Author Archives: Ben Foster

Round Table Album Review: Brandy Clark, 12 Stories

Brandy-Clark-12-stories

Brandy Clark
12 Stories

stars-412.gif

Our Brandy Clark coverage continues with a round table review of her hotly anticipated debut album, which is out today.

She teased us earlier this year with “Stripes,” which I proudly awarded an A in my review of the song, calling it “a clever and original, not to mention humorous, twist on a tried-and-true country music theme.” It was more than enough to whet our appetites for the album to follow, which ended up going so far as to supersede expectations.

A foremost theme on the aptly-titled 12 Stories is the near-universal desire to escape from something, whether it’s an unhappy marriage, a dead-end job or the everyday stresses of life – even if the respite is only momentary. The stories are laced with striking first-person attention to detail, while often using surprisingly plainspoken language to tap into deep wells of emotion. Though Clark’s songwriting gifts are already well documented – see Kevin’s recent feature – it’s a special treat to finally get to hear what a strong singer she is, her songs beautifully realized through moving, expressive performances.

While the entire album warrants a recommendation, we at Country Universe are pleased to share some favorite tracks from one of our favorite releases of the year.

“Pray to Jesus”

So many of the hired-gun songwriters in Nashville today have adopted a “write what you know” ethos and have then shown a perverse kind of pride in proving that they know absolutely nothing of real value. In stark contrast, “Pray to Jesus,” the first of Clark’s 12 Stories, packs enough into its scant running time and plainspoken, salt-of-the-earth imagery that it probably merits a good 3000 words to delve into what, exactly, Clark knows. Shattering any lingering illusions of upward social mobility in modern America, she delivers a withering cultural commentary that’s noteworthy not for its irony or class condescension but for its empathy and bleak but still good-natured humor. - Jonathan Keefe

Written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally

Listen

“What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven”

Ultimately, the factor that makes Clark’s album so accessible is the realistic nature of each song. The stories are raw, real and relatable in one way or another–whether it’s being able to personally relate, knowing somebody who can, or at least being able to imagine the predicament. While it may not be about contemplating cheating, we can all relate to a black and white situation that still feels grey somehow. If not that, Clark’s portrayal of such a scenario manages to invoke sympathy for the song’s focal character, even as you’re mentally willing her not to carry out the act.

Every element of “What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven”, including Clark’s intimate performance and a sympathetic production, works  perfectly together to create  the vulnerability  imperative for a believable cheating song. Vince Gill’s always winning background support is just the icing on the cake. - Leeann Ward

Written by Brandy Clark and Mark Stephen Jones

Listen

“Hold My Hand”

12 Stories is a snapshot of life –dirty, messy, redeeming life—taken by a woman with a keen appreciation for its grey areas. Against that backdrop, “Hold My Hand” feels like the exception, a quiet moment of ex-girlfriend-fueled insecurity that isn’t all that complicated. But it’s no less observant: Clark brings to the song a visceral understanding of the female psyche, gently giving weight to the smallest of gestures. Her request for reassurance is a vulnerable one, of course, but leave it to her to make it with such purpose. - Tara Seetharam

Written by Brandy Clark and Mark Stephen Jones

Listen

“Take a Little Pill”

Nashville has become pretty flippant about recreational drug use in recent years, but Clark’s take on self-medicating is much more harrowing. It’s a delicate topic if you try to approach it seriously, but she deftly shows sympathy for people trapped in a spiral of addiction while offering some barbs toward a society that encourages pill-popping as a solution for any problem. - Sam Gazdziak

Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Mark D. Sanders

Listen

“Hungover”

There’s a thread of hope and optimism in this song that makes you root for the woman who is slowly taking control of her life, in spite of the love she still has for the man she is slowly leaving behind.  The triumph of her just buying a ticket and going to her sister’s feels like an “Independence Day”- level climax, simply because the character was drawn so perfectly from the beginning. - Kevin John Coyne

Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Jessie Jo Dillon

Listen

“The Day She Got Divorced”

