Articles by Guest Contributor

Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters: Gary Burr

April 11, 2010

Written by Music & More blogger Bob Losche.

Connecticut born songwriter Gary Burr got his first break when he broke his leg in a high school soccer game. With time on his hands, he taught himself to play the guitar and began writing songs. His second break came in 1982 when, without a co-writer, he penned Juice Newton’s “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me”. That same year, he became the lead singer for Pure Prairie League after Vince Gill left the group to pursue a solo career. Gary remained with PPL until 1985 and headed to Nashville in the late 1980′s. He has since been awarded ‘Songwriter of the Year’ on three separate occasions by three different organizations: Billboard, Nashville Songwriter’s Association International, and ASCAP. He has also received over twenty of ASCAP’s recognition awards for radio play activity, and cds featuring his songs have sold more than 50 million units world-wide. He’s currently affiliated with SESAC. Most recently, he was Carole King’s guitarist on her “Living Room Tour”, performing some of his own songs as well.

If you go to Gary’s website and click on Discography you’ll see a Short List of 35 of his best known songs, in alphabetical order by recording artist. If you click on Full List, you see the names of about 170 songs. You’ll find hits and albums track (“hidden treasures” to some) by country artists such as Hal Ketchum, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Tanya Tucker, Ty Herndon, Faith Hill, Leann Rimes, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gary Allan, Andy Griggs, Kathy Mattea, Lorrie Morgan, Terri Clark, Collin Raye, Doug Stone, Ricky Van Shelton, Diamond Rio, Conway Twitty, Chely Wright and many others plus pop artists Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, etc . The website list does not include the current Sarah Buxton hit “Outside My Window”.

Gary appears quite frequently at Nashville’s famous Bluebird Cafe, appearing in the round with singer/songwriters like Mike Reid, Georgia Middleman, J.D. Souther and others. In addition, he performs as part of the group MelDiBurPho which is composed of songwriters Vince Melamed, Bob DiPiero, Gary and Jim Photoglo.These shows are performed on the Bluebird’s small stage and, unlike the shows in the round, includes a drummer in addition to the usual guitars and a keyboard. Gary and the Guys have been doing these great shows for about 12 years. They call themselves the oldest boy band in America and the best band you can see for $12. They really seem to be having a great time together and they can be very funny, much of the humor either self-deprecating or at the expense of one of the other guys. For the February show, the guys performed in their pj’s, an annual event closely coinciding with three of their birthdays. Supposedly Faith Hill once showed up in pj’s and bunny slippers. She was discovered while singing back-up for Gary at the Bluebird.

After seeing Mr. Burr perform twice at the Bluebird, I purchased his two cd’s from the Bluebird on-line store. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before …, released in 1997, includes 18 of his best songs performed and recorded live at the Bluebird. Mariane’s includes 11 songs and was released in 2004. The list of my favorite Gary Burr written songs that follows indicates the artist and cd it appeared on and his co-writer. Many of these favorites are from his Stop Me … cd and a few from Marianne’s. (Songs that can also be found on Gary’s cds have an asterisk next to the title.)

Should you already have or decide to purchase these cds, you may find, as I did, that you prefer Gary’s version for quite a few of them. A lot of his songs are about lost love, some because the guy was clueless, others about love that just didn’t work out and the difficulty in leaving memories behind. At his shows, Gary refers to himself as the “sensitive one” when he sings one of his ballads. Check out the songs listed on Gary’s website and let us know your favorites. Obviously, differing tastes will result in a very different list by many readers.

#25
“I Wear Your Love” – Kathy Mattea
Time Passes By, 1991
co-writer – None

An album track for Kathy Mattea from a cd chock full of great songs in addition to the three chosen for release as singles. The chorus concludes, “on the chillest night though I travel light, it is always enough for I wear your love”. Mattea is still one of the best female vocalists in country music.

#24
“A Man Ain’t Made of Stone” – Randy Travis
A Man Ain’t Made of Stone,  1999
co-writers – Frannie Golde and Robin Lerner

About this song, Leeann wrote, “I love Travis’ vulnerable, yet passionate, vocal delivery in this song. This man thought it was important to seem strong and unflappable, but realizes that she needed to see the softer side of him at times. Unfortunately, he reached this conclusion too late. Her leaving unearths his emotions and he abruptly learns that ‘a man ain’t made of stone/A man ain’t made of steel.’” The song peaked at #16.

#23
“What’s In It For Me” – John Berry
John Berry, 1993
co-writer – John Jarrard

This up tempo song is about a guy asking a girl who dumped him but has changed her mind and wants him back, ” What’s in it for me?” He’s glad she’s back and wants her but are things going to be different this time? “If it’s only more tears, then I’ll have to pass.” The song reached #5 on the charts for John Berry.

#22
“Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard On Me” – Juice Newton
Quiet Lies, 1982
co-writer – None

The young lady is a bit skittish about love after being burned in this up tempo tune. Calls to her inner romantic self can’t convince her to try again yet. “I’ll be back when I calm my fears … See you around in a thousand years.” This did better on the pop charts (# 7) than country (#30).

#21
“A Thousand Times a Day” – Patty Loveless (1995); George Jones (1993)
The Trouble With The Truth, 1995;  High Tech Redneck, 1993
co-writer – Gary Nicholson

Another song about trying to forget someone. Giving up booze and smokes was difficult but “Forgetting you is not that hard to do, I’ve done it a thousand times a day”. The song reached #13 for Patty and was an album track for George. I prefer Patty’s version.

#20
“In a Week or Two” – Diamond Rio
Close To The Edge, 1992
co-writer – James House

A song of warning for procrastinators from a group known for their great harmony. “These words in my heart never had a chance to be heard”. The guy waited too long to tell her he loved her so he came out second. The song nearly reached the top of the charts but, as Trent Summar once reminded us, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

#19
“I Try to Think About Elvis” – Patty Loveless
When Fallen Angels Fly, 1994
co-writer – None
I recall seeing Patty sing this in a concert about 10 years ago. I would think that “list songs” like this would present a challenge remembering all the lyrics but she nailed it. A fun song that made it to #3.

#18
“Heart Half Empty” – Ty Herndon with Stephanie Bentley
What Mattered Most, 1995
co-writer – Desmond Child
“Is my heart half full of the love you gave me, or my heart half empty ’cause your love is gone?” While the half full, half empty metaphor is obviously not new and the song is a bit schmaltzy, I still love it. I add a star for true duets – equal contributions by the duet partners. Although Ty’s recent comeback attempt appears to have come up short, he still has a great voice and was well complemented here by Stephanie Bentley.

#17
“Blue Sky” – Emily West
Emily West, 2007 (EP)
co-writer – Emily West

The original version was from her EP. The current single includes background vocals by Keith Urban and online reviews have been very favorable but it hasn’t cracked the top 40 yet. The girl is saddened by her lover’s behavior but resolved not to be hurt by him again. “So you made a list of shoulders that you’d be needing, well mine aren’t yours anymore, come on show me your temper, be the man I remember, so I won’t forget what you’ve done.”

#16
“Out of My Bones” – Randy Travis
You and You Alone 1998
co-writers – Sharon Vaughn and Robin Lerner

Randy sings “I’m in need of a remedy, to cure me from loving you”. His remedy is walking in the first verse and talking in the second til she’s “out of my bones”. While his 1986 song “Diggin’ Up Bones” made it to the top, “Out of My Bones” stalled at #2. The album also included the late Patrick Swayze singing background on one of the tracks.

#15
“Rockin’ the Rock” – Larry Stewart (Restless Heart)
Heart Like a Hurricane, 1994
co-writer – None

A rollicking song about a girl who rocks his world but didn’t rock the charts peaking at #56. “I had a wonderful sense of balance, everything under control, til the day she came along and started rockin’ the rock that I’m standing on.” If you have a multiple tissues tune on your playlist, play this next. Larry Stewart’s solo career after leaving Restless Heart was not a huge success. He’s been back with them since 2004.

#14
“That’s My Job” – Conway Twitty
Borderline, 1987
co-writer – None

The relationship between a son and his father is portrayed in three vignettes. In the first, the father comforts his young son, calming his fears. Conflict and doubts occur in the second while the final scene finds the son, who makes his living with words and rhyme, trying to deal with the death of his father, asking himself how can I come up with a song to say I love you. The song made it to #6. (I remember liking “It’s Only Make Believe” as a kid but shortly after Conway disappeared from the pop charts. I didn’t know til much later that he had become a country star.)

