Country Universe Turns 10

Cu10Ten years ago, in the dog days of Summer 2004, blogging was catching on in the political world.  I thought it would be cool to do a country music and politics blog.  I think it had the tagline of “Where Music Row meets Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Anyway, the politics was dropped pretty quickly, as writing about country music was more than enough ground to cover!  Country Universe slowly built an audience, becoming a place for refugee fans from the nineties boom, to debate the latest singles and albums, and at our best, to write about the present in a way that is informed by the past.

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Song Talk: Songs About Songs

Songs have such a big impact on our life experience that they sometimes inspire songs of their own.  It’s a cool theme that I wish more singers and songwriters would explore.

Here are some of my favorite examples of this theme:

Trisha Yearwood The Song Remembers When

Trisha Yearwood, “The Song Remembers When”

Far and away, the gold standard for songs about songs.  I love the way the intro’s guitar hook is repeated immediately after Yearwood, sings, “When I heard that old familiar music start.”  Producer Garth Fundis is the unsung hero of this classic recording, which has always seen heaps of deserved praise for Hugh Prestwood’s poetic songwriting and Yearwood’s skillful interpretation.

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Song Talk: Music that Moves Me

Sarah JaroszMy local Public Radio station has a wonderful series called Music that Moves Me, which was conceived and originally produced by the inimitable Suzanne Nance who has now (sadly for us, but happily for her) moved on to bigger things in a big Chicago market. For this series, people across Maine submitted touching or funny stories about how a particular song or specific music has moved them in their lives. As a result, this series inspired me to make a playlist of songs that move me whenever I hear them. The songs that move me the most are those that promote sensitivity and kindness in the world or in me.

Here are just a few of the songs that move me. What are some of yours and why?

Sarah Jarosz, “Ring Them Bells”

Jarosz beautifully interprets this Bob Dylan Chestnut with the help of Vince Gill. There’s just something in her voice that makes me feel that she’s emotionally connected to the song and it’s inclusive message, which, in turn, connects me to the song.

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Single Review: Brad Paisley, “River Bank”

Brad Paisley River Bank

“River Bank”
Brad Paisley

Written by Brad Paisley and Kelley Lovelace

Brad Paisley has become a fairly reliable competitor in country radio’s annual summer song rodeo. He offers a 2014 entry that is listenable and likable, if not as memorable as last year’s “Beat This Summer.”

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100 Greatest Men: #21. Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

From the vantage point of history, he is the indisputable King of Rock & Roll.   But he earned that title through his ability to perform country, blues, and R&B successfully, and it is often his impact as a country artist that is most easily overlooked.

Presley was born into deep poverty in Mississippi, laying the groundwork for his exposure to American roots music.  By his teenage years, he was living in Memphis, and it is in that city where he would be discovered by Sun Records owner Sam Phillips.  His work for Sun Records cannot be overstated in its significance.  On those early recordings, he brought together elements of country, blues, and R&B into a sound called rockabilly, which created the very foundation for what would soon be known as rock and roll.  His cover of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was among these early recordings, as were his first big country hits: “Baby, Let’s Play House”, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”, and “Mystery Train.”

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100 Greatest Men: #22. Alan Jackson

Alan Jackson100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Since arriving on the country music scene in 1989, Alan Jackson has become one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful superstars to ever call country music home.  Amazingly, in this modern era, he did it all as a traditionalist.

Hailing from small town Georgia, Jackson started with singing gospel, but by his teenage years, he was already part of a local country duo.  He worked odd jobs while performing with his country band, and got his first big break when his wife, Denise, passed on his demo tape to Glen Campbell after a chance meeting in an airport.  He encouraged them to move to Nashville, and Jackson continued to work odd jobs while honing his craft as a singer and songwriter.

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100 Greatest Men: #23. Charley Pride

Charley Pride100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Over the course of just fourteen years, Charley Pride accumulated 29 #1 country hits, proof positive that his switch from professional baseball to music was the right one.

Pride hailed from Sledge, Mississippi, one of eleven sharecropper children.  He was a guitar player early on, but he first made his name in baseball, playing in both the Negro League and on several minor league baseball teams, including the Memphis Red Sox and the Boise Yankees.   His career was derailed by a stint in the Army, followed by an arm injury that made his signature pitching an impossibility.   He worked construction while unsuccessfully auditioning for baseball teams, then turned his attention to music.

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Single Review: Kristian Bush, “Trailer Hitch”

Kristian Bush Trailer Hitch

“Trailer Hitch”
Kristian Bush

Written by Brandon Bush, Kristian Bush, and Tim Owen

It’s not entirely without precedent.  When Diana Ross left the Supremes, their first single without her did better than her first solo release.  Ringo Starr managed to score two #1 pop hits before John Lennon reached the top as a solo act.  Peter Gabriel was supposed to be the indispensable talent of Genesis, but they did better when they gave Phil Collins the mic.  Even country acts like Highway 101 and Restless Heart have seen the same phenomenon occur.

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Single Review: Maddie & Tae, “Girl in a Country Song”

Maddie & Tae Girl in a Country Song

“Girl in a Country Song”
Maddie & Tae

Written by Tae Lynn Elizabeth Dye, Maddie Marlow,  and Aaron Scherz

“I ain’t your tan-legged Juliet. Can I put on some real clothes now?”

Maddie & Tae give voice to the girls who have become the ornaments in what seems like every uptempo country song of the last ten years.  I really could quote the whole thing, line by line, and would have to if I wanted to share everything in the song worth quoting.  It’s that good.

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Single Review: Sam Hunt, “Leave the Night On”

Sam Hunt Leave the Night On

“Leave the Night On”
Sam Hunt

Written by Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne

I feel like I’ve heard this song so many times before that the artist has to work extra hard just to even keep my attention.

Sam Hunt works pretty hard to do that.  Not as a vocalist, mind you.  But as a songwriter, which is what’s put him on the map in the first place.

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