This song feels like the lazy choice off Clark’s album, since, hey, even “Turn on the Radio”/”If I Were a Boy”-era Reba couldn’t ignore its greatness. Still, out of all the colorful women sketched on 12 Stories, I keep coming back to the one drinking extra-strong coffee, shrugging off household cleaning, and humoring an empty fling with her married boss. Perhaps it’s because of how impressively the song marries simple craft to complex feeling, arranging its crisp, little details into a vivid picture of mid-life disillusionment. Or maybe it’s all the fun quirks that mark a writing team in confident control of their powers: “dirty dinner dishes,” “wudn’t that sorry, wudn’t that sad,” and of course, the delicious, dramatic title phrase. I guess it’s all of the above, though. “The Day She Got Divorced” is like if a primetime soap like Nashville were written with the precision of a Mad Men and the personality of a Buffy. It’s the best. - Dan Milliken

Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Mark D. Sanders

Listen

“Just Like Him”

For all the bold, in-your-face fun of “Stripes” and “Crazy Women,” Clark’s characters are often disarmingly vulnerable. With “Just Like Him,” Clark gives voice to a woman who has grown up with a neglectful, overbearing alcoholic father, only to find her adult self in a relationship with the same sort of man. Arguably, the song’s most potent moment is when Clark heaves a heavy sigh and concludes “I can’t do this again” – a credit to her abilities as an interpretive singer.

The tale is beautifully augmented by a fully realized melody and by David Brainard’s near flawless production job, with strains of harmonica, piano and cello echoing the narrator’s hurt and disappointment. It’s a testament to the fact that the right melody, vocal reading, and production possess a power to elevate something already great into something truly unforgettable. - Ben Foster

Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Jessie Jo Dillon

Listen

3 Comments

Filed under Album Reviews, Roundtable Reviews

Win a Signed Copy of Alan Jackson’s The Bluegrass Album

Print

UPDATE: Contest closed. Congratulations to our winner, the second of the two commenters named John.

Do you love bluegrass music? Do you love Alan Jackson? Or do you just love great music? We sure do here at Country Universe, so it’s our great pleasure to thank you for your support of our site by giving away a copy of Alan Jackson’s fantastic new release The Bluegrass Album - signed by our favorite singer of simple songs himself, no less!

Leave a comment below to enter. You can tell us about your favorite bluegrass artists, albums or songs, or tell us about your favorite Alan Jackson albums or songs. Or you can just say hello – that will put your name in the drawing as well.

All eligible comments must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CST on Friday, September 27. A winner will be chosen via random number generator and informed via email, so be sure to include a valid email address along with your comment. One entry per IP address is allowed.

If you can’t wait until the contest closes on Friday, then by all means click here to go ahead and download the album from iTunes.

Happy commenting, and thanks to all for being a part of the Country Universe family.

33 Comments

Filed under Contests

Single Review: Florida Georgia Line, “Round Here”

RoundHere_Florida Georgia LineI smell a holding pattern.

Yes, I get it. The boys of Florida Georgia Line have got to make their $$$, and the way to do that these days is to give radio what they want. But if you’re going to serve up radio filler, you could at least serve up a different variety of radio filler than what you’ve previously been putting out.

Case in point:  “Round Here” is the third consecutive rural party anthem that Florida Georgia Line has released, and of those three, “Cruise” is the only one that has been any good at all.

Yes, I still believe the hook and melody of “Cruise” had something great going for it – even though the song’s place in country music history is being blown grossly out of proportion by Billboard’s nutty new chart rules. But the same cannot be said for “Round Here,” which grasps at a trite, overused phrase for its title, and burrows down into the usual formulas. Bloated production and affected vocals only make things worse.

The bottom line:  Kiss some radio butt if you must, but don’t make a one-trick pony out of yourself. Remember Gretchen Wilson?

Written by Rodney Clawson, Thomas Rhett and Chris Tompkins

Grade: C-

12 Comments

Filed under Single Reviews

Single Review: Luke Bryan, “That’s My Kind of Night”

ThatsMyKindofNight_ Luke BryanLet’s start with the positives.

It has a banjo. I like banjo.

It has hand claps. I like hand claps.

It has an energetic vocal performance. I like that.