#13
“The One You Love” – Terri Clark with Vince Gill
The Long Way Home, 2009; Pain to Kill, 2003
co-writer – Terri Clark

While Terri’s new cd did not include lyrics, they can be found with comments for each song on her website. She said that she hesitated to re-cut this song but her mother’s recent bout with cancer inspired her because it put the lyrics in a whole different light. “when someone’s slippin’ away, right before your eyes, how useless we are is a painful surprise”. Although Vince Gill singing harmony is always a plus, the original version on Pain to Kill was still excellent.

#12
“West of Crazy” – Lisa Brokop
Lisa Brokop, 1996
co-writer – Vince Melamed

An up tempo tune which reflects a woman’s state of mind after a breakup. “Just a few miles west of crazy, a stone’s throw away from tears, oh, so close to normal, but I can’t get there from here”. Love the song although it didn’t even chart in Canada. Lisa Brokop has become one of my favorite country music singers.

#11
“One Night a Day” – Garth Brooks
In Pieces, 1993
co-writer – Pete Wasner

The piano is the star in this song about a guy trying to leave a girl’s memory behind. He tells of the things he’s doing to get through the breakup, including “calling every friend I had, wake ‘em up, make ‘em mad, to let them know I’m okay”. Garth’s version, which reached #7 on the charts, also features a sax while in Gary’s, a steel guitar complements the piano.

#10
“Time Machine” – Collin Raye
I Think About You, 1995
co-writer – None

Although it was never a single, it’s one of my favorite Collin Raye songs. The songs tells of a lonely man who knows things won’t be any better tomorrow so he wants to go back in time. “To the casual eye it’s a barstool, but it’s really much more than it seems, a few drinks and then, she’ll be with him again, as he sits on the time machine”.

#9
“Up and Flying” – Reba McEntire
If You See Him, 1998
co-writer – Patty Griffin

Her ex-love is doing fine but she’s still doing time. “You make it look so easy, it doesn’t seem quite fair, baby I’m still tryin’, to get up and flying”. An album track for Reba. Should this song have been a single? Love Gary’s take on it.

#8
“You Tell Me” – Terri Clark with Johnnie Reed
The Long Way Home, 2009
co-writer – Terri Clark

As noted above, I love duets and on this album track, Terri is joined by Scotland born, Canadian country music artist, Johnny Reid. On her website, she describes it as a grown up song about a relationship in trouble that she wrote with Gary about 10 years ago. The conversational quality of the lyrics made it feel as a natural duet.

#7
“Sure Love” – Hal Ketchum
Sure Love, 1992
co-writer – Hal Ketchum

Hal sings of what he would do to find “Sure Love”. “I would chase all ghosts and watch them scatter, drop old dreams and watch them shatter, lose myself and all I own, to find sure love.” This up tempo song reached #3.

#6
“Silence Is King” – Tanya Tucker
Soon, 1993
co-writer – Jim Photoglo

This sad tune is about a couple who have reached the point where they don’t communicate any more. The chorus begins “We live in a land where silence is king, whispers have all disappeared”. In the last verse, there’s no let-up, “desperate measures come from desperate times, I don’t regret what I’ve done, if my actions made you speak your mind, angry words are better than none”. An album track for Tanya. On the live “Stop Me …” cd you hear Gary saying “so depressing” after he finishes singing. Probably too serious for country radio.

#5
“I Will Not Be a Mistake” – Cliff Richard
Something’s Goin’ On, 2004
co-writers – Helen Darling and Will Robinson

While Cliff is not a country singer, I could easily see someone like Collin Raye covering this song. It’s about a guy who assures the girl he’s about to get together with that while it may not come to anything it won’t be something she’ll regret. “I’ll be a chance you had to take, a heart you had to break, but I will not be a mistake”.



#4

“Can’t Be Really Gone” – Tim McGraw
All I Want, 1995
co-writer – None

A man tries to convince himself that his girl must be coming back when he mends his ways because “so much of her remains”. “The shoes she bought on Christmas day, she laughed and said they called her name”. “Her book is lying on the bed, the two of hearts to mark the page, now who would ever walk away at chapter twenty-one.” Just missed the top peaking at #2.

#3
“Station on the Line”
Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before …
co-writer – None

A haunting melody about a guy who falls for a girl who can’t commit. The chorus goes “and her type never does linger, she leaves all could and might-have-beens behind, she rode from New York to California, and I was just a station on that line”. As far as I can tell, no one else has covered this song.

#2
“What Mattered Most” – Ty Herndon
What Mattered Most, 1995
co-writer – Vince Melamed

A lament by a clueless guy who knew all the trivial stuff but missed what mattered most. “I never asked…she never said,and when she cried I turned my head, she dreamed her dreams behind closed doors, and that made them easy to ignore”. A #1 song for Ty in his successful stretch during the 90′s.

#1
“In Front of the Alamo” – Hal Ketchum with LeAnn Rimes
One More Midnight (no U.S. release)
co-writer – None

Allusions to one of the most famous battles in American history are combined with the story of a woman’s love gone bad because of her husband’s infidelity. The couple met as tourists in front of the Alamo. The second verse ends “she wanted trust, she wanted truth, the two things he found hard to do. So forever was shorter than she planned”. (The lives of the defenders of the Alamo were shorter than they planned.) She returns to the Alamo so that she can move on. The bridge begins “she didn’t come for inspiration or to breathe the mighty dust of heroes lost” and concludes “She just felt the time was right, at this random traffic light, to say ‘enough is enough’ and move on”. The third verse ends “maybe something in the air makes the timid braver there, to cross the line that they’ve drawn in the sand”. The tag chorus completes the analogy “they held on she lets go” (they were brave by holding on she by letting go) and concludes “in front of the Alamo, that’s a pretty good place to make a stand”.

While I do recall hearing the song on the radio, it failed to crack the top 40.

Kevin Coyne wrote here in 2007, “… a beautifully sympathetic portrait of a woman leaving a bad relationship behind. After all, what better a place to make a stand than in front of the Alamo? Before you worry that this is one of those over-the-top country numbers with a tortured metaphor, it’s actually wonderfully understated. The character is so believable that it seems just a happy accident that she makes a tough choice in front of a historical landmark.”

Also in 2007, Jim Malec of the 9513 wrote about the Ketchum song, “if you ask me, his latest, “In Front Of The Alamo,” is the best single I’ve heard so far this year. Featuring a brilliant support vocal from LeAnn Rimes, this song does everything right. Lyrically, it is a lesson in excellence, accomplishing in just over three minutes what most songs never do. On the production side it’s damn near perfect, even down to the mix (the short but fitting instrumental parts are well-played and perfectly placed).
It just doesn’t get much better than this.”

I agree.

Concert Review: Martina McBride and Trace Adkins

March 11, 2010

By Guest Contributor Cory DeStein.

Over the river and through the snow to the ‘Shine All Night Tour’ we go…On this particular Saturday night a friend and I traveled through the snow and ice to attend the Martina McBride and Trace Adkins tour stop at the Peterson Event Center, here in Pittsburgh.  This is the third time I have been fortunate enough to experience a Martina tour, along with the ‘Timeless’ and ‘Waking Up Laughing’ tour, and like those performances the country diva did not fail to deliver.

In front of a black back drop Trace kicked off the show, much to the delight of fan club section nestled quite noticeably to the right of the stage, rose onto the stage with his opening number “I Got My Game On” one of the many novelty songs he charmed the audience with throughout his one hour set.

Trace has one hell of a powerful voice, but he sadly didn’t go out of his way to show it throughout the show. He rather focused more on hits like “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” “Hot Mama,” “Swing,” and “Rough and Ready” along with other similar tunes.  Towards the end of his set, he introduced his recently crowned ACM Song of the Year, “You’re Gonna Miss This.”

Just in case fans had forgotten the true potential he returned to the stage to entertain the enthusiastic crowd with “Muddy Water” and “Higher Ground” joined by a 7 member gospel choir for his encore. The 6 ft something cowboy exited the stage handing his Stetson hat to a young  fan in the front.

Although I was entertained during his set, filled with one liners, and music video clips, I can’t say that I would see Adkins as a headliner in concert. He has much better material than what he sang that night, and never ventured off the beaten path of radio favorites. I would have been just as happy sitting at home watching him on CMT, than venturing out for the live experience. The live excitement was missing.

After a quick bathroom break and a check on the weather, we were back at our center stage row 13th row seats for the main attraction. A techno remix of some of Martina’s biggest hits began to spin. In front of a white sheer scrim a group of young girls, including all three McBride children danced and launched t-shirts and glow sticks into the crowd.

