I haven’t heard a country song spin such a fantastical yet somehow believable yarn about circus folk since Kathy Mattea’s “Harley”, a fan favorite album cut from her 1991 set, Time Passes By.
Don Henry wrote that tune, and he’s a co-writer of this latest single by Miranda Lambert as well. “All Kinds of Kinds” is actually headed to country radio, giving this new tale the opportunity for a wider audience than that little-known gem from two decades ago.
For some strange reason, it takes Lambert a while to get around to releasing the best songs from her albums to radio. I’d argue that this coming on the heels of “Mama’s Broken Heart” makes this her best one-two punch since “Gunpowder & Lead” and “More Like Her.”
“All Kinds of Kinds” could have easily made its appeal for tolerance and against bigotry be populated with cardboard characters, but the writers take the wiser tack of creating complex and not necessarily likable folks to celebrate, trusting the listeners to be charmed by them anyway.
And how couldn’t we be, when Lambert sings with smirky, smiley non-judgment, aware of the absurdity of her subjects but enamored by their essential humanity.
Then again, maybe she’s just having fun singing about circus folks and a senator with secrets hanging in his closet.
Would you expect anything less from a collaboration between Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan, especially one that has them officially being billed as Grits & Glamour?
Much like both ladies were known for doing in their chart-topping days, “I Know What You Did Last Night” weds traditional country structures with the contemporary female experience. It’s one of those classic conversational duets, with both singers alternating lines and talking as much as singing at certain points. They don’t quite break the fourth wall, but they push up against it, much like Loretta & Conway and Porter & Dolly would do on their album cuts.
But the girls night out spirit is completely modern, without even a hint of apology for their rowdiness. If anything, it’s a friendly competition for who did the most partying down, with the details grounded enough in reality that it never becomes a caricature.
Pam and Lorrie toured together for a bit in the nineties, but they’ve been pairing up regularly for a couple of years now, and that helps the collaboration feel natural, not forced. Grits & Glamour, the tour moniker, has taken on a sound that has elements of both artists but is uniquely its own. They have more than a few classic recordings between them, with Tillis being especially strong as an albums artist, but I don’t remember either of them having so much pure fun on a studio recording.
In a year that has seen some incredible collaborations already, it looks like Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan are still quite capable of hanging in the big leagues. I cannot wait to hear the rest of their album.
An impressive run of hit singles and his visible Opry stardom gave him tremendous success as a singer, but it’s been Bill Anderson’s songwriting that’s kept him topping the country charts for decades longer than even his most successful contemporaries.
The man who’d become known as Whisperin’ Bill Anderson had always wanted to be a professional writer, but it was sports journalism that was his original goal. But as he was working his way through college as a radio disc jockey, he was inspired to try his hand at songwriting. An early attempt was “City Lights”, which ended up a smash hit for Ray Price and began a songwriting career that is still going strong 55 years later.
Soon, he was writing hits for himself as well as others. He earned his Whisperin’ moniker from his soft, conversational singing style, which found him speaking as often as singing. The sixties brought classic recordings like “The Tips of My Fingers”, which didn’t include the plural of tip when he recorded it, but was added when other artists like Roy Clark and Steve Wariner also had hits with it. He launched Connie Smith’s career with “Once a Day”, just a year after he released a country classic of his own, the #1 smash hit, “Still.”
In addition to his solo hits like “Po’ Folks” and “I Get the Feeling”, he had a series of successful duets with Jan Howard and with Mary Lou Turner. A collaboration with the latter, “Sometimes”, was his final #1 hit in 1975, after which his hits as an artists became fewer and far between. From this point on, his popularity as a performer would be limited to his Opry appearances, and when those shows became televised in the eighties, his colorful personality reached an entire new audience.
While he had plenty of songs recorded in the eighties and nineties, it’s been in the new century that Anderson had his most prolific songwriting renaissance. He’s co-written songs for contemporary artists such as Sara Evans and Sugarland. Amazingly, in his fifth decade of writing, he earned his first Song of the Year trophy for the Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss hit, “Whiskey Lullaby.” Just a couple of years later, he won a companion piece for his mantle, taking home honors for the George Strait hit, “Give it Away.”
Amazingly, these awards came after he was already inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, an honor he received in 2001. In addition to remaining a current songwriter on the charts, Anderson continues to document the incredibly legacy of country music, hosting popular concert reunions for country singers and songwriters of days gone by. He has also written successful memoirs and reflections on life, and can still be found on the Opry stage sharing some of those stories in between performances of the songs that have kept him on the stage for more than five decades.