Unfortunately, it also has unabashedly dumb, mind-numbing lyrics that insult the history of the country genre and the intelligence of its fans, shamelessly recycling cliché after cliché right from the opening verse – as if the rest of the world should care about the narrator’s ice cold beer, jacked-up truck, hot country girlfriend, and his musical-whiplash-inducing country-hip-hop mix tape. Feeding on yesterday’s leftovers that were never any good to begin with is something that I do not like at all.

Sorry, Luke, but Zac Brown was right. Thanks for the dignified genre representation, Entertainer of the Year.

Written by Dallas Davidson, Chris DeStefano and Ashley Gorley

Grade: D-

36 Comments

Filed under Single Reviews

A Conversation with Lynn Anderson

lynn-andersonLynn Anderson was born the daughter of songwriters Casey and Liz Anderson, and went on to become one of country music’s brightest stars in the 60’s and 70’s. Over the course of sixteen years, she amassed an impressive string of eighteen Top 10 country hits including chart-toppers such as “You’re My Man,” “How Can I Unlove You,” “Keep Me In Mind,” “What a Man My Man Is,” and most notably the Grammy-winning platinum-selling crossover smash “Rose Garden.”

Anderson continues busily touring and recording to this day. Most recently, she’s lent her talents to a new collaborative album called Betty Swain Project. The album pays tribute to a gifted songwriter named Betty Swain who was unsuccessful in finding individuals to orchestrate and perform her original songs for most of her life, only to have her longtime dream finally realized a few short weeks before her death thanks to a low-budget demo CD and concert organized by singer-songwriter Jim Paul. Lynn Anderson renders two Betty Swain compositions for this new Center Sound Records release, which also includes contributions from Siobhan Magnus, Brittini Black, Loni Rose, Nikki Nelson, Kim Parent, Devin Belle, Taylor Watson, and Marissa Begin. Country Universe was recently able to reach Lynn Anderson out in New Mexico by phone for an interview in which she enthusiastically discusses both her current projects and past career accolades.

Ben Foster:  How did you come to be a part of Betty Swain Project, and what made you want to participate?

Lynn Anderson:  My friend and my steel guitar player Robin Ruddy (who also plays with Rod Stewart) called me and told me about the project, and asked if I might be interested in it, and I said “Sure” when I heard the history of it. Are you familiar with that?

Yes, it’s a beautiful story.

It really is. It’s very interesting. It’s kind of heartwarming. This lady was finally able to hear her music played before she passed away, and she had such great friends and such great family. It’s kind of amazing that sometimes words and music are timeless and sometimes it’s kind of a time machine. If you put them in a box and bury them under the cornerstone of a building, it’s amazing when that building is torn down and you come up with that time capsule, it’s amazing what you might find there. Some things take you back to an older time, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes you’ve forgotten that. I think Betty’s music takes us back to an easier time – kind of a time of Patsy Cline and that basic country music. So I think it’s amazing. I think it’s incredible to be a part of the project. I think that occasionally if you get a chance it’s kind of a wake-up call that reminds you that people have been writing this music for a long time, and though this lady didn’t get recognized in her prime, it’s a wonderful thing that she was able to hear her music played and know that it would be recorded before she passed away.

What qualities do you think made Betty Swain a compelling songwriter?

I think she was very real. I think she was true to her time, which was much more basic, much more down-to-earth, much more one-and-one with your basic emotions. She wasn’t confused or distracted by the cell phones, the computers and all that stuff that we have now. She basically was just a lady who sat and used her music as her means to communicate with other people, and we’ve kind of forgotten about what we call the good old days. We rely so much on social data, social networking that we’ve kind of forgotten actually how to write a letter, how to write down a poem, how to actually sit down and write a letter to another person, and I think that’s what Betty captures. She kind of brings back into your face the fact that people sat down and wrote down their ideas and their thoughts, and that was how they entertained themselves, and that’s how they entertained their families and their neighbors. It was a softer, gentler time.

What can you tell us about the songs you recorded for the album, “Sweet Memories” and “Prove You Care”?

