From Outlaw to old-time revival, and from West Texas to Alberta, Canada, independent country comes in all forms and flavors. And while it's often harder to find these diamonds in the rough -- since they usually don't show up on mainstream radio -- the rewards can be huge once you do.
Here's a list of five albums that fit the bill.
Radney Foster, Del Rio, Texas Revisited: Unplugged and Lonesome
Foster's Del Rio, TX, 1959 came out 20 years ago and remains an Americana favorite for its catchy songwriting and unapologetic West Texas sound. But since it's now out of print, Foster wanted to give it a reworking. "I didn't want to just go and record a hack version of the original," he says. "I wanted to revisit the songs, from the place I am now." Friends like Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks, Jon Randall, Jack Ingram and others contribute to Del Rio, TX Revisited: Unplugged and Lonesome, set for Aug. 14 release. Recorded acoustically, Foster pumps new magic into "Just Call Me Lonesome," "Nobody Wins" and "Easier Said Than Done."
Waylon Jennings, Goin' Down Rockin': The Last Recordings of Waylon Jennings
This one will deliver an intimate look at the legend shortly before his death in 2002. He was still creating right up until the end, and his last songs were very personal. Eleven of the 12 tracks were written by Jennings and have never been released. He laid down the vocals and guitar work, but didn't get the chance to finish. With wife Jessi Colter's blessing, her husband's longtime collaborator Robby Turner has done that. "Waylon knows he's surrounded by friends," says Colter, Jennings' widow. "And all that hear this will feel as if they know Waylon in all his authenticity." The project arrives Sept. 11.
Corb Lund, Cabin Fever
Lund comes from a ranch family in Alberta, Canada, and brings that unique perspective to his rootsy country. Songs about prairies, raising cows and oil fields stood out on his 2009 introduction to American audiences, but on Cabin Fever, due Aug. 14, the focus lands squarely on interesting characters and witty stories. There's a lone mountain man preparing for the apocalypse and a boring backwoods guy who just couldn't satisfy his city-craving woman. Hayes Carll joins the project's hilarious standout, "Bible on the Dash." It'll help you out if you ever need to smuggle something across the Mexican border.
Old Crow Medicine Show, Carry Me Back
It's hard to believe the energetic string band Old Crow Medicine Show has been around for 14 years. On July 17, they'll release their fourth studio album, Carry Me Back. "The greatness of an old-time string band lies in its performance," says band leader Ketch Secor. As such, each track on has a decidedly raw feel. Fond of songs that reach back in time to say something about the present, "We Don't Grow Tobacco" explores the urbanization of the South, while "Carry Me Back" and "Levi" both tell tales of soldiers from vastly different wars.
Billy Joe Shaver, Live at Billy Bob's Texas
This long-awaited live album is "a big deal for me," says Shaver, the feisty 72-year-old singer-songwriter. In addition to the prestige of the Live at Billy Bob's Texas series, fans will find this project important for its quality and its timing. It's Shaver's first release since 2007 and also his first since that little incident in Waco, Texas, where he shot a man in the face. He was later acquitted of the aggravated assault charge, but he tells that story in a new song, aptly titled "Wacko From Waco." He also tracks "The Git Go," a moody song he's been playing for some time but never recorded. Shaver's voice is in fine form, as is his band, and this collection could very well be the honky-tonk hero's finest live album.