album “Nashville” really is some smooth, smooth stuff. I hadn’t listened to it for a fair few years until i recently fell back in love with it all.
8. Dawes – Time Spent In Los Angeles
One of my favourite bands ever, a huge influence on our music. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them play a couple times live and what an experience a Dawes show is. So much talent. Taylor Goldsmiths songwriting is a thing of beauty!
9. Old 97’s – Good With God
Old 97’s are like pioneers of country rock n roll. This kind of stuff definitely influences the way I write and play guitar. Some unbelievably catchy riffs throughout their albums.
10. Paul Simon – Duncan
I’ve always found Paul Simon and his music so interesting. A massive influence on a lot of the stuff I listen to today. His song “Duncan” has always been a favourite of mine!
Can’t Take It Anymore is out now via NJM Recordings. Click HERE for more information on The Nickajack Men.