I love “Sweet Memories.” Since Betty Swain’s song, there were other songs written called “Sweet Memories,” but hers seems to have been the first. So it seems that a good idea never dies. There were, as I said, other songs that I know of in the past twenty or thirty years, but hers seems to have been the first, so I thought it was a really nifty chance to get to capture that songs in its first personification. And it may have been written a hundred years ago. Someone may have sat in a cabin in Kentucky and written a song called “Sweet Memories,” but that’s the first one that’s come to my mind, that’s come to my attention. I just think it’s an incredible opportunity to get to see and feel not only how much the same people’s ideas and words were fifty years ago, but how much different they are. It’s a real looking glass. It’s a chance to look back into history and then place us here in the future

I just thought [“Prove You Care”] was a nifty fun song. She seems to have been a forerunner to Loretta Lynn – somebody with the same down-home moral qualities that Loretta Lynn became famous for years later. She was very down-to-earth, and I think that song says a lot of that.

I couldn’t do an interview with you without taking a little time to talk about your signature song. You’ve had a great run of country hits, but “Rose Garden” stands out as the Lynn Anderson song that virtually everybody knows. How would you describe what that song has meant to your career and to your fans?

Well, that was just a little bit of magic. That’s just one of those things that, if you’re lucky, happens once in a lifetime. It had been recorded seven times before I did it, and it wasn’t a hit, but it just simply took off and went out of my hands when we recorded it. We were planning on recording it in several different languages, and before we could do it, it became a hit worldwide. It became a hit in Mexico and Spain and France and Germany and Japan and so on before I had an opportunity to sing it in those languages. So to me it says how much music is a universal language – how much a really great piece of music speaks over languages barriers and over different barriers that seem to rise up between people.  A great song can break them all down.

It’s amazing how things sometime just come together like that.

Yeah, it is. I feel so lucky too that my song “Rocky Top” has become the state theme song of Tennessee. Actually we have two. There’s “The Tennessee Waltz,” but whenever the University of Tennessee makes a touchdown, they have to play “Rocky Top”! Do you know “Rocky Top”?

Oh yes, that’ s actually one of my favorite songs you’ve done.

Wherever we go all around the world, I usually close my show with “Rocky Top.” Everywhere in the world people like the music. It’s a very American song. It’s a banjo and all that. People clap their hands and stop their feet and go “Yee haw” and stuff like that. It’s a very happy, up-tempo very, very American song, so I love “Rocky Top” as much as I love “Rose Garden.”

Looking back on all of your impressive career accomplishments, what do you consider to be your proudest moments?

I think that the idea that “Rose Garden” was named the unofficial theme song for the United States Marine Corps was an amazing moment. When the soldiers came back from Vietnam, we were in a stadium with a lot of soldiers. The U.S. Navy was on the left side – about ten thousand of them – and the army was in the front – about ten thousand of those, and the navy was behind them. On the right, there were about ten thousand United States Marines. When I sang “Rose Garden,” all of them stood on signal at attention and saluted when I sang that song because it was the theme song for the United States Marines! And that’s an amazing thing. I cried. It was an amazing moment having a song that’s the theme song for the men and woman who are defending the United States. It’s an amazing thing.

So what’s next for Lynn Anderson? Is there anything upcoming that you’d like to let folks know about?

I’ve got a gospel project that we just finished. It’s not out yet, but it will be in a couple of months. I’m very excited about it. This is the first time I’ve ever done a gospel project, and we’ve got a song in it that the Oak Ridge Boys came and sang with me, and of course they’re in the Gospel Hall of Fame! It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and to have the Oaks come in and sing with me is a wonderful thing. Those guys are just great! I can’t wait to get that out and see what happens with that.

10 Comments

Filed under Interviews

2013 CMA Nominations

cma_awardThis year’s CMA nominees were just announced this morning by Sheryl Crow and Florida Georgia Line from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. This year’s crop features many of the usual suspects, as well as a few surprising inclusions and exclusions. The full list of nominees follows with some brief commentary. Musgraves, Shelton and Swift lead with five nominations each, followed by Florida Georgia Line with four. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Entertainer of the Year

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift

Dude, where’s Carrie Underwood?

