The highway between country and soul is a short one, often with the same destination.
The first time I heard Otis Redding cover Change Gonna Come, originally by Sam Cooke, the intensity Otis delivered these lyrics stuck with me. Each word had a distinct motive, a clear-cut emotion that drove the song forward.
In the same way, I couldn’t help but get the same feeling when I heard He Stopped Loving Her Today by George Jones. There was an emotional depth and concentration that matched the soulful energy of Otis Redding.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when these two genres blurred together, but there were distinct moments in history that created a clear bridge between country and soul. The 1960s and 1970s allotted a moment to create something the nation could listen to as a united human race.
Ray Charles is considered the pioneer of blending these two genres with his many record-breaking album sales. His identifiable voice and gospel-based music style pushed him to the top of the charts, alongside Elvis and Billie Holiday. He never committed to one genre; his talents spread across jazz, R&B, soul, and country.
Legendary studios, such as Stax Records, created an integrated environment for artists that challenged their musical boundaries. They worked with artists from Aretha Franklin to Willie Nelson, inviting diversity to dictate the creative process.
Taking notes from these country-soul legends, there are many artists that have followed in the footsteps of transcending genres. Here are a couple of current artists to follow:
Sturgill Simpson: I have mentioned this name a few times for good reason. There is something about the timing of his recent releases that have peaked the attention of both country and non-country fans. The authenticity of his lyrics and his delivery are the perfect marriage of country and soul. Chris Stapelton easily falls in the same category as a strong country-soul artist.
Valerie June: As a local Nashville artist, Valerie June has been making waves with her recent album release, The Order of Time. Her strong gospel roots shine with the accompaniment of perfectly bluesy drums and simple chord progressions. Her voice has a country feel, but the clever instrumental pairing falls in line with both country and soul.
Country and soul have a definitive similarity: emotion. There is a raw edge to both genres that forever link the two together.