Author Archives: Leeann Ward

Single Review: Garth Brooks, “People Loving People”

Garth Brooks People Loving People“People Loving People”

Garth Brooks

Written by Michael Busbee, Lee Thomas Miller & Chris Wallin

There is no nuanced way to say it. Garth Brooks’ long anticipated comeback single is really bad with a little bit of good to keep it from being really, really bad.

We’ll start with the good. The message and concept of the song is admirable and hits my personal sweet spot of songs that promote love, peace and goodness in the world. He posits that it’s simply people loving people that will make the world better. It’s a simplistic view of things, but a sweet one that I can get behind on a basic level. In fact, the lyrics are well constructed and not even too cloying to sell the sentiment, which is a difficult line to balance.

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Single Review: Jason Aldean, “Burnin’ It Down”

Jason-Aldean-Burnin-It-Down“Burnin’ it Down”

Jason Aldean

Written by Rodney Clawson, Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley,  and Chris Tompkins

Country music isn’t historically prudish. It covers the topical gambit of love, drinking, cheating, murder and, yes, even passion. Conway Twitty, Alabama, Charlie Rich, even Alan Jackson ,as well as many others,  haven’t shied away from memorably singing about sexual intimacy. But their songs maintained a respect for the intimacy, which Jason Aldean’s “Burnin” it Down” grossly fails to do. Instead, the song is high octane graphic with no sense of real intimacy and nothing left up to the imagination.

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Song Talk: Papa Don’t Preach!

It’s fun to think of our favorite endearing songs about dads. We’ve even done it here at Country Universe a time or two. But let’s face it, dad’s aren’t always right and they’re not always wise. Here are a few songs that show the invincible side of fathers.

While I’m so fond of my dad that I almost feel guilty about writing this Song Talk installment, my guilt is eased by knowing that he would actually be amused by the topic. So, here we go! Feel free to add your selections in the comments.

Lefty Frizzell Saginaw Michigan

Lefty Frizzell, “Saginaw, Michigan”

I was listening to this song the other day and it’s what inspired this list. It’s the classic scenario of the dad thinking that his daughter’s suitor isn’t good enough for her, but the twist at the end takes a hilarious turn!

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Song Talk: Music that Moves Me

Sarah JaroszMy local Public Radio station has a wonderful series called Music that Moves Me, which was conceived and originally produced by the inimitable Suzanne Nance who has now (sadly for us, but happily for her) moved on to bigger things in a big Chicago market. For this series, people across Maine submitted touching or funny stories about how a particular song or specific music has moved them in their lives. As a result, this series inspired me to make a playlist of songs that move me whenever I hear them. The songs that move me the most are those that promote sensitivity and kindness in the world or in me.

Here are just a few of the songs that move me. What are some of yours and why?

Sarah Jarosz, “Ring Them Bells”

Jarosz beautifully interprets this Bob Dylan Chestnut with the help of Vince Gill. There’s just something in her voice that makes me feel that she’s emotionally connected to the song and it’s inclusive message, which, in turn, connects me to the song.

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Single Review: George Strait, “I Believe”

I-BelieveWriting a song about a current event that pulls at the heartstrings is a difficult thing to accomplish without seeming opportunistic, not to mention that the part of current fades away over time and can potentially make a song seem irrelevant as a result. It’s inevitable, however, that such songs will be written, since one of the most emotional ways to respond to a tragedy is to process feelings through music.

So, a country song about the horrific event that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, last December, a mere 7 months ago, is tasked with the delicate undertaking of striking that sensitive balance of honoring rather than exploiting. Although it seems impossible to do, Alan Jackson did it with “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” for the worst national tragedy in my lifetime. And while this may not turn out to have the same broad recognition as that untouchable musical moment, George Strait’s tribute to those who lost their lives in Newtown successfully does the same.

“I Believe” quietly displays a strong faith that expresses the solace felt by believing in a higher power that can help heal the most broken of hearts. Supported by gentle production, Strait tenderly sings of the lost “26 angels” with palpable reverence and hope. Strait’s voice is as solid as ever, including strong and mournful falsetto notes, which perfectly emotes the sincerity and compassion that a song of this magnitude requires. There are no lyrical or note-bending histrionics by Gentleman George here – just a tribute from a humble man conveying a simple sentiment of real heartbreak, buoyed by faith and hope.