The Tip of My Fingers, 1960
Po’ Folks, 1961
Mama Sang a Song, 1962
For Loving You (with Jan Howard), 1967
My Life (Throw it Away if I Want to), 1969
Sometimes (with Mary Lou Turner), 1975
Essential Singles by Other Artists:
City Lights (Ray Price), 1958
Once a Day (Connie Smith), 1964
The Cold Hard Facts of Life (Porter Wagoner), 1967
The Lord Knows I’m Drinking (Cal Smith), 1973
Whiskey Lullaby (Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss), 2004
The ultimate icon of Southern country rock, Hank Williams Jr. emerged from the long, influential shadow of his father to become one of the genre's most distinctive personalities.
Born in 1949, Hank Jr. was only a toddler when his father died. As the namesake of the legendary Hank Williams, his early career consisted of Hank Jr. carefully following his father's footsteps, covering his material and even dressing like him for performances at the tender age of eight.
He found moderate success throughout the sixties and early seventies, and as his songwriting talent grew, he slowly began to develop his own unique style. Still, he was little more than a B-list traditional country singer, making a lot of good music and having reasonably popular hits. Alcoholism was slowing him down, and after getting a handle on his addiction, he began to incorporate Southern rock sounds into his country music.
Just as his signature style was emerging, tragedy struck when he suffered a terrible fall while mountain climbing in Montana. After a long and difficult recovery, Williams returned with new purpose, and found his commercial breakthrough when he teamed up with producer Jimmy Bowen. In 1979, he released two signature hits. “Family Tradition” managed to exercise the demons of living in his father's shadow while simultaneously popularizing the sound that would help him escape it. “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” lay down the template for his most powerful material.
Thus kicked off a decade where Williams Jr. would reach astonishing heights of popularity, with records selling in the millions, singles regularly topping the charts, and even becoming one of the genre's first successful music video artists. In 1987 and 1988, he was named the CMA Entertainer of the Year, the culmination of his rise to superstardom.
He became widely known beyond the country music field with his popular themes for Monday Night Football, which earned him Emmy awards to go alongside his music industry statuettes. His radio success faded in the nineties, but his popularity on the road and in popular culture hasn't subsided, though these days he's more likely to be found on Fox News than CMT, with his conservative and often inflammatory views continuing to garner notice outside the country music world.
Regardless of his notoriety in other fields, in the end, he'll be remembered for his body of work. As arguably the most significant second generation talent in country music history, Hank Williams Jr.'s legacy is secured.
Eleven Roses, 1972
Family Tradition, 1979
Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound, 1979
All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down), 1981
A Country Boy Can Survive, 1982
Born to Boogie, 1987
There's a Tear in My Beer (with Hank Williams), 1989
The coolest thing “I Hope it Rains” has going for it is a piano melody that is mildly reminiscent of Bonnie Tyler’s cover of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”
As for the rest of it, Jana Kramer’s newest effort is mediocre and suffers from being not quite enough of everything it’s trying to be. It’s twangy, but not twangy enough to suggest an authentic country pedigree. It’s adolescent, but not adolescent enough to rank among even the lesser Taylor Swift “I’m done with you now wait until the next song about the next guy I’m done with” kiss-off numbers. It’s a vindictive fantasy, but nothing nearly as vindictive as what Jaron and the Long Road to Love would pray for.
All in all, Kramer would’ve been better off just covering Dolly Parton’s “I Don’t Want to Throw Rice.” She would’ve accomplished all three tasks in one fell swoop.
Written by Jerry Flowers, Kelley Lovelace, and Rachel Proctor
Hunter Hayes just scored a decently big pop hit with “Wanted”, which was initially his first big country hit. Perhaps that's why he's taking a cue from the pop market, and re-releasing his first album in an expanded edition called (Encore) this summer.
That set will include a guest appearance from Jason Mraz, so it's easy to think that musically, he might start taking his cues from the pop scene as well. But “I Want Crazy”, the lead single from the expanded set, indicates that there's no need to jump t
If anything, “I Want Crazy” is insanely derivative of Golden Road-era Keith Urban, full of ridiculously catchy banjo riffs and melodies so light and breezy they practically float away. Not surprisingly, his lyrics haven't matured much, so even this new song's charm is mostly adolescent, a fact all the more remarkable given it is co-written by Lori McKenna.
But as I've written before, he's got the chops. If he keeps his feet firmly grounded in country music and keeps developing his songwriting craft, he could develop into quite the artist. For now, we have to settle for some radio filler that's worth cranking up the volume for.