Male Vocalist of the Year

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church
  • Blake Shelton
  • Keith Urban

Female Vocalist of the Year

  • Kelly Clarkson
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

For the first time since 1997, the Female Vocalist race is Martina-less.

Vocal Group of the Year

  • The Band Perry
  • Eli Young Band
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Zac Brown Band

No surprises here.

Vocal Duo of the Year

  • Big & Rich
  • The Civil Wars
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Love and Theft
  • Sugarland
  • Thompson Square

No idea why they decided to nominated six duos this year when it’s usually all they can do to come up with five, especially considering that Sugarland was not active as a duo this year.

New Artist of the Year

  • Lee Brice
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Kip Moore

Album of the Year

  • Little Big Town, Tornado
    Produced by Jay Joyce
  • Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park
    Produced by Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves
  • Blake Shelton, Based On a True Story…
    Produced by Scott Hendricks
  • Taylor Swift, Red
    Produced by Jeff Bhasker, Scott Borchetta, Nathan Chapman, Dann Huff, Jacknife Lee, Max Martin, Shellback, Taylor Swift, Butch Walker and Dan Wilson
  • Carrie Underwood, Blown Away
    Produced by Mark Bright

Yay, Kacey Musgraves!

Single of the Year

  • Florida Georgia Line, “Cruise”
    Produced by Joey Moi
  • Tim McGraw with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, “Highway Don’t Care”
    Produced by Byron Gallimore and Tim McGraw
  • Miranda Lambert, “Mama’s Broken Heart”
    Produced by Frank Liddell, Glenn Worf and Chuck Ainlay
  • Kacey Musgraves, “Merry Go ‘Round”
    Produced by Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves
  • Darius Rucker, “Wagon Wheel”
    Produced by Frank Rogers

Dude, where’s Carrie Underwood?

Song of the Year

  • “I Drive Your Truck” (Lee Brice)
    Written by Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary
  • “Mama’s Broken Heart” (Miranda Lambert)
    Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves
  • “Merry Go ‘Round” (Kacey Musgraves)
    Written by Kacey Musgraves, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne
  • “Pontoon” (Little Big Town)
    Written by Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird
  • “Wagon Wheel” (Darius Rucker)
    Written by Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor

“Pontoon” gets nominated – “Blown Away” doesn’t? I don’t get it.

Music Video of the Year

  • Carrie Underwood, “Blown Away”
    Directed by Randee St. Nicholas
  • Blake Shelton featuring Pistol Annies, “Boys ‘Round Here”
    Directed by Trey Fanjoy
  • Lady Antebellum, “Downtown”
    Directed by Peter Zavadil
  • Tim McGraw with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, “Highway Don’t Care”
    Directed by Shane Drake
  • Miranda Lambert, “Mama’s Broken Heart”
    Directed by Trey Fanjoy
  • Little Big Town, “Tornado”
    Directed by Shane Drake

Musical Event of the Year

  • Blake Shelton featuring Pistol Annies, “Boys ‘Round Here”
  • Florida Georgia Line featuring Nelly, “Cruise”
  • Kelly Clarkson featuring Vince Gill, “Don’t Rush”
  • Tim McGraw with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, “Highway Don’t Care”
  • Jason Aldean with Luke Bryan and Eric Church, “The Only Way I Know”

Seriously? “Boys ‘Round Here” is what it takes for the Pistol Annies to finally get some CMA recognition?

Musician of the Year

  • Same Bush (Mandolin)
  • Paul Franklin (Steel Guitar)
  • Dann Huff (Guitar)
  • Brent Mason (Guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (Guitar)

93 Comments

Filed under CMA Awards

Album Review: Tammy Wynette, The Essential Tammy Wynette

the essential tammy wynette

Tammy Wynette
The Essential Tammy Wynette

stars-4.gif

The legendary First Lady of Country Music is the subject of a generous new forty-track double-disc career retrospective in Legacy Recordings’ Essential series.