Written by Dean Dillon, Bubba Strait & George Strait

Grade: A

Listen: “I Believe”

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Round Table Album Review: LeAnn Rimes, Spitfire

As you may have noticed, the Country Universe staff loves to find ways to participate in joint writing projects. So, while it won’t be the exclusive way that we review albums, we thought we would give a new, more collaborative album review format a try. As an offshoot of our Round Table Single Reviews, which could become repetitive when we all agreed on a particular track, we are test-driving Round Table Album Reviews, which will give us all a chance to weigh in on different tracks and aspects of a single album. With this format, even if we all generally positively (or negatively) agree on an album, as happens to be the case here, we still have room for a variety of perspectives.

Spitfire

LeAnn Rimes
Spitfire

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It’s certainly no secret that LeAnn Rimes has lived a tumultuous life, a fact which has been sensationalized by various media outlets throughout her career. While her male counterparts are frivolously singing about cruising backroads, partying life away and generic love, Rimes has channeled her life circumstances into an emotional and fiery work of art, just as true artists tend to do. As a result, music critics have taken notice and have rewarded her efforts with high praise and acclaim.

As Dan observed in his review of the album’s lead release, Rimes is “an artist who hit her commercial peak early, but whose creative peak is still sloping up with each passing year.” Rimes’ Spitfire demonstrates that the trend continues with the best album of her career and, certainly, what will be one of the shining albums of 2013. - Leeann Ward

“Gasoline and Matches” (with Rob Thomas, featuring Jeff Beck)

In an album rife with weighty reflection and introspection, the nearly frenetic “Gasoline and Matches”, originally written and performed by Buddy and Julie Miller, is a welcome reprieve. It’s as intense as the rest of the album, but in a decidedly different way.

Lyrics like “You pull my pin and you trip my wire/Yeah, well, you come in and set my heart on fire/You knock me out, you rock me off my axis” signal that this isn’t just some run-of-the mill love song, but rather, a cleverly constructed, fiery romper. What’s more, is there a more endearing proposal line than “Baby, we should get related”? Maybe so, but it perfectly fits the cheekiness of this song.

Furthermore, along with the addicting bass riff and bluesy guitar solo from Jeff Beck, Rimes and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas rise to the song’s proverbial gauntlet with a rousing performance where they match each other’s intensity phrase for phrase, which all culminates into a truly riveting listening experience. - Leeann Ward

Written by Buddy Miller and Julie Miller

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“Who We Really Are”

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an artist’s entire “reason to be” shift so dramatically over the course of one career.   When Rimes first surfaced, the novelty was she was a young girl with amazing pipes who could belt out classics past and present.  Her success was based on the very opposite of song interpretation, with the focus being completely on the singer – “Wow, can you believe a little girl just hit that note!”  The songs were incidental, and usually better interpreted by other artists in years gone by.  In that sense, she foreshadowed what would make most of the “American Idol” also-rans popular while on the show, but irrelevant once they were voted off.

“Who We Really Are” perfectly illustrates how she’s become something else entirely: a subtle, nuanced singer who gets out of the song’s way, allowing the writing to take center stage.  This only works if a singer is able to pick (or write) great material in the first place, and is able to communicate the song’s meaning in a way that is clarifying for the listener.  She succeeds wildly here, earning what might be the greatest compliment a singer can get when recording outside material:  It sounds like she wrote it.   - Kevin John Coyne

Written by  Darrell Brown and Sarah Buxton

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“I Do Now”

What music fan hasn’t had this experience? You heard a song as a kid, fell in love with the feeling and melody, grew up ten years and suddenly realized, “Oh; this is about heroin addiction.”

That’s not quite Rimes’s character here, thankfully. But in one of the most upbeat admissions of wrongdoing since “Dang Me,” she does fess up to her share of cheating and drinking, all while bopping around to a beat so groovy that they had to give it a 50-second solo at the top of the track. Turns out Rimes used to find the classic Hank and Merle weepers pretty groovy, too – until she started living through them.

But you can’t keep a good girl down: even after she’s driven away her man, then alienated everyone else trying to drink away her shame, she manages to get her act together, coming full circle to a new love who helps set her free, just like in the oughta-be classic “Cowboy Take Me Away.” Getting older and wiser can mean seeing more of the darkness in the world, Rimes seems to acknowledge – but if you hold out for it, you get see more of the light, too.  - Dan Milliken

Written by LeAnn Rimes, Darrell Brown & Dan Wilson

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“God Takes Care of Your Kind”

The most obvious choice LeAnn Rimes could have made for her performance on “God Takes Care of Your Kind” would have been a vengeful, “woman scorned” act, turning the song into a tale of fiery accusations and Old Testament style retribution. But Rimes has spent her last four albums avoiding those obvious choices that most of her contemporaries likely would – and far too often do – make. What makes the final kiss-off of “God Takes Care of Your Kind” so cutting isn’t the rusty barbs knotted in its lyrics but the fact that Rimes’ delivery couldn’t be more casual in its dismissal.

