There are some interesting stories, reviews and opinion pieces floating around the ‘net this week, many of which deal with what’s been talked about on Country Universe in recent days.
CMT Music Awards
The CMT Music Awards that I live-blogged on Monday were apparently not only despised by me. Check out this Tennessean piece that Roger flagged in the comments of the Idol live blog. Some highlights:
To Jeff Foxworthy: You might be a lousy host for the CMT Music Awards if …
• You launched into a needlessly exclusionary rant near the end of an otherwise decent awards show Monday night, telling viewers that country music is only for people who don’t question wars and regularly attend church.
• You gratuitously — and humorlessly — piled on to a heap of worn-out jabs against the Dixie Chicks as well as a down-on-his-luck Opry veteran, just the thing to rile up an auditorium partly filled with college students who have never heard of Stonewall Jackson.
I think the writer nails it when he adds, “He Wasn’t Just Not Funny”:
Award shows have had, of course, lots of hosts who are just not funny. But Foxworthy went from simply lacking humor to something bordering on a bizarre burst of defensiveness or anger.
Here’s a snippet of his introduction to an inspiring Martina McBride performance that ended the show: “You can call us rednecks if you want. We’re not offended, ’cause we know what we’re all about. We get up and go to work, we get up and go to church, and we get up and go to war when necessary.” Um … OK … were you responding to somebody in particular or just the paranoid voices in your head?
Brody at The 9513 thinks this writer is being too sensitive and recommends a “thicker skin”, but I agree with everything that the Tennessean writer said. Foxworthy showed a lack of respect for the genre’s heritage and some of its biggest artists, conveniently those who happened to not be in the audience. I’ve been a fan of this genre for seventeen years, and this new era of nastiness is beneath contempt. My advice: go back and study Vince Gill’s CMA hosting gigs before attempting to be funny. Only the most juvenile and ignorant comedian needs to attack to get a laugh.
Country Night on American Idol
American Idol country night has brought some much-deserved renewed attention to Julie Reeves, who recorded the minor hit “Trouble is a Woman”. Melinda Doolittle nailed it on Tuesday night, as about.com music writer Bill Lamb notes:
Last night when Melinda Doolittle took the stage to perform on “Country Night,” guest coach Martina McBride had already informed us “Trouble Is a Woman” was a song she had not heard before. The song did barely squeak into the Country Top 40 back in 1999 in a performance by Julie Reeves, but I can guarantee most viewers did not know the tune. By the time Melinda Doolittle was finished telling her story and wringing every emotion out of the song, it felt like an old friend.
Rave Reviews for Pam Tillis album
The shining reviews continue to pour in for the Pam Tillis album Rhinestoned. It’s only the sixth studio album of the last two decades that I’ve considered worthy of five stars; you can read about the other five here. Jack Lowe at about.com also awards it five stars, and the All Music Guide says it’s the best thing she’s ever done:
Let’s face it: there is only one Pam Tillis. Her voice, one of the purest country instruments to come out of Nash Vegas in the last 30 years, draws on the music’s rich and varied tradition, and points forward to the place where country, bluegrass, rock, pop, swing and soul meet. She may not be recording for the major labels anymore, but, as evidenced by Rhinestoned, she’s making better music now than she’s ever made in her life…
I also have to call attention to a review that was so well-written that I had to start my own all over again. Jonathan Keefe at Slant magazine e-mailed me to let me know that his review was up, and I was thrilled to learn that he found out about the album from reading my blog. Problem is, he made some of the key points I’d been planning to write about the album so well, it would’ve been redundant for me to cover the same ground less efficiently. Here is a small taste of the most articulate summation of both the album and the artist that I’ve ever read:
Tillis has always distinguished herself from her contemporaries by embracing the full breadth of country music, giving her a rich catalogue that runs the gamut from twangy honky-tonk and spirited pop-country to mellow, introspective folk ballads. She’s proven time and again that there isn’t a style of country music that she can’t sell, but what elevates Rhinestoned, her first album in five years and the first album for her new indie label, above her previous records is the consistency of the material she’s chosen and written and, as co-producer, how well she’s matched those songs to a particular sound. And it’s to Tillis’s credit that her style-hopping never threatens to overshadow the songs or her first-rate performances of them.
Click through to read the rest. It’s worth it.