The Essential Tammy Wynette opens with her 1966 debut single “Apartment No. 9,” which set the tone for the many heartbreak-themed hits that would follow it, going on to enter the annals of country music classics despite charting at only #44. From there, the album checks off Wynette’s biggest and best-loved hits in chronological order. All 29 of her Billboard Top 10 solo hits are included, with essential classics such as her signature “Stand by Your Man,” heart breakers such as “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “‘Til I Can Make it On My Own,” and toe tappers such as “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” and “He Loves Me All the Way” all present and accounted for.

Of Wynette’s ten Top 10 duet hits, only four are included – her chart-topping 1967 David Houston duet “My Elusive Dreams,” two of her duets with George Jones (“Take Me” and “Golden Ring”), and her 1985 Mark Gray duet version of “Sometimes When We Touch” -Wynette’s final Top 10 hit, previously a pop hit for songwriter Dan Hill. “Two Story House” is a particularly puzzling exclusion – a classic hit which ranks among Wynette’s best work. The Essential Tammy Wynette might have benefited to some degree by including a few more of her most essential duets at the expense of some of the lesser hits included on the album.

Still, the album remains a remarkably thorough overview of Wynette’s outstanding career, and one which, in addition to the big hits, includes a few less-expected cuts such as her final pair of Top 20 hits, 1987’s “Your Love” and “Talkin’ to Myself Again.” An especially pleasant surprise is album closer “That’s the Way it Could Have Been,” a beautiful self-written cut which Wynette recorded with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton for their stunning 1993 collaborative effort Honky Tonk Angels. It offers an enticing hint at all the great songs that Wynette might still have written had her voice not been silenced by untimely death at the age of 55.

The Essential Tammy Wynette is a thoroughly enjoyable collection which impresses both in content and in effectively summing up the career of one of country music’s most important women. It will likely be more than enough to satisfy the casual fan, and it’s an ideal starting point for listeners who are just beginning to delve into the rich musical legacy of Tammy Wynette.

Track listing: (Disc 1) 1. Apartment #9 2. Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad 3. My Elusive Dreams (with David Houston) 4. I Don’t Wanna Play House 5. Take Me to Your World 6. D-I-V-O-R-C-E 7. Stand by Your Man 8. Singing My Song 9. Too Far Gone 10. The Ways to Love a Man 11. I’ll See Him Through 12. He Loves Me All the Way 13. Run, Woman, Run 14. The Wonders You Perform 15. We Sure Can Love Each Other 16. Good Lovin’ (Makes it Right) 17. Take Me (with George Jones) 18. Bedtime Story 19. Reach Out Your Hand 20. My Man (Understands)

(Disc 2) 1. ‘Til I Get it Right 2. Kids Say the Darndest Things 3. Another Lonely Song 4. Woman to Woman 5. (You Make Me Want to Be) A Mother 6. I Still Believe in Fairy Tales 7. ‘Til I Can Make it On My Own 8. Golden Ring (with George Jones) 9. You and Me 10. Let’s Get Together (One Last Time) 11. One of a Kind 12. Womanhood 13. They Call it Making Love 14. No One Else in the World 15. Crying in the Rain 16. Another Chance 17. Sometimes When We Touch (with Mark Gray) 18. Your Love 19. Talkin’ to Myself Again 20. That’s the Way it Could Have Been (with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton)

2 Comments

Filed under Album Reviews

Single Review: Kellie Pickler, “Little Bit Gypsy”

Kellie-Pickler-Little-Bit-Gypsy-2013-1200x1200I concluded my previous Kellie Pickler review with the conjecture that “Someone Somewhere Tonight” “would seem to confirm that Pickler’s pandering days are indeed over.” Now, with the aforementioned single having missed the Top 40 entirely, here comes her new single “Little Bit Gypsy” to make me eat my words.

It’s not all bad. It’s catchy, it’s identifiably country, and she sings it like she means it. But there’s no getting away from the fact that “Little Bit Gypsy” clearly aspires to be nothing more than a factory-assembled radio hit tailor-made for endless airplay. The song offers nothing more than colorless sketch of a stock character, with nothing about feeling clever or revelatory enough to make the listener invest in the character on any meaningful level. Sure, you could be so generous as to say that it’s at least better than most of the music on country radio, but it would be a hollow compliment for an artist who has already proven herself capable of so much better.

