The early days of country music are a catalog of demon yodelers, drunken banjo pickers and dreamy cowboy poets. It is difficult to find any hint of this raw beginning in country’s current offerings. Nashville tends to look toward the Top 40 rather than its own twisted past for inspiration; the Dixie Chicks and their ilk are essentially Britney Spears with more hair spray and a twang.

Search beyond the Nashville city limits, however, and one hears echoes of early country’s wild heroes. Austin, Texas, is overrun with artists embracing country’s roots and other manifestations of traditional “Americana” music, most notably Grammy award winner Lucinda Williams. And, believe it or not, Chicago, famous more for the cerebral sounds of Tortoise and other post-rock groups, has lately become nearly as well known for the whiskey-soaked mix of punk and country coming out of the Bloodshot label.

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