The girls exited the stage just as a techno remix of “Ride”  played and a slowly growing disco ball began growing in the distance. For a moment I felt I may have been at Cher’s farewell show with remixes and color effects. Martina’s seven member band rose from the stage and as the disco ball gained its full size Martina appeared launching into “Ride.”

Without losing momentum they leapt into hits such as “When God-Fearing Women” “Happy Girl” and her first number one,  “Wild Angels”. The four time CMA Female Vocalist’s voice is just as flawless in concert as on record, if not better.  McBride went into one of her oldest hits with “My Baby Loves Me”  straight into her newest “Wrong Baby Wrong” a upbeat tune on good friends and wine.

Martina took a moment to highlight her 7 piece band, with their rendition of “Lean On Me” complete with vocal highlights from the band mates.

For a quick trip back to Timeless,  Martina and her highly talented band mates gathered center stage for a stunning rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It through the Night” followed by her inspiring “Anyway”.

Martina never let the excitement fail with note after note nailed, and the special effects rolling. A highlight of the evening was following the solo of McBride’s new fiddle player on the far left wing of the stage,  on the white scrim that had covered the set a city scene was displayed under the stars.

With the steel guitar in the background the moon rose over the city scene dancing across the sky to the left, as the moon set on the city, McBride rose from the stage sitting in a neon blue crescent moon while serenading the heartbreaking “Concrete Angel.”

The moon flew across the audience and right over my head, reaching a second stage directly behind my seats. Fans rushed the stage for a brief front row seat as Martina introduced an album track that she loves, but claims probably won’t be a single: “I’m Trying.” In classic McBride fashion, she dropped to her knees for the climax of the tale of an alcoholic man and the unrelenting love of his wife. From her mini stage she sang a combined mix of “Loves the Only House” and “Blessed.”

She exited the stage belting out “This Ones For the Girls” as she met with many of the fans on her way back to the stage through the aisles of the venue.

Once back at the main stage and after another album cut “You’re Not Leaving Me”  it was time for what the power house was truly known for, hitting notes that few artists dare tackle. Switching out “Where Would You Be” for a rare treat and one of my personal favorites “Whatever You Say.”

With plenty of fluids and and just pure talent Martina reminded every member of the audience what she can do with “Broken Wing” The final note rang out for what felt like an eternity and the crowd went wild. She couldn’t leave the city without the one that took her to all new levels.

“Independence Day” was delivered with full blown emotion and McBride’s now signature mic stand throw she brought down the house. With all the excitement and the feeling of my heart beating out of my chest, I was ready to drag her out for a encore myself when finally reappeared  with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” complete with a Ben Roethlisberger jersey, a nice touch for any Pittsburgh show.

When all was said and done, and I was walking back to my car I gained an immense appreciation for what I saw put on. The concert was completely over the top and spared no expense, it was something id expect for a artist at the peak of their fame to put on, but Martina and her band still pulls out all the stops and  gives it everything they got for what I truly believe is for the fans. I highly recommend you experience for yourself if they ‘Shine’ their way into your city, and look forward to my next chance.

Trace’s Set List

“I Got My Game On”
“Swing”
“Songs About Me”
“Hillbilly Rich”
“Marry for Money”
“What’s the Big Deal?”
“Chrome”
“Rough and Ready”
“You’re Gonna Miss This”
“Hot Mama”
“Ladies Love Country Boys”
“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”
ENCORE: “Muddy Water” and “Higher Ground”

Martina’s Set List

“Ride”
“When God Fearin’ Women Get The Blues”
“Happy Girl”
“Wild Angels”
“The Way That I Am”
“Wrong Baby Wrong”
“Lean on Me”
“Help Me Make it Through The Night”
“Anyway”
“Concrete Angel”
“Love’s the Only House/Blessed”
“I’m Trying”
“This One’s For The Girls”
“You’re Not Leaving Me”
“Whatever You Say”
“Broken Wing”
“Independence Day”
ENCORE: “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Summer of ’69″

Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Reba McEntire

December 19, 2009

Reba McEntire

A guest contribution from Country Universe reader Zack Jodlowski.

When I first came across country music back in the eighth grade, I automatically gravitated towards the female artists of country music. When I heard the romp-stomping performance of “I’m Gonna Take That Mountain,” I thought “I have to hear more!”

Reba McEntire’s music has been such a lifesaver for me, that four years after my mom died, I found new found strength within me that allowed me to make peace with her death. It says a lot for a teenager to relate so strongly to the lyrics of Reba McEntire songs. Reba has been my favorite artist of all time, and she’ll most likely remain that for as long as I live.

Reba McEntire has been the heartbreak queen, an entertainer, and a superstar; at times she doesn’t make music choices that are spot-on, but her ability to deliver a song with an emotional tinge in her voice is all but rare in the music business, and with this ability she lifts a song up to another level. Reba also finds a way to relate to her audience with her music, whether it be helping someone through tragedies or inspiring people to continue to chase their dreams. Reba’s ability to adapt to the changing times and to continue to make herself relevant to the new country music generations is one that transcends the biases on radio that are established against females and the elder men and women of country music.

It was hard to narrow Reba’s extensive catalog down to twenty-five songs, and hard not to include some of her other great songs, but in the end I’ve managed to pick my twenty-five personal favorites.

#25

“Bobby”

For My Broken Heart, 1991

Truly heartbreaking. Bobby kills his spouse, causing hatred from his son to be thrust upon him, but in the chorus we find he does this out of love (he didn’t want his spouse to suffer any longer). His son later realizes his father’s intentions and realizes “He still missed his mama, but he’d missed his daddy too.” This is one of the rare Reba McEntire co-writes found in her catalog.

#24

“Fancy”

Rumor Has It, 1990

Reba captures the story of a woman thrust into prostitution at a young age by her mother in an iconic performance, but the woman is not ashamed or angry; she knows that her mother had to save her from a life of desperation and despair. (more…)

Review: Patty Loveless, Bluegrass And White Snow, A Mountain Christmas

November 30, 2009

bluegrass and white snowA Guest Contribution
by Stephen Fales

“the night was freezing cold, from a heavy snow that day, we warmed our hearts on old time songs and danced the night away” — Gordy/Loveless

Back in 2001, Patty Loveless made a wondrous, rustic and rootsy album called Mountain Soul, a stunningly beautiful and highly acclaimed work of art. Mountain Soul was a natural evolution for the coal miner’s daughter Loveless, who has always been known for the passionate mountain sound that she brings to her award winning Country repertoire. Mountain Soul is potential realized, a bountiful harvest that Loveless continues to cultivate to this day, her current masterwork Mountain Soul II being her most recent offering.

Patty’s immediate and worthy follow up to the original Mountain Soul is entitled Bluegrass & White Snow, a Mountain Christmas With it’s stripped down yet sophisticated feel, this 2002 release has the quality and the character that entitles it to be called ” the Mountain Soul of Christmas records,”, It is that good.

Bluegrass & White Snow is an inspired, joyous and reverent labor-of-love from Patty Loveless and husband/producer (and genuine musical genius) Emory Gordy Jr. It seems that every project this talented couple undertakes is done with the golden touch of artistry and creative good taste, and their mountain Christmas record is no exception. What has made this classic a perennial favorite is the natural blending of two wonderful musical traditions, the organic feel of it’s acoustic production, and the warm and expressive voice of the finest pure-Country vocalist of our time.

Bluegrass & White Snow is an enchanting mix of Christmas Bluegrass and beloved traditional carols. This album has a warm and personal feel to it and rings with Appalachian authenticity. No surprise, since the Kentucky native invests so much of herself into the music with three autobiographical songs, and an open reverence for her family’s Christmas traditions and Mountain heritage.

The album opens with the Christmas lullabies “Away in the Manger”, and “Silent Night”. and Loveless gracefully covers such traditional carols such as “Joy to the World”, “The First Noel”, and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. Her Appalachian alto is accompanied by ubiquitous mandolin, fiddle and guitar infusing a rustic flavor and giving these beloved carols an earthy yet elegant feel throughout.

The artistry of any Loveless/Gordy record often extends even to the album cover and Bluegrass & White Snow is one of the best examples. Here Patty “walks in beauty like the night” wearing the woolen coat-of-glory metaphorically alluded to in the original Mountain Soul. She looks every bit the Appalachian archangel in humble disguise, down from the mountain like a dream. She walks upon a cloudlike snow bank, an understated vision in royal blue and misty white.

Combine this with the clever title and the descriptive subtitle; it all conjures up scenes of mountain hospitality and beckons to the warmth of the music that is offered within. There, the listener will encounter Patty and Emory and their Holiday guests. A distinguished circle of musical friends that includes the finest talents in Country and Bluegrass music. Folks like Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill and Amy Grant. And the listener is embraced by this fine company in true Christmas spirit and is made to feel welcome and never left out in the cold.