A jaunty melody and a lively production pull just enough weight to make the song a pleasant diversion between radio commercials. But when the song’s radio run has reached its end, there’s just nothing here that’s going to be worth revisiting.

Written by Tammi Lynn, Fred Willhelm and Kyle Jacobs

Grade: C+

8 Comments

Filed under Single Reviews

CU Archives: Linda Ronstadt

linda-ronstadtWe at Country Universe were very saddened to hear of Linda Ronstadt’s recent announcement that she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease eight months ago, and that the disease has resulted in the total loss of her ability to sing.

Though Linda Ronstadt never took up exclusive residence in country territory (or in any one genre for that matter), she had remarkable successes in the country field, including the now-classic Trio project with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, and she served as an important influence for women such as Pam Tillis, Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood. She has also been the subject of several excellent Country Universe features that are well worth revisiting.

First of all, be sure to check out Kevin’s feature on Ronstadt from the 100 Greatest Women countdown, in which she placed at No. 21.

Then take a look at our reader Erik North’s rundown of his 25 favorite Linda Ronstadt songs from Country Universe’s Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists series.

Finally, see Kevin’s reviews of her classic 1975 album Prisoner in Disguise and of her 2006 compilation The Best of Linda Ronstadt:  The Capitol Years.

Below is a selection of videos of Ronstadt in her prime performing some of her best-loved songs. Without a doubt, she will always be remembered as one of the greatest voices in music history, even if she can no longer use that voice today. Please share your own favorite Linda Ronstadt songs and performances in the comments section.

16 Comments

Filed under CU Archives

A Conversation with Zane Williams

Zane WilliamsCountry music singer-songwriter Zane Williams had his first taste of mainstream success in 2006 when Jason Michael Carroll took his song “Hurry Home” into the Top 20. Having already made inroads in the regional country market of his home state of Texas, the Abilene native is currently attempting to break through to a national audience with his fourth album Overnight Success. Amid preparations to embark on his first nationwide radio tour (in an RV with his wife and two children along for the ride), Williams found the time to call Country Universe to chat about his current single and album.

Ben Foster:  What can you tell us about the creative process behind your single “Overnight Success”?

Zane Williams:  Well, that was a pretty easy one to write because it’s so autobiographical. Once I got the idea, I had a lot of subject material to pull from – just from my own life, and from all the other musicians I know. It was a little tricky to get it sort of figured out. I wanted it to be a ten-step process. Pretty much all those things that I talk about in the song I’ve actually lived out in my own life. I didn’t borrow ten grand from my uncle to make my first CD, but I borrowed $17,000 from my grandparents to make my first CD. All the stuff that the song talks about.

Does the album have any central unifying themes?

I don’t think the songs do really. I think the main theme that sort of ties it all together is just the fact that I wrote all the songs, and so I think each one of them sort of shows a different side of my personality, and I kind of think of each one as being kind of its own mini-movie, and they’re all pretty different from each other.

Like an exploration of who Zane Williams is, basically?

Yeah, basically. Just all the different sides of my writing and just how I hear country music. You got your honky-tonk song, and then you got your kind of rocking country song like “Hands of a Working Man,” and you got your acoustic-y bluegrass sittin’ on a front porch type song with “The Simple Things,” love song with “Kissin’.” You hear all those types of song on the radio. You don’t always hear that kind of variety from just one artist, but as a writer, I like to write all those different styles.

Do you have any favorite songs or lyrics on this album, or does that feel like choosing between your children?

I think maybe “On a Good Day,” especially the first verse, the one about “steam rising from my coffee cup like a prayer going up.” I was really feeling the mojo that day. I think I put some good imagery in that song. Metaphors and similes and imagery and stuff, you know. I was feeling sort of poetic that day, so I’m kind of proud of that one, and then “While I Was Away” is real personal for me because it’s written for my boy, and I think that one’s got some mojo on it too. But yeah, I like ‘em all, though.  That’s true.

Who are your favorite songwriters?

Man, there are so many.

Living or dead, past or present.

