This month marks the one-year anniversary of VMP Country, VMP’s fourth and most recent Record of the Month subscription Track. To celebrate the occasion, the first 13 Records of the Month are available in our store. Here, we look back at the first year of VMP Country with the Track’s director and talk about what’s up next in its second year.
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The first four VMP Country titles were Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison, Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie, Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and Merle Haggard’s I’m A Lonesome Fugitive. Like the launches of VMP Classics and VMP Hip-Hop, Country was a runaway success in its first few months, selling out in all three. We had an idea that VMP Country was the logical next subscription and that people would love it, but we had no idea it would be as big as it was out of the gate.
“The first four releases were really like a pie-in-the-sky lineup for me, when I first got the greenlight to start programming VMP Country during the summer of 2020,” said VMP Classics & Country Director Andrew Winistorfer. He added he’d wanted to launch Country for a while, and had a long time to think about which albums to feature if it ever came to life.
“All four of the first titles were like, ‘Maybe one day we’ll get to do these titles,’ but I was somehow able to make all four happen at launch, which I think led to the big boom out of the gate,” Winistorfer said. “We’ve done represses on Johnny and Willie and have one coming on Sturgill soon, and Merle is nearly sold out now, too. It just felt like a perfect group of titles to launch with; they were all in conversation with each other in deep ways, and all presented that aura of ‘the outlaw’ that I think a lot of vinyl-loving country fans love the best out of all the eras of country music.”
The first third of VMP Country’s first year was noticeably light on women, however. That changed with the next round of titles, as Reba McEntire’s For My Broken Heart, Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors and Emmylou Harris’ Pieces of the Sky were VMP Country Nos. 5-7.
“We really wanted to launch with at least one title by one of the most legendary women of country, but the timing worked out for us to announce all three in a joint announcement,” Winistorfer said. “And I think all three represent what I really want VMP Country to be, in the long term of the subscription. There was the Reba album, which had only been on vinyl once, and was prohibitively expensive to buy. It is a classic in her catalog that deserves to be in every country record collection, which we were able to make happen. There was one of Dolly’s best LPs, which hadn’t been reissued on vinyl in more than 25 years, despite her being one of America’s national treasures, and it was a celebration of an icon of country music. And then there was Emmylou’s first LP, a record that people are probably less familiar with than some of her others, but it’s an underrated classic. These three are among my favorite Records of the Month that we’ve ever done in any of our subscriptions.”
Fun fact, for those keeping score at home: Dolly Parton is the best-selling VMP Country title in the sub’s first year.
“It’s really important to me that VMP Country is not a subscription that is just the best country music of the ’60s and ’70s; we need to feature recent albums as well, because the genre’s current stars are just as groundbreaking as the older stars, but in new ways,” Winistorfer said.
“Montevallo was on my list of potential Country Records of the Month for as long as I had the idea VMP should do a Country subscription,” he said. “It’s an instant classic that pushes the boundaries of the genre in interesting new ways. And pairing that record with Grievous Angel — in many ways, one of the first alt-country albums — and Carnegie Hall Concert — the first album that proved that country was a hit in more than just the South — makes some historical sense to me. Buck, Gram and Sam are on the same continuum, and these albums being together is what VMP Country is all about.”
The 11th and 12th Country Records of the Month were Iris DeMent’s Infamous Angel and Loretta Lynn’s Back to the Country, two records from two artists separated by 20 years, but both radical in their own ways.
“Loretta Lynn’s Back to the Country is her most infamous LP, a record that has as its centerpiece her song about birth control, ‘The Pill,’” Winistorfer said. “I wanted to feature it in VMP Country because it was a radical — at the time — stand for Loretta to take. She was banned from Country radio for the album and the song, and it kind of kicked off a down period for her. But she stood her ground, and was proven right in the end. The record has been left out of recent reappraisals of her work, and I thought it deserved to be back in country fans’ hands. Iris DeMent, meanwhile, had her record on vinyl only once in the 30 years since it came out, and it was overdue to be made widely available. She was a shining light in ’90s alt-country for always being herself and taking a stand to talk about her community, in a path paved by Loretta.”
As you know by now, the 13th Country Record of the Month is Lyle Lovett’s 1992 classic Joshua Judges Ruth. But what’s next for VMP Country beyond that?
“The next year will bring a stone-cold classic from one of Country’s biggest outlaws, and at least four albums that have never been on vinyl, from the ’90s and ’00s,” Winistorfer said. “There will be more Texas songwriters, one of country’s biggest modern stars, an album from the coast and our first real toe-dip into bluegrass for the subscription. I also hope to eventually expand the definition of ‘country’ to include genres like ranchera, narcocorridos and African country music. I can’t wait to see where we take this in 2022, 2023 and beyond.”
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