All throughout, Patty’s vocals ring with pure silver clarity and warm golden tones. Her soulful voice sometimes seems to resonate in celestial dimensions and always conveys uncanny depths of emotion. “Joy to the World” is a beautiful example. It is a majestic Patty Loveless-Jon Randall duet and is the first of several carols to employ some creative musical accents; subtle wind chimes and wine glasses that seem to ring with Patty’s voice in resonant harmony like Heavenly tuning forks. They infuse the middle tracks of this extraordinary album with extra doses of Holiday enchantment.

“Carol of the Bells” softly descends upon the musical landscape like a surprise overnight snowfall, courtesy of the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble. It is an instrumental interlude saturated with mandolins that mimic harpsichords for a real old-fashioned feel. The subtle eerie overtones are from the wine glasses ringing with delicate magic, like crystal elvin bells. The whole piece gracefully turns into an extended instrumental introduction that Loveless uses as a springboard for her spellbinding rendition of “The First Noel”. With exquisite harmony provided by Trisha Yearwood and Claire Lynch, the three sound like a trio of down-to-earth angels singing their hearts out to the Heavens.

“Little Drummer Boy” is an inspired change of pace from the usual Christmas repertoire, and works brilliantly. Patty joins forces with a fellow Kentuckian and gifted young vocalist Rebecca Lynn Howard in a wonderful duet that blends two glorious voices in parallel melodic lines. The exquisitely interpreted lyrics conveys the song’s comforting sentiment that the Deity graciously accepts all heartfelt gifts, be they ever so humble:“I have no gift to bring par rum pum pum pum, that’s fit to give a king…shall I play for you pa rum pum pum pum, on my drum?” Patty graciously shares the spotlight, and allows Miss Howard to shine. Howard’s clarity and Loveless’ warmth make for the perfect vocal blend. And in a departure from strict Applachian convention, a lonely recorder hovers over the musical proceedings like a dove, It is a brilliant innovation, and a musical benediction.

“Christmas Time’s A Comin’” heralds not only the Holiday, but also the Bluegrass section of this wonderful album. It begins with Patty setting the rhythm on sleigh bells, and Emory joining in with compelling acoustic guitar hooks. Then all Bluegrass Heaven breaks loose as Patty and friends run with the melody and twin fiddles fly. They all conjure up images of home for the holidays, Country style.

“Santa Train” is the first of three songs written by the Loveless-Gordy team, and once again, they demonstrate their talent as first rate songwriters. Their originals fit seamlessly along with the more established and traditional songs on this album.

The actual Santa Train runs from Pikeville KY, ( Patty’s birthplace,) to Kingsport, TN and provides Christmas gifts to Appalachian children in need. And if it sounds like Patty is singing from experience, it is because she’s been there. She saw Santa wave to her from the back of the train when she was a mere 6 years old, and as an adult has joined Santa as a volunteer spreader of Christmas cheer three times now, in ’99, ’02 and ’07. Indeed, with this musical version of the Santa Train, Patty has given children yet another gift and awakened the inner child within us all. “Santa Train” chugs along with plenty of fiddle and perfectly evokes train rhythms, Bluegrass style. There’s even a real train whistle played by Patty herself, and she sings out the stops like a conductor, calling out storybook sounding names like Shelbiana, Dungannon, Copper Creek, and Cady Junction. But make no mistake, this song, like “Christmas Day at My House” is fine Bluegrass
music. The quality of the songs themselves and the virtuosity of the vocal and instrumental performances raise both these child-friendly songs far above novelty status.

The album closes with soaring festive harmonies, as Loveless is joined by Dolly Parton and Ricky Skaggs for the album’s closer. The song “Bluegrass, White Snow” like the album that bears it’s name, is absolutely saturated with Appalachian hospitality.

Patty Loveless and her musical companions make a compelling case that Christmas music is meant for Appalachian acoustics and soaring mountain harmonies. And Loveless herself continues to demonstrate that there is nothing more powerful than a gifted artist deeply connected to her roots singing from the depths of her being.

By any standard, Bluegrass& White Snow is a fantastic record. The few rough edges that are present only serve to enhance the authentic feel of the album even further. Christmas music is just great music to begin with, and this is a Christmas album with a mountain soul. The exceptional quality and Appalachian flavor of this record makes it entirely suitable for year round enjoyment, in and out “of season”.

Loveless and friends celebrate the essence of Christmas giving; the gift of God’s grace and the gift of music. And as always Patty Loveless and Emory Gordy Jr. continue to give their all. This is their Christmas gift to the music world. Make it part of your tradition and you are bound to experience this sonic wonder as a musical benediction. As is so often the case with Patty and Emory’s work, their music will leave you spiritually and emotionally enriched, nourished and blessed.

Bluegrass & White Snow is truly the “Mountain Soul” of Christmas albums, the finest of its kind.


Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Wynonna

November 18, 2009

wynonnaA Guest Contribution
by Michael Allan

One of my earliest musical memories is singing along to the Judds’ Rockin’ With the Rhythm album as a child in the car. Unfortunately, the world’s most famous mother-daughter duo was forced to end their career early in 1991 when Naomi was diagnosed with hepatitis. To this day, however, their catchy songs still get plenty of “spins” on my iPod.

Even if Wynonna had never pursued a solo career after the Judds, her place in country music’s history would have been secure. However, I for one am so happy she did continue to sing and make music after her mother’s retirement. Her voice has a distinct personality, yet her catalog is eclectic. You never really know what to expect when Wy releases a new album – except that it will most likely be good.

However, beyond her music (which you will read about below), being the woman in a poster on my teenage bedroom wall and being my first autograph (scored by my grandmother when the CMA Music Festival was still called Fan Fair), I have a great deal of respect for Wynonna the person. She devotes countless hours of time to charities such as YouthAIDS and faces potential scandals and her personal struggles with remarkable candor and humor, all the while sharing the gift of her voice with us.

#25
“Why Now”
from The Other Side (1997)

We’ve all been there or know someone who has. You can’t help loving someone, even if you know they’re bad for you. Wynonna’s voice and singing style capture the emotions and feelings of pain that go along with it. One of the Judds’ later singles from Love Can Build a Bridge that is often overlooked, “One Hundred and Two”, is similar in spirit and comes highly recommended.

#24
“Father Sun”
from Tell Me Why (1993)

With cryptic lyrics co-written by Sheryl Crow, this pop nugget has an almost mystical quality to it.

#23
“Always Will”
from The Other Side (1997)

Wynonna’s voice is in fine form on the closing tune from her 1997 album. It glides comfortably over the lyrics and a strumming guitar. A love song filled with promises, it is a wish that, from time to time as love evolves, you will be surprised by how new, exciting and powerful it can still be. Maybe Wynonna even viewed this as a love song to her children.

#22
“Attitude”
from Her Story: Scenes from a Lifetime (2005)

The title says it all in this one. This rockin’, defiant anthem is her last Top 40 hit to date.

#21
“Woman to Woman”
from Tammy Wynette Remembered (1998)

Wy’s soulful, sultry take on a classic, from the First Lady of Country Music.

#20
“Sing”
from Sing Chapter 1 (2009)

To celebrate her 25th anniversary in the music business Wynonna released a stellar collection of covers (Her take on Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Dionne Warwick’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart”, in particular, are worth seeking out.). Here the master interpreter takes on the project’s title cut and lone new song, written by the great Rodney Crowell.

#19
“Girls With Guitars”
from Tell Me Why (1993)

Mary Chapin Carpenter penned this ode for all the women who’ve played their guitars instead of pursuing law school and medicine (even you, Taylor Swift). An empowering anthem like this makes me miss the 90s which was a much better decade for women in country music than the last ten years have been. Lyle Lovett sings background vocals.

#18
“Free Bird”
from Skynyrd Frynds (1994)

The Holy Grail of rock songs (Dolly Parton’s take on “Stairway to Heaven” notwithstanding.). Taking on this epic, iconic anthem is a daunting task, but Wynonna makes it work. It’s hard not to be entranced by the way her voices wraps around the guitar. For another fine example of Wy’s ability to effectively tackle rock songs, track down her version of Dire Strait’s “Water of Love” from the Judds’ River of Time album.

#17
“Heaven Help My Heart”
from Revelations (1996)

Co-written by Australian pop star Tina Arena, it’s no coincidence this is one of Wynonna’s most pop sounding songs. I’m betting the gusto of her strong voice almost blew the roof off the studio the day she recorded this earnest plea for love. My favorite part of this almost six minute song is when she hums her way into the third line of the second verse.