I think Garth Brooks wrote some killer songs. Of course, not all of his hits did he write, but he did write some of those hits. He wrote some really, really good ones. I still feel like Garth Brook’s greatest hits is just like the pinnacle for me. They’re just all so iconic. Like I said, he didn’t write ‘em all, but he picked them.

He knows how to write ‘em, and he knows how to pick ‘em.

Yeah, exactly. Alan Jackson is somebody who I really have a lot of respect for as a writer because he’d just keep it simple and keep it country and classic, and yet still not be too cliché and still be personal and original. He’s just a good’n. He showed that sweet spot. Of Nashville writers, Dennis Linde is one of my favorites. He passed away not too long ago. He wrote a lot of songs. He was kind of a recluse that lived off by himself and wrote by himself. His songs always had a lot of character to them, like “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” and [sings] “Made her the queen of my double wide trailer.” He wrote “Goodbye Earl” for the Dixie Chicks. All the hit songs just were fun. And then he wrote [sings] “In John Deere green, on a hot summer night…” So he was one of my favorite writers that wrote a lot of stuff back in the nineties. And then you got the guys like Radney Foster or Guy Clark, kind of singer-songwritery, little bit more folksy-type.

Yeah, Guy Clark’s new album is killer.

Yeah, they’re so varied, so good in their own way.

As a Texan, what are your thoughts on the current Texas country music scene, and what Texan artists do you enjoy listening to?

Well, I think like any scene it’s got its good music and bad music, and it’s got good music that’s not popular and you wonder why, and it’s got bad music that is popular and you wonder why. But it’s also got a lot of great stuff too. I think the main thing I like about it is just that you don’t have to be on a major label. There’s fewer gatekeepers. You don’t have to get permission to work with somebody. You pretty much just get your band together and sort of band together and go play shows and just work hard. So I’m thankful for the Texas community. If it weren’t for that, I don’t think I’d have a career right now because I’m always a little bit of a square peg in a round hole in Nashville. I’ve never had any luck getting a major label deal or whatever, and in Nashville you either get that major label deal or you’re just waiting tables. Or you get a publishing deal, but I did that, and I wasn’t happy just being that because I’m more than just a songwriter. I want to be an artist and I want to perform. Down here in Texas I’ve got a scene that enables me to do that.

I’d say some of my favorites on the Texas scene would be the Randy Rogers Band. They’re just cool, man. They’re really good. I like the Turnpike Troubadours. Singer-songwriters, I like Sean McConnell a lot. Those are some of my favorites. I guess one of my favorites is the new guy up-and-comer William Clark Green.

So what’s next for you?

Well, a lot of stuff, man. We’re basically kicking it into fifth gear, you know. I’m leaving the day after tomorrow and I’m taking my family, and we’re going in an RV that we borrowed from a friend, and we’re going on a twelve-day radio tour. On this twelve-day radio tour we’ll be going through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi up to Nashville, and then spending a few days in Nashville, and then we’ll go through Bowling Green up to Lexington we’re I’ve got some family, and then we’ll be coming back down hitting a bunch of stations in Tennessee, and then going home by way of Arkansas and Oklahoma, hitting stations as we go. So anyway, it’s my first nationwide radio tour. “Overnight Success” is my first nationwide radio single. We’ve got a video for “Overnight Success” that’s coming out. We’ve been working it to the Texas charts for a couple months now. It’s in the Top 10 on the Texas charts. And that’s just the first single, man. Everybody that’s on my team and my record label – management, publicists, and radio promoters and all those people – we feel like there’s a lot more than just one single on our album. There’s two, five or six, so many to choose from.

So the next year or two is just gonna basically be the busiest I’ve ever been, just working my tail off playing shows every weekend and visiting as many radio stations as I can during the week and just really kicking it in into a higher gear than I’ve ever been in. I’ve never really had a good team behind me. It’s really the first time I’ve ever had the help of good publicists and radio promoters and everybody setting up a bunch of interviews for me and just helping to get the word out. We’re hoping to basically make Overnight Success a reality. I’d like this to be my breakout album, and I’m gonna do anything and everything in my power to get the word out about it.

3 Comments

Filed under Interviews