Dolly Parton’s “Hello God”
Finally, I have to again call attention to the brilliant writing over at icF Music. In the wake of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, he singles out one of my favorite Dolly Parton songs, “Hello God”, which came in at #117 when I ranked my 400 Favorite Contemporary Country Singles two years ago:
I am a Christian and I believe in God, but I have thought in the past, like everybody has probably wondered, about God’s existance and about how He could allow horrible things to happen sometimes, and many other thoughts, and it can be frustrating. Throughout the song, Dolly asks more complex questions like the above and it soon turns into a begging and pleading for God’s love and comfort and how we need His help. I believe she wrote this after 911. That was one of the worst days of my life because I felt so incredibly bad for everybody who died and all those who lost them, and it’s so unbelievably saddening how events like that can take place. One of things about this song is that it can apply to lots of situations in the world; from the insanity of the current Iraq War, to today’s tragedy in Virginia, or with your own personal pain.
Along with “Welcome Home”, “Hello God” is the best thing Parton has recorded in the last twenty years. It was wonderful to see that this obscure song made an impact on another music lover, who clearly has great taste in music (i.e., similar to mine!)
Thanks again for the shout-out. I love reading what you have to say. Gotta love Dolly.
My copy of Rhinestoned should come in sometime this week!
I have not seen the CMT Music Awards but I did read your live blog of it (those live blogs are fun to read) and seems like I didn’t miss much. My family did record it, so when I get back, I will watch it, but I definitely will be fast forwarding through a lot of it!
I’m not sure I know what the actual standard for a 5 star album should be but I’m positive that there have been a fair number of 5 star studio albums and at least half of them have been by male artists
Since I regard music as primarily an AURAL experience, and secondarily as an intellectual experience, these are my standards in descending order:
1) The singer must be able to sing – to have a decent voice. They need not be as good as Ray Price, Connie Smith, Barbra Steisand, Randy Travis or Pavrotti or anything like that , but they can’t be as bad as Vince Matthews, Rod Steward, Lucinda Williams or Bob Dylan either. There are no five star Dylan albums because I can’t listen to his voice for more than a few songs; however . Dylan has WRITTEN many,many 5 star SONGS
2) If the CD has only ten songs, than I’d better like all ten of them. If it has more than ten songs then there can be a “clinker” as long as it is not simply terrible. Not all songs need to have any sort of “deep meaning” – there is nothing wrong with songs intended to be FUN. I do tend to prefer songs that tell a story and I deeply regret that there doesn’t seem to be a consistant modern day Tom T Hall among today’s Country songwriters , but there are plenty of writers writing intelligent lyrics
3) Country music is about melody and harmony. The best Country music should be able to stand without drums. With too much of today’s music, Country or otherwise, if you removed the rhythm track there would be nothing left . Obviously, if I were evaluating an album by Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa or Max Roach I would expect rhythm to dominate (although with Krupa and Rich, often it didn’t) . If you can’t whistle the tune, it isn’t a tune
4) The musical accompaniment need not be elaborate, but it must competant and add to the aural experience. A album loses points rapidly from me if the musical backing drowns out the singer. This flaw really plagued Shannon Brown’s record. I think she may be a good singer, but her CD didn’t offer much proof
5) The CD must vary the tempos some. I liked all of the songs on the recent Alan Jackson album, but the whole is far less than the sum of its parts because of its torpid tempos. One or two uptempo numbers would have vastly improved the album. This problem seems to plague modern female country artists (Allison Krause is a prime example) more than their male counterparts
F) In evaluating an album as a Country record, I like to hear fiddle and steel guitar, but it can still be Country without these as long as the lead guitar work doesn’t sound like something ripped off from Guns & Roses or Van Halen. I guess to a large extent, “Country” is like “pornography”. I can’t define it but I know it when I see (hear) it.
Rascall Flatts isn’t Country , Tim McGraw ,The Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride are usually (but not always) Country, and Faith Hill is sometimes Country. Amber Digby, Brad Paisley, Loretta Lynn, Dale Watson and Merle Haggard are alwways country, even when doing non-Country material
Always remember that rating CDs is, ultimately, a subjective process. When Kevin and I did our Top 100 CDs of the Modern Era (1989-2006) , he didn’t have either of my top two picks in his top 100 and his #1 pick (Stones In The Road by Mary Chapin Carpenter) I had at #36. I suspect that if Kevin and I revisited these ratings five years from now, we’d find that our tastes have changed and we’d rate things a little differently.