Jewly Hight

Katie Herzig's trajectory probably doesn't much resemble what you'd expect a professional Nashville songwriter's career to look like, which seems to suit her just fine. She fell into what you might call commercial songwriting almost by accident, when she discovered that the sort of breathy, intimate folk pop tunes she was already writing for her own albums were an excellent fit for the soundtracks to prime-time dramas like Grey's Anatomy.

Few periods of country music history have received more popular attention (or rock press) than the outlaw movement. Decades later, its towering personas — Willie and Waylon chief among them — remain a subject of fascination, immortalized as leathery, long-haired stoners and speed freaks who operated entirely outside the law of the country music establishment. By the time the movement had run its course, it had become a marketing tool for the industry.

A couple of hours before he's scheduled to show up for an interview, Tim Gent sends a text message asking if it would be alright to bring one of his managers along. When he arrives at a Nashville deli with his videographer, Devyn Betancourt, it's immediately clear that the twenty-something rapper and singer doesn't roll with an entourage in some attempt to boost his ego and muscle-up his image.

John Prine never really liked his singing voice. "The only reason I figured out I didn't like my old records to listen was I could hear how nervous I was, and how uncomfortable I was," the venerated musician says. "And who would want to sit around and listen to yourself being uncomfortable?"

Today, Prine is releasing The Tree of Forgiveness, his first album of new material in 13 years, to an audience that spans generations.

You're probably used to hearing artists who are eager to set their latest albums apart from their previous work speak of breaking free from formula, the idea being that they've grown dissatisfied with strictures imposed on their music-making. But not everyone shares that philosophy.

Mary Bragg and Becky Warren are nursing beers and comparing notes on their conscientiousness.

Any artist who's in it for the long haul is bound to weather changes and collect experiences over time. And when enough history builds up behind them, they may feel the irresistible tug of nostalgia and find ways to revisit the past — with songs idealizing the "old home place," albums of time-tested standards, lavishly packaged reissues or anniversary tours. Those reflections on the bygone days tend to be reverent affairs.

But for Wade Bowen, conjuring the musical melting pot of a youth and young adulthood spent in Texas has yielded the most wild-eyed work of his career.

No music scene is monolithic, but few encompass the extremes of the bluegrass world. Both musically and ideologically, it runs the gamut from conservatism to progressivism, a range of sensibilities that it's rare to see commingling elsewhere in American society at this polarized moment.

Bobby Osborne is trying to find his way back to the lakeside home where he first heard "Rocky Top," the song that would define his career as one half of the Osborne Brothers, one of bluegrass' most popular and innovative groups.

Dan Tyminski might have one of the most recognizable voices in acoustic music. He grew up in southern Vermont, fixated on traditional bluegrass and old country. While his friends were buying Def Leppard and AC/DC records, he was playing banjo.

Bryant Taylorr eyes the glass of milky-looking kombucha that his sister has placed on the table in front of him in an East Nashville tea shop. "I don't know what this is," he says, before taking a tiny sip, pushing the cup away and wryly expressing his skepticism: "Is it doing something to my soul? Is it cleansing it?"

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