Written by Hunter Hayes, Lori McKenna and Troy Verges
It's hard not to root for Chris Young. He can really sing and his music would sound identifiably country if it was released twenty years ago, making it sound like Hank Williams in comparison to what's passing for it these days.
But he's got to pay the bills, I guess. “Aw Naw” is a typical 2013 country party song that is easier to tolerate than most of the others because it's sung really well and at least sounds like it's been written and
Now, even the greatest country artists pandered to the trends of the times. Check out the hillbilly humor tracks that even Alan Jackson and Pam Tillis recorded in the nineties, or the string-drenched crossover pap that even George Jones and Loretta Lynn succumbed to when Nashville went uptown in the seventies and eighties.
Those songs don't make their way to the essential collections that surface when a great act's radio days are done. Hopefully, this one won't make it to Chris Young's when his time comes.
Written by Chris DeStefano, Ashley Gorley and Chris Young
In the early eighties, a new kind of country band surfaced, structured like the rock bands that came before them, but deeply grounded in country instrumentation. Alabama were the pioneers of the field, and they reached a level of superstardom beyond most bands of any genre during their peak.
Three of the four members of Alabama are cousins from the band's namesake state, though Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry, and Randy Owen first began performing as Young Country in 1969. The band went through a series of day jobs and a series of drummers while honing their sound on the local music circuit in Alabama and neighboring states. After switching to Wildcountry in 1972, and settling on Rick Scott as their drummer in 1974, they finally took the name Alabama in 1977.
A series of minor hits on an independent label led to a contract with RCA, after a final lineup change replaced Scott with Mark Herndon. When the band broke in 1980 with the top twenty hit “My Home's in Alabama”, what followed set a new bar for commercial success in country music. The band scored a record consecutive 21 #1 hits, became the first act to win CMA Entertainer of the Year three times in a row, and released several multi-platinum albums, including the five million-selling Mountain Music in 1982.
Their success opened the floodgates for other country bands, eventually replacing vocal groups as the dominant non-solo sound in the genre. Though they didn't receive much critical acclaim for their work, their relevance on the
commercial front was undeniable. Even as a wave of new acts in the nineties again raised the bar for what country acts could achieve, Alabama remained successful, consistently selling gold and platinum while radio continued to play their hits.
At the turn of the century, the band slowed down, even doing a farewell tour. They still released music, however, scoring their first #1 country album in 17 years with Songs of Inspiration in 2006. They also returned to the penthouse of the singles chart in 2011, scoring their 34th #1 single in support of Brad Paisley's “Old Alabama.”
They are currently recording and performing as a trio, with Herndon departing the group after a rift over royalties that led to a lawsuit. They were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005, and returned to the stage in 2013 for a fortieth anniversary tour.
Gentleman Jim Reeves started off as a hardcore country singer, but his smooth crossover stylings would become synonymous with the Nashville Sound, combining with tragedy to grant him country music immortality only a dozen years into his career.
Growing up in Texas, Reeves picked up the guitar at an early age, mimicking the Jimmie Rodgers records that he discovered through his older brother. A prodigious talent, Reeves was already singing on local radio shows before he entered his teens.
He was also a great athlete, and he played in a semi-professional league, followed by three years in the big leagues with the Saint Louis Cardinals. But an ankle injury sidelined him, and he returned his attention to music.
He worked in radio while recording independent singles, eventually raising his profile with a series of hits on Abbott Records. After three years of scoring big hits with them, he once again joined the big leagues, this time in the form of major record label RCA Victor.
Reeves was a consistent hitmaker throughout the fifties, but didn’t truly break through to superstardom until he softened his country sound with the pop stylings of the time. “He’ll Have to Go”, released in 1959, became his signature hit, reaching the pop top ten while it topped the country charts for fourteen weeks.
country and pop from that point on, though he was far more successful in his home format. Tragedy struck when Reeves died in a plane crash in 1964, but much like Patsy Cline before him, his notoriety only grew in the shadow of his untimely death.
In fact, Reeves would have his most significant run of hits in the years after his death, having an astonishing sixteen top ten singles over the course of seventeen years. Some of those hits, like “Distant Drums” and “Blue Side of Lonesome”, are as beloved as the biggest ones released while he was still alive.
Reeves was one of the earliest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, joining those hallowed ranks in 1967. “He’ll Have to Go” cemented its classic status with its induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. To this day, unreleased recordings continue to surface, and he remains one of the top-selling country artists of the Nashville Sound era.