#16
“You Are”
from Someone Like You (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2001)

Wynonna had a hand in writing this mid-tempo, moving dedication to her sister Ashley. Here’s hoping we all find someone in life that we love and respect enough to sing this to.

#15
“No One Else On Earth (Club Mix)”
from Collection (1997)

Wy’s signature about love’s ability to crack even the toughest of nuts. This particular mix may sound a little dated, but I like it because you can definitely feel the 90s country (my favorite era)/line dance vibe.

#14
“That Was Yesterday”
from Tell Me Why (1993)

With her signature sly growls and purrs, this bluesy track (written by mother Naomi) is perhaps the best example of Wynonna’s range. It is a scathing done me wrong number that warns against crossing Wy. The nefarious cackle she gives when her man gets what he deserves lets us know that this is a new day and that… was yesterday.

#13
“A Bad Goodbye”
from No Time To Kill (1993)

Wynonna has had a number of great duet partners in her career since going solo (Kenny Rogers, John Berry, Michael English, Tammy Wynette), but none as commercially successful as her pairing with Clint Black. This classic, sad country duet came together as a result of the Black & Wy tour and their voices compliment each other well. A great song made perfect the second you hear Wynonna’s voice enter.

#12
“Rock Bottom”
from Tell Me Why (1993)

With lyrics like “When you hit rock bottom, you’ve got two ways to go: straight and sideways… Straight up is my way,” “When you get down to nothin’, you’ve got nothin’ to lose,” and “A dead end street is just a place to turn around,” this song is more inspiring than any motivational poster I’ve ever seen.

#11
“It’s Never Easy to Say Goodbye”
from Wynonna (1992)

The stories of Jimmy and his mom, Julie Rae and her dad and other lost friends morph into a gospel-esque final verse that would fit right in at church. It was later covered by Kenny Chesney on his 1996 album Me and You.

#10
“Burning Love”
from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch Soundtrack (2002)

I defy you not to shake your hips when listening to Wynonna’s excellent, fun take on the King’s classic. There’s nothing G Rated about this hot ditty.

#9
“Can’t Nobody Love You (Like I Do)”
from New Day Dawning (2000)

This beautiful, piano laden ballad is both soft and sexy and would fit in comfortably on AC radio stations.

#8
“All of That Love From Here”
from Wynonna (1992)

With a prominent mandolin and strong imagery provided by the details, this tune has an almost dreamlike quality. Lyrics about mama and chasing dreams probably took on a significant autobiographical aspect for Wynonna as she was striking out on her own for the first time in her career at this point. (“Sometimes I Feel Like Elvis” from What the World Needs Now Is Love is another example of a song that feels like it could have been written by her.)

#7
“What the World Needs Now”
from What the World Needs Now Is Love (2003)

Some may say the lyrics are clichéd but I find that this song just proves how a sincere, simple message can remain true. I remember this track coming on my iPod one day when I was running on a treadmill and watching a closed captioned CNN report about a school shooting. It put a lump in my throat and brought a tear to my eye.

#6
“She Is His Only Need”
from Wynonna (1992)

This three act story song (reminiscent of the Judds’ “Young Love (Strong Love)”) is the sweet tale of Billy and Bonnie. It served as Wy’s solo debut single and her first number one.

#5
“O Come O Come Emmanuel”
from A Classic Christmas (2006)

Like Celine Dion’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and Martina McBride’s “O Holy Night” before it, Wynonna’s version of this Christmas standard has now become the definitive version in my book. Wy exercises restraint and bravado at appropriate levels in the right spots. Essential December listening. Also worth checking out during the holidays are “Let’s Make a Baby King” and “Ave Maria”.

#4
“Come Some Rainy Day”
from The Other Side (1997)

You can’t help but be taken back to your childhood and then high school years when listening to this song, even if your experiences aren’t exactly the same as those painted in the lyrics. A gorgeous reminder to remember our dreams. Simply stunning.

#3
“Is It Over Yet”
from Tell Me Why (1993)

Wynonna captures the pain and heartache of breaking up in this lush ballad. Piano, strings and her voice convey an illustration more powerful than even the lyrics suggest. If she’s not going to cry, I just might. A similar song also worth downloading is the smoldering “Don’t Look Back” from Revelations.

#2
“I Want to Know What Love Is”
from What the World Needs Now Is Love (2003)

Our vocal powerhouse’s tour de force. Wynonna really lets loose on this number and shows us what she’s capable of. She’s never sounded better and with Jeff Beck assisting on guitar, listening becomes a downright religious experience. This is no longer Foreigner’s song. It belongs to Wynonna now.

#1
“When I Reach the Place I’m Going”
from Wynonna (1992)

In a morbid sort of way, I’ve always known what song I want played at my funeral. (To be fair, I’m not the only one. My mom has long stated that she wants Willie Nelson’s “What a Wonderful World” played at hers.) Although brief (clocking in at less than three minutes), this song is in the vein of some of the Judds’ greatest spiritual hits (Think “I Know Where I’m Going”.) and in fact, features background vocals by Naomi. Written by Emory Gordy, Jr., it was later covered by his wife Patty Loveless on 2005’s Dreamin’ My Dreams.

Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul II

September 30, 2009

patty_loveless_mountain_soul_iiPatty Loveless
Mountain Soul II 
stars-5.gif

by Stephen Fales

Inhabiting the highest pinnacle of artistic integrity must be a lonely place to dwell. Patty Loveless remains a commercial exile, of sorts for the crime of being “too country” for country radio and TV. But Loveless is undistracted by the trendy and continues to adhere to her artistic vision, making music that matters, music of enduring merit, music that would make her Appalachian ancestors very proud. Music like her current offering, Mountain Soul II.

Back in 2001, her acclaimed Mountain Soul set a very high standard for artistic achievement. This shining original is a unique blend of Country, Bluegrass and Mountain music. It is a heartfelt tribute to her parents, especially her coal-miner father, and the Appalachian music that nurtured and sustained their family through many tribulations.

Mountain Soul II is yet another labor of love from Patty Loveless and husband/producer Emory Gordy Jr. and a long awaited continuation of the splendid original. The same recipe was followed here with similar ingredients and equally spectacular results. Like the original, Mountain Soul II is a veritable feast of soul nourishing material, brilliantly served up by the finest pure-Country vocalist of our time, and a distinguished array of acoustic players and vocalists including Del McCoury, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris.

Sandwiched between the stunningly innovative remake of Harlan Howard’s classic, “Busted”, and the exquisite Diamond in My Crown are generous servings of drumless acoustic music, a deeply moving, grassy mountain tapestry that delights and seldom disappoints.

“Busted”, the opener, is an empathetic song of solidarity for the economically downtrodden. Loveless restores Harlan Howard’s original coal mining lyrics with great effect. Raw and richly textured, the song is saturated with Appalachian acoustics that perfectly complement Patty’s twangy and nuanced Kentucky drawl. The melody is bouncy, almost in contradiction to the dire tale, but this is perhaps the perfect mountain irony; the power of music to help bring about the joy needed to cope.

The Bluegrass/Gospel classic, “Working on A Building” is an energetic tour-de-force with the perfectly blended high lonesome vocals of Loveless and Bluegrass master Del McCoury. The song is metaphorical, the work is God’s work, the hands are human, and the building is the Lord’s own. But the imperative is very down-to-earth, especially when interpreted as pertaining to the efforts to alleviate Appalachian poverty, a cause near and dear to Patty’s heart.

Other highlights include the pure Bluegrass Big Chance (transplanted from Dreamin’ My Dreams), a brilliant number by Loveless/Gordy which continues the Pretty Little Miss story from the first Mountain Soul. The song has an iconic Mountain sound that harkens to the hills, and is full of down home humor. It is perfectly crafted in every musical and lyrical detail.

“Bramble and the Rose” is pure passion and poetry, intertwined with the brilliant rustic tones of Loveless’ versatile voice. Few can inhabit the heart of a song like Patty Loveless.

“When the Last Curtain Falls” is a song that Emory co-wrote. The verses are all calm before the storming chorus, and then Loveless unleashes with her husband’s lyrics delivering a chilling cautionary tale of final accountability. It is an attitude adjustment that puts all things into perspective.

Mountain Soul II is inspired and very well crafted, but it does contain some apparent missed opportunities. Conspicuously absent are two up-tempo Bluegrass numbers from Loveless’ repertoire, Pretty Polly and Close By. Their inclusion would have enhanced the clear Mountain identity of the project even more, and would have created a more balanced mix of tempos.

