Day 1 features tracks from the following five artists: Suzy Bogguss, Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Todd Snider, Dwight Yoakam, and Sugarland.
Written by Cheryl Wheeler
“Aces” is as good a place to start as any, as it an illustration of my favorite country music recipe: an extraordinary singer interpreting the work of an extraordinary songwriter, producing something that is greater than the sum of their individual talents. I’m not one of those people who thinks that a song necessarily sounds best when its the writer singing it. Looking at this list in its entirety, I’m a bit surprised that even artists who are known as much for their writing talents are still represented by songs written by others.
“Aces” is a brilliant, quirky song that is rough around the edges. It is the vocal talents of Bogguss that smooths those edges, finding the beautiful melody lurking underneath Wheeler’s halting original recording without compromising its raw vulnerability. The transformation of a simple, somewhat clumsy folk song into a mainstream country hit was early nineties Nashville at its best.
Other Favorites: “Outbound Plane,” “Drive South,” “Diamonds and Tears”
“After the Fire is Gone”
Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty
Written by L.E. White
My most played Loretta Lynn track is a duet with an artist I’ve played a lot more over the years. There are so many things that I love about “After the Fire is Gone.” I love how both vocalists are so iconic that they are both immediately identifiable in the first line of the song. I love how Lynn plays against type, being the cheater for a change, and how Twitty can make even a louse sympathetic with his peerless vocal talent. I love how a song like this can tell a full story and communicate intense emotion in under three minutes. It’s an indisputable classic.
Other Favorites: “Portland, Oregon” (with Jack White), “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “The Pill”
“Age Like Wine”
Written by Todd Snider
I first discovered Todd Snider in the pages of New Country magazine, when Pam Tillis wrote a guest piece about his debut album, Songs For the Daily Planet. I finally heard that album years later, on an overnight drive from Nashville to New York, when my traveling companion popped in the CD changer. I was an instant fan, and that album remained my favorite of his until East Nashville Skyline was released. I was older by then, and so was Snider. His youthful exuberance had stepped aside for world-weary experience, and I was able to relate to that, too. “Age Like Wine” finds him lamenting that he’s an “old timer, five and dimer, trying to find a way to age like wine somehow,” since he’s “too old to die young now.”
Other Favorites: “Waco Moon,” “The Devil You Know,” “This Land is Our Land”
“Ain’t That Lonely Yet”
Written by James House and Kostas
It feels like heresy to have my most played Dwight Yoakam song to be among the few hits of his that he didn’t write, but I’ve always assumed that James House and Kostas had already been laboring under the shadow of Yoakam’s influence by the time they wrote this song anyway. This bitter rejoinder to a jilting lover has all the elements of Yoakam’s best work: a heartbreak, a humiliation, and a perfectly scripted comeuppance, the kind that we rarely enjoy in real life but are so fun to vicariously experience through songs like this.
Other Favorites: “Things Change,” “Gone (That’ll Be Me),” “Suspicious Minds”
Written by Kristian Bush, Jennifer Nettles, and Bobby Pinson
Love on the Inside was, for me, peak Sugarland, where the songwriting and production came together for something truly original but still grounded in country music. This isn’t their most iconic hit, but it’s the one that I’ve played the most, likely due to that incredible couplet in the last verse that still floors me today: “Pictures, dishes and socks/It’s our whole life, down to one box.” Such a stunning attention to detail, and sung by the only woman I can think of who can break your heart when singing about socks.
Other Favorites: “Stuck Like Glue,” “Very Last Country Song,” “Stay”