There are many things that are not badass. Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example, is not badass. Forgetting your mum’s birthday is not badass. Ready salted crisps are 100 per cent not badass. Country music, however, is pretty damn badass. Forget everything you think you know about men called Garth in rhinestone-studded Stetsons yodelling about their latest divorce and their newest pick-up truck. Forget, even, early-period Taylor Swift, when she still had curly hair, wore dreamcatcher earrings and was often seen with a banjo casually resting in her hands. Forget all of this, and instead think of the dons of outlaw country, the hard-drinking and hard-living Nashville dudes of the late 1970s. Guys like Waylon Jennings, who the trad crowd thought got too big for his cowboy boots, frowning upon the way he mixed grittier rock’n’roll flourishes into his sound. This rebellious wing of country music never died, but thanks to a new wave of particularly sassy singer-songwriters, it’s currently enjoying something of a boom and the ladies are leading the charge.
Last week the majestic Margo Price was in town for an intimate show at The Lexington in north London. Margo Price is a woman who’s seen some s**t and lived to tell the tale. Nights in prison, family tragedy, battles with booze, sexual harassment and the general godawfulness of being a woman in 2017, it all filters through into her devastating tunes. This is real country music, featuring pain, sadness and heartbreak artfully poured into song – songs that, marvellously, sometimes sound a bit like those of Lurleen Lumpkin from The Simpsons. It’s tough and tender at the same time and will have you weeping into your whiskey given half the chance. And if you like the sound of Margo, then may I gently nudge you in the direction of Nikki Lane, whose rough and ready Western vibes offer a similar kind of hillbilly catharsis.
Recently touring in the UK too was Jason Isbell, possibly the greatest songwriter of this decade (soz, Liam Gallagher), an Alabama-born Americana artist who writes twanging, mini musical novels that deal with alcohol abuse, small-town blues and the futility of love. He also throws some mean Tom Petty covers into his sets too. Then there’s Sturgill Simpson, another artist bringing back the edgy outlaw sound, singing Nirvana songs alongside his own gruff, rootsy material. Guns N’ Roses even picked him to open up a run of their stadium tour dates earlier this year, if his badass credentials need backing up. Which they don’t – I mean, he’s called Sturgill, for goodness’ sake. Would you ever mess with a man called Sturgill? Thought not. Now go and grab some gingham and get some pedal steel guitar in your ears.