Also the “less is more” philosophy is overdone in places, the sparse instrumentation works very well on songs like Diamond In My Crown, and the two a-cappella Gospel numbers, but some of the ballads might have benefited from some richer, rawer musical textures.

At first glance, there seems to be an over reliance on recut songs from her own catalog. But Patty Loveless brings forth the inherent Mountain Soul hidden in any given Country song, remaking them according to her natural Mountain sensibilities, and connecting more deeply with her own heritage in the process. She lovingly returns the songs to their essence and roots, back to the very origins of Country music deep in the heart of the hills.

Vocally, Mountain Soul II is Loveless at her best. Her crystal pure Appalachian alto deftly and fluidly shapes each note with rich and resonant tones and an uncanny sense of nuance that comes only with inherent talent and hard gained artistic maturity.

“Diamond in My Crown”, is the crown jewel of this remarkable album. It is hymn-like in its majesty, accompanied by an antique family pump organ, and some beautiful backing by composer Emmylou Harris. Loveless glows with unleashed vocalizations that are positively chill inducing. Transcendent, sublime, superlatives would be understatements when describing the Loveless interpretation of this gem.

Patty Loveless has once again transmuted the coal of hardship an heartache into pure golden tones. This Appalachian alchemy has yielded yet another diamond for her hard won crown. Mountain Soul II is nothing less than another 21st century Patty Loveless masterpiece.


Producing the CMAs

August 19, 2009

This is a guest contribution by regular commenter, Michael Hawkins, who posts as Highwayman3.

CMAThe movies have the Oscars, the world of music has the Grammys, and that world subdivided into the country genre has the CM’s—the annual extravaganza that we fans look forward to every year. We see our favorites perform, win awards and lose with smiling gracious faces, or not [insert the inevitable Faith Hill reference here]. Everyone picks their favorites in each category as to who they’d like to win. But what about the show itself, the backdrop for which these prestigious awards are presented?

Recently, there have been posts at both The 9513 and on this site where people have been weighing in on their favorite moments from these awards. It occurred to me that none of those moments have happened in the last few years. The awards have slid into mediocrity, which is a fitting representation of the current state of country music. I understand producing these awards must be tough because you have to be everything to everyone, and acknowledge the traditional country, the Disney country, the old and new alike, and bring in people who don’t belong for the sake of ratings.

What’s wrong with the show?

The awards themselves seem like an after thought, filler in between all the endless performances. The main suspense isn’t who wins, but rather, how many performances the producers can fit in 3 hours. Also, it’s become an award show that is ashamed of its roots, barely mentioning who is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Any artist with the slightest sign of a wrinkle, regardless of their legend status is shunned and hidden in the audience next to seat fillers and radio contest winners. It’s an award show with self esteem issues, not cool enough to stand on its own. You can bet the main attraction used to promote this year’s show will be a non-country performer like Kid Rock, The Eagles of last year, and Jamie Foxx of two years ago.

What can be done?

Well, the first order of business would be for the Sommet Center to take out a one day restraining order from Miley Cyrus on November 11, 2009, or better yet, the whole Cyrus family, Billy Ray, Noah, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Yes, she’ll bring in ratings, but we’ve gotten along fine without her for 40 plus years.

The CMA’s need to take a cue from  the Grammy awards, or even the American Idol finale. There are so many surprises, legends, moving moments, coming at you, left right and center, you don’t know what’s coming next, all you know is you’re in for the ride, you’re loving every second and you’re talking about it the next day. Last year, the biggest surprise was Shania Twain presenting Entertainer of the Year, which she has done at least 3 times before, and to those who keep up on country news, it was hardly a surprise at all.

What can possibly be done to make the night more entertaining?

How about taking a cue from this yearis Academy Awards and only announce a handful of performers, leaving the rest a mystery? Don’t tell us who and what everyone’s performing, which leaves more room for surprises. Also, like the Oscars, don’t announce who is presenting, and before each award have a mini-montage of past winners. Then at the end, the curtain opens and a surprise past winner comes out and shares insights on their winning experience. Instead of the otherwise cheesy dialogue or weird presenter pairings, it would make more sense if they just brought out Trisha Yearwood for Female Vocalist, Vince for Male, The Judds for Duo, Alabama forGroup, and hand it off to the winner like an Olympic torch or rite of passage. This way of thinking would work out great for the Entertainer of the Year category, in bringing out past winners, Roy Clark, and Barbara Mandrell, who also happen to be this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I would prefer it if it went back to how it used to be with a taped bio and artists performing a medley of hits. But even that is too much to ask. If they are going to cut it out entirely, the least they could do is show 3 separate 30-60 second bios of each of the inductees at different times as they are going to commercial and have them wave from the audience. Or, from the paragraph above, show a taped piece just before Barbara and Roy present Entertainer.

The most boring parts of the show are seeing full performances from all the mundane hits of the past year. Was it necessary for Darius Rucker to perform “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” last year when he wasn’t nominated? Yes, it’s necessary for the biggest hits to be performed, but does every top 5 hit of the past year have to be sung? Instead, encourage them to sing unique songs, like Alan Jackson in 2005 performing, “Wonderful Tonight”, songs you’ll actually remember more than 5 minutes after they are performed. Another idea, which the Grammys have down pat, is pairing people up. Think of the Al Green, Keith Urban, Justin Timberlake and Boys 2 Men grouping of earlier this year. For the CMA’s, this would be a perfect year to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the hat act boom of 89. Why not bring out Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Garth Brooks, and Travis Tritt for a small medley?

Instead of each of the new artist nominees performing their full songs – do we really want to see Julianne Hough performing a full version of her song this year? -  it would be great if they stole from the ACM’s all-star opener this year, and did the same thing with the 5 nominees. Lady Antebellum can be the ring leader like Brooks & Dunn were at the ACMs, and they all can perform a small portion of their hits. To wrap it up, Lady Antebellum can present the award. This will allow more time for the Collaboration and Video of the year awards to be back on the telecast.

If you ran the CMAs, thinking creatively but realistically, which special moments would you create that could go down in history and make country’s biggest night more fun to watch? How would you make George Strait’s performance less predictable? And how would you measure that Miley restraining order? In inches, feet, yards, or miles?

Patty Loveless, Stone Mountain Arts Center (Brownfield, Maine)

July 13, 2009

patty_lovelessThe following is a guest contribution from frequent commenter and devoted Patty Loveless fan, Stephen Fales, who is better known to Country Universe readers as Steve from Boston.

Country Universe is a site where timeless artists like Patty Loveless are not merely acknowledged, but embraced and celebrated. So when Leeann invited me to review my favorite artist’s Brownfield Maine concert as a guest contributor, I jumped at the chance. Thank you so much Leeann, Kevin and Country Universe for giving me this opportunity. And Leeann and Bill, it was a joy and an honor to join you folks for dinner and watch the concert with you. You both made this already memorable concert experience even more unforgettable for me, along with patty-loveless.net associates Nicole, Richard and Patti, and the following day Bob and Barbara, Kevin. And also, Marcia Ramirez from Patty’s band. Many, many thanks to all.

Patty Loveless at the Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield Maine

July 3, 2009

Nestled in the northern reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, Brownfield Maine’s Stone Mountain Arts Center is a beautiful and intimate 200 seat converted barn turned listening room. It has a warm and rustic ambiance, and a very helpful staff. The wood beam framed building makes for a rich acoustical setting, almost like a giant, wooden resonator box. It is a hard place to find out there in the Maine wilderness, but well worth the effort, especially to enjoy artists and legends like Patty Loveless, Ralph Stanley, Marty Stuart, Suzy Bogguss and Kathy Mattea. Think of it as a quest.

This beautiful mountain setting was a perfect match for Patty Loveless, the celebrated neo-traditional Country artist with the warmly expressive Appalachian alto. The Queen of Mountain Soul seemed right at home in the northernmost reaches of her domain, and seemed to absolutely love the venue.

Patty Loveless is a warmhearted and humble lady, she is a true artist with a good sense of humor and down-to-earth personality, the “anti-diva” as her drummer, Martin Parker, calls her. She takes the stage with very little fanfare, no high tech video introduction or ostentatious stagecraft, no bells, no whistles. She just quietly joins her band and begins to sing. It is all about the music with Loveless, and she lets the music speak for itself.

Still, there was plenty of excitement in the air at Maine’s Stone Mountain Arts Center, but the magic emanated entirely from Patty’s empathetic heart and her crystalline Mountain-bred voice. She sings from a place even deeper than the heart, Patty Loveless sings from the very depths of her Appalachian soul. No smoke or mirrors needed, indeed, they would have been out of their league competing with such natural, God given talent. Patty Loveless sings without a net, and her performance on July 3rd, 2009 was inspired and virtually flawless.

Loveless is the prototypical Country artist. She has refined and perfected her inherent gifts through years of hard work and perseverance, and has become a living link to Country’s Golden age. The artistic (but not the chronological) scope of her work reaches all the way back to the works of the Carter family and Bill Monroe, and forward to the finest modern Country and Bluegrass artists. Folks like Jim Lauderdale who penned two of the 18 songs in Patty’s concert lineup. She is a master interpreter of their work, and a keeper of America’s rich Country and Bluegrass cultural heritage. Patty Loveless is herself, a national treasure.

All that’s good and great about Country music is embodied in the voice of Patty Loveless, and she brings it all to bear on her first rate, soul-nourishing material. Her mentors and musical heroes, her east Kentucky upbringing and authentic Coal-miner’s daughter heritage can be heard in the soulful Mountain timbre of each and every note that she sings.

Her amazing repertoire consists of songs that have been carefully selected over many years by Patty herself and her husband/producer (and genuine musical genius) Emory Gordy Jr. And this they have done with little regard to what is trendy, and with every regard to what is timeless, or potentially so. Patty and Emory choose and write their material with a profound understanding and appreciation of the heritage and traditions of authentic Country and Bluegrass, a heritage she often speaks of with great reverence between her songs. And by following her heart in all of her musical choices, Patty Loveless connects deeply with the hearts of her listeners.

Loveless’ song lineup at SMAC was a mix of real, hard-core Country, and the finest contemporary Country. But the lack of any Mountain/Bluegrass songs that she could have included from her catalog kept this generous sampling from being truly representative of who she is as an artist. Still, a generous lineup of her always high-quality hit songs, and her featured Sleepless Nights mini-set of classic Country covers was fine compensation, and is the stuff of legend in the making.

Patty blazed into her set list with passion and precision, leaving her audience awestruck and breathless. In a very real and literal sense, this was a breathtaking performance from start to finish. At 52, Loveless is still very much an artist on an upward trajectory, and her voice just keeps getting even better with the years.

Some notable highlights: Her heart wrenching rendition of the Jim Lauderdale penned “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me”, for which she won a Vocal Event of the Year award with the legendary George Jones. Loveless has collaborated with some of Country music’s absolute finest male singers, including Jones and Vince Gill, and for live performances she needs a strong male voice to fill the void on a few of those songs. Thankfully, she has found the perfect vocal partner in her band member, Garry Murray, who sang the tricky Jones harmony with feeling and finesse.

“Nothing But the Wheel” is the perfect Country song, by the perfect Country singer. It moves with a forlorn tempo, like the car the protagonist drives away from her heartbreak: ” And 41 goes on and on, and the lights go winding in the dawn, and the sky’s the color now of polished steel…and the only thing I know for sure, is if you don’t want me any-more then I’m holding on to nothing but the wheel.” With Patty Loveless at the wheel, it just doesn’t get any better or more Country.

Patty’s interpretation of the George Jones gem, “If My Heart Had Windows”, is a song of deep gratitude for love gone right, and she sings this slow lover’s waltz with a torch style intensity that warms the heart and burns to the soul.

Patty’s knockout rockabilly rendition of “Why Baby Why” kicks off her Sleepless Nights classics set with high octane energy…Patty describes it as “George Jones meets Tina Turner” But it’s all Patty Loveless…Patty is far too humble to admit this, but she very often surpasses her musical heroes with her own interpretations, and her version and performance here was no exception.

Ray Price’s original version of “Crazy Arms” was charming, but the Loveless version is nothing less than enchanting. It is pure music magic. Pete Finney begins and ends the song with a palpable sting from his expressive steel guitar, but it’s Loveless’ soulful and soaring vocal that really penetrates the heart. When Patty and Emory recorded their version “Crazy Arms” they slowed down the tempo from a moderate shuffle to a torchy ballad. This serves Patty very well in concert by giving her the opportunity to find and wring out every last drop of emotion hiding in the potential of the original.

Some inspired phrasing enables Patty to put great emotional emphasis on the lyric “crazy dream” as in “this ain’t no cra-zy dream I know that it’s real” whereas Price’s original stressed the first word “This” instead. This subtle yet dramatic difference is but one example of the interpretive genius of Patty Loveless.

The title song of Patty’s Grammy nominated classic country covers album, Sleepless Nights, features Vince Gill, and once again Garry Murray came through with flying colors. Vocally flying with Patty Loveless cannot be easy, “why did you go, why did you go? Don’t you know, dont you know? I need you”, But Murray keeps right up and they both soar to the heights. There was lightning in the area during this concert, and there was a single crackle that seemed to come from the amplifiers during this song. But Patty never missed a beat, and the whole song came off perfectly. Patty Loveless is a force of nature, and she positively electrifies her audience.

Lead guitarist Tom Britt took his opportunity to shine during an extended and exciting slide guitar introduction to another Lauderdale song, “Halfway Down” He wailed away like a true rock star, building anticipation before the familiar opening chords of this Loveless hit. Likewise, Patty kept the excitement going full boil throughout this rip-roaring Mountain Rock song.

The set closer was “Blame It on Your Heart”, perhaps Patty’s most performed song of all. She sings it with an energetic enthusiasm that makes the song fresh for singer and listener, every single time. Indeed, this is the way that she approaches every performance, embracing each and every note like it was her first and only chance to shine and share her gift. This Harlan Howard song is just plain fun and children seem to love it as well, as they try to sing the tongue-twister chorus. Loveless is artist and entertainer in equal measure. No other singer on the scene today balances the two quite as well as Patty Loveless does, with the exception perhaps of Dolly Parton.

Patty’s stage presence is confident as one would expect from a seasoned veteran, but also warm, easy going, and playful. She has a natural Country charisma and even her speaking voice, her relaxed east Kentucky drawl is music to the ears of her audience. The stories of her musical heroes, and her accounts of her formative years as a young artist under the tutelage of the late great Porter Wagoner, and her 21 year membership in the Grand Ole Opry, are informative and entertaining.

Her audience interaction is often full of surprises. Observing the intimacy of the venue, Patty commented how folks in the front rows were so close, and jokingly suggested they grab an instrument and come on up onstage. “But don’t grab me”, she quipped. “Although on second thought, that may be fun” Then she quickly added, “don’t mind me, I’m just a real cut up and a harmless flirt”.

When she mentioned her husband Emory Gordy Jr., she received some noticeable applause from the audience. Patty responded saying that it was good that Emory had some fans here as well, and “I see a young lady here with an Emory (University) shirt, How many concerts is this now, Nicole?” to which Patty’s (and Emory’s) most devoted fan replied “199″, and Patty said with a smile, “Wow, I owe you one, don’t I?” Patty also said something about how she was glad Nicole was such a huge Emory fan, then added: “but don’t forget now, he’s MY man”, which also brought laughter from the audience.

After “Blame” Patty introduced her incredible band. It is clear that all these folks are friends and fans of each other, and Loveless herself can often be seen warmly grinning, holding her heart and slowly shaking her head from side to side with enraptured appreciation during her band’s various instrumental interludes. And proficiency on multiple instruments almost seems to be a requirement in the Loveless band. Marcia, Deannie and Garry all play at least three instruments, and it seems most everyone is schooled on mandolin in a way reminiscent of Bill Monroe’s old Bluegrass string band. The stage, as wide as it was, could barely contain the scope of this incredible array of talent.

There are only a few criticisms for this otherwise flawless concert. The sound of the drums for the first few songs was much too loud, and competed for volume with Loveless’ strong vocals instead of supporting them. But that sonic imbalance was pretty well corrected by the sound techs before too long.

Also, Loveless seemed pitch perfect all throughout, with only one or two apparent missteps. Just enough to remind us that this is a gifted flesh and blood human being, and not some kind of angelic troubadour.

After the band introductions and some more friendly banter with her audience, Patty eased into her encore performance of the Hank Williams standard “Cold, Cold Heart”. With sparse acoustic instrumentation and a little steel, it was almost a capella, and one could hear a pin drop between the notes. Patty’s version is chill-inducing perfection, tear producing and is especially potent live. And that evening her performance was especially transcendent, almost supernatural. I almost expected to see the ghost of Hank Williams take a seat and tip his hat to the finest female interpreter of his work, bar none. I would love to see what Loveless could do with ole Hank’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. The audience, and even her own band, was transfixed and mesmerized. Band members Marcia and Deannie especially, looked on with smiles of amazement.

With the completion of each song in the lineup, Loveless and her band received enthusiastic applause, which she greeted each time with sweet smiles and a grateful “God Bless You.” And at the end, she received thunderous standing ovations, and seemed genuinely humbled and overwhelmed. She gathered her band with her outstretched arms, and then they all graciously bowed a collective bow.

Patty Loveless is the most authentic voice in Country music today. Her fidelity to tradition, her creative blending of her own brand of mountain and country music, and her artistic integrity have rightly earned her the title of “Queen of Mountain Soul” from the great Ralph Stanley himself. And performances like her Brownfield concert on Friday, and albums like the exquisite Sleepless Nights demonstrate that she has earned the title “Queen of Country Soul” as well.

Patty’s long awaited follow up to her acclaimed 2001 classic Mountain Soul is scheduled for release on September 29th. Mountain Soul II has every essential ingredient to be yet another Loveless-Gordy masterpiece, and should enrich her already exceptional set list considerably. Just in time for the next leg of her tour starting this Fall.

As for a possible return to the Stone Mountain Arts Center? Word has it that Patty loved it so much, and felt so welcome by her gracious hosts Carol Noonan (folk singer and songwriter), and her husband, their staff and her appreciative fans, that she hopes to return twice a year.

Both on record and in concert, the music of Patty Loveless befriends the listener. She may sing “Soul of Constant Sorrow” on her Mountain Soul album, but the music of Patty Loveless is a source of great and constant joy, as well as inspiration, catharsis and consolation for all with attentive, listening hearts.

-Steve from Boston

For more information on Patty Loveless, visit

Patty-loveless.net,
Which is the most comprehensive and up-to-date Patty Loveless fan site.

Traditional Country is a Link in a Long Chain

June 30, 2009

The following is a guest contribution from Scott O’Brien.

“But someone killed tradition. And for that someone should hang.” –Larry Cordle & Larry Shell, “Murder on Music Row”

Dan Milliken’s recent post got me thinking: The country music I grew up with is nothing like the music on country radio today. If I turned on today’s country radio in 1988, I might not realize it was a country station and keep right on flipping. Back then, Randy Travis and Keith Whitley’s traditional twang ruled the airwaves. Today, they are dominated by the giggly teeny-bopper ditties of Taylor Swift and the boy band sounds of Rascal Flatts. Did they get away with murder on music row? Well, let’s start by briefly uncovering country’s traditional roots.

What is traditional country music? Is it simply anything from the past? That seems too broad; Shania Twain wasn’t traditional. Anything that isn’t pop? Maybe, but that is still a rather wide and subjective net. To me, traditional country music is honky tonk music. It heavily employs steel guitars, fiddles, and forlorn vocals. It moves at a slow pace. There are no drums or electric guitars. The songs typically deal with heavy topics such as heartbreak, cheating, or drinking, with a ballad here and there. In most cases, the goal is to induce pain. Not bad pain, but the therapeutic empathy that tugs your heart and helps you through your personal struggles. The patron saint of traditional country is Hank Williams. Hank’s first disciple is George Jones. Jones’ first disciple is Alan Jackson. The traditional template is supposed to help us decipher what is country and what is not. After all, what makes country music country if not fiddles and cheatin’ songs?

These days, traditionalists have a legitimate beef. When you turn on the radio, you don’t hear much steel guitar. Instead, you hear what might pass for 1990s pop, replete with fluffy repetitive lyrics, catchy drum beats, guitar riffs, and sex appeal. We aren’t preserving country music when the CMT Music Awards feature the B-52s and Def Leppard in lieu of John Anderson and Charley Pride. Was there a tribute to recently deceased traditionalist Vern Gosdin? No way. Do today’s artists “tear your heart out when they sing”? Not a chance. Is Keith Urban going to fill Conway Twitty’s shoes? Not a prayer. You know we are in trouble when pop-infused zipwire-flier Garth Brooks sounds more like Merle Haggard than today’s stars. Heck, just listen to Taylor Swift’s latest album. If that is country, I’ll kiss your ass. Nashville, we have a problem.

But let’s not go off the deep end just yet. Maybe traditionalists are thinking about things too narrowly. Country music is much more than Webb Pierce’s raw steel guitar-laden crooning. It always has been. Going back before Hank to the First Family of Country Music, the Carter family sound was an amalgam of several different sub-genres including Appalachian old-time, folk, and gospel. Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music, blended elements of jazz, gospel, old-time and blues to create some of the first country sounds. Marty Robbins played just about every musical style conceivable. Traditionalist hero Elvis Presley sang rockabilly. Johnny Cash had similar beginnings and even years later there was nothing “traditional” about his trademark up-tempo bass beat. Waylon Jennings’ music incorporated Buddy Holly’s rock-n-roll rhythm; he even wrote a song about how un-Hank-like his music was. Merle Haggard’s Bob Wills-inspired Bakersfield sound used amps and electric guitars. Even 1980s ACM Artist of the Decade Alabama shunned the steel guitar altogether and typically sang up-tempo, feel-good music. Yet these names are among the most venerated by traditionalists. What gives?

The problem is that traditionalists aren’t even sure what traditional country is. If it includes all artists who sold country records without crossing over to pop, the label is not very helpful. If it is strictly honky tonk, do we really want a bunch of Hank Williams clones? As great as he was, we surely do not. There has to be some updating – just ask Alan Jackson, who has innovated the traditionalist motif without sacrificing his authenticity. The genre has to evolve or it risks becoming boring and repetitive. Waylon Jennings understood this well (“It’s the same old tune, fiddle and guitar/Where do we take it from here?”). Hank Williams’ own son realized it too after trying for years to replicate his father’s sound. His song “Young Country” directly attacked the tradition-or-else mentality: “We like some of the old stuff/We like some of the new/But we do our own choosing/We pick our own music/If you don’t mind, thank you.” He is right. Why draw lines? Strict uniformity is not desirable in any genre, particularly country, whose trademark is its diversity of influences, instruments, rhythms, voices, song topics, and stories.

So what should define today’s country music? It should pay tribute to the past by incorporating and updating its unique fusion of diverse influences. It doesn’t have to be strictly “traditional.” But country music needs to capture the sentiments of rural and working class America. It needs to cover painful topics like drinking and cheating. It needs to tell colorful stories. It needs to tear your heart out sometimes. It also needs to make you feel good sometimes. What it shouldn’t do is become pop music. When country is indistinguishable from Top 40, it loses its soul. Unfortunately, this has happened with the Keith Urbans, Rascal Flatts, and Taylor Swifts – all talented artists to be sure. But country artists? Not so much. Still, there are old warhorses like George Strait who carry the torch and newcomers like Jamey Johnson who give us hope that country’s soul will stay alive and well.

Concert Season: Who Are You Going to See?

May 24, 2009

taylor-swiftI blame Adam Lambert for what I am about to reveal to you all:  I’m headed to a Taylor Swift concert tonight. That’s right, Taylor Swift. Insidious curiosity got the better of me.

But why do I blame Lambert, you ask? Because I haven’t been listening to a whole lot of country music recently. Instead, thanks to my new, bizarre obsession with Lambert, in the past month I’ve pulled out old Queen, Bowie, Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin. And I’ve listened to more My Chemical Romance, Pink and even Def Leppard than anything resembling country.  So, of course I thought of Swift. Because, when you think of hard rock, isn’t Swift the first person who comes to mind? 


(Save your ears, don’t listen)

I’ve also been tuning into rock radio, a rarity for me, to see what’s popular these days. Lo and behold, wouldn’t you know, Taylor Swift is also a rock artist (in addition to being a country, pop and heavy metal artist).  She’s regularly squeezed in between All American Rejects and Green Day on my local station. And let me tell you, nothing sounds more rock than a re-mix of Love Story. Don’t you agree?

But you have to give credit where credit is due. This girl has everyone fooled. Re-mix, re-package, throw in a few guest appearances with John Mayer and Def Leppard, form a friendship with Miley Cyrus, and suddenly, wow, you appeal to every demographic (under the age of 20). I gotta admit, I’m impressed. I’m also curious how a tall, gangly misfit, with a precocious attitude, who can’t sing, has made it work.  So, I’m headed to a concert tonight and will report back here because I actually know that many of you consider Swift a guilty pleasure. Wish me luck.

But no worries. I also have a number of saner concerts scheduled later this summer.  I’ve already got tickets to see Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith and Buddy Miller; as well as tickets to see Gary Allan and LeAnn Rimes (if she doesn’t cancel, which she’s done on  me twice).  I’m also still holding out for Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson tickets, but I’m sure that one is going to work out.

Summer concert season is around the corner.

Who are you planning on seeing in concert this summer?

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