She references deep betrayal in the chorus (“I let you in where I never let anyone/You cut me open just to watch the blood run,” for those wondering if modern country songs could still trade in sexually loaded metaphors). But, drawling out her lines over a slinky rhythm section, she doesn’t sound the least bit pressed by any of it. Instead, she’s relaxed and confident, resting easy in the blessed assurance that the Good Lord has her back. - Jonathan Keefe

Written by Darrell Brown, LeAnn Rimes and Dean Sheremet

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“A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind”

Amidst all the astute, specific storytelling on Spitfire, “A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind” sticks out for its broad strokes of emotion. There’s no vivid thought process to trace here; it’s just a lament about the cost of foolishly ignoring love, built around a turn-of-phrase that sits dangerously close to contrived.

But its craft is elsewhere: Like the potent country song it recalls, it drowns the narrative in emotion – through the swell of the melody, the cry of the steel guitar, the guilt in Rimes’ voice – until the words becomes an accessory. Rimes plays into this effect with a performance that’s as stirring as the arrangement it complements, restrained and self-loathing all at once. If Spitfire is an indication of the vision-driven artist we weren’t sure Rimes could become, “A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind” is a reminder of the artist whose voice could always light fire and relevance under the most classically constructed country songs. - Tara Seetharam

Written by David Baerwald, Darrell Brown and LeAnn Rimes 

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Retro Single Reviews: George Strait, 1992-1993

The comfortingly reliable George Strait mixes it up a bit during his 1992-1993 run of singles with a cover of a beloved classic, hardcore country, a surprising country rocker, and a sweet love song for good measure.

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“Lovesick Blues”
1992
Peak: #24

Strait ably tackles the Hank Williams classic. He doesn't surpass the original, but it's cool that he brought the song back in 1992. Imagine if somebody tried to do that now.

Written by Irvin Mills & Cliff Friend

Grade:  B+

Listen:  Lovesick Blues

George_Strait_-_Gone_as_A_Girl_Can_Get

“Gone as a Girl Can Get”
1992
Peak: #5

“Gone As A Girl Can Get” boasts one of the most interesting Strait productions, featuring superb, jaunty instrumentation that elevates a good composition to a great song.

Written by Jerry Max Lane

Grade:  A

Listen:  Gone as a Girl Can Get

George_Strait_So_Much_Like_My_Dad_single

“So Much Like My Dad”
1992
Peak: #3

This downbeat single finds a man searching for answers for why is lady is leaving him and he knows he'll find it from the example of his dad, because he's so much like him. In a clever twist, however, he doesn't ask his dad, but rather, asks his mom: “But if I'm so much like my dad, there must've been times you felt her way. So, tell me word for word what he said that always made you stay.”

Written by Chips Moman & Bobby Emmons

Grade:  B+

Listen:  So Much Like My Dad

George_Strait_-_I_cross_my_heart_single

“I Cross My Heart”
1992
Peak: #1

Is there another pledge of devotion that defines 90s country music more than this love song? In another's hands, this could be way too icky-sweet, but in King George's hands, it's just right.

Written by Steve Dorff & Eric Kaz

Grade:  A

Listen:  I Cross My Heart

George-Strait_-_Heartland

“Heartland”
1993
Peak: #1

It's always seemed counterintuitive for a song that begins with “When you hear twin fiddles and a steel guitar” to rock as hard as this song does, but the fact is that it's as catchy and infectious as all get-out, so almost all is forgiven.

Written by Steve Dorff & John Bettis

Grade:  A-

Listen:  Heartland

George_Strait_When_Did_You_Stop_Loving_Me

“When Did You Stop Loving Me”
1993
Peak: #6

To make up for the previous rocker, Strait goes the other direction and adeptly sinks his teeth into a pure country weeper with a deliciously heartbreaking performance.

Written by Donny Kees & Monty Holmes

Grade:  A

Listen:  When Did You Stop Loving Me

George_Strait_Easy_Come_Easy_Go

“Easy Come, Easy Go”
1993
Peak: #1

I would have liked to have been listening to country music when this song was released as a single, as I'm sure it would have surprised me to hear Strait singing something sounding quite like this. The song promoting the dissolution of a relationship with no regrets is country, with a little groove and an over all chill vibe.

Written by Aaron Barker & Dean Dillon

Grade:  A

Listen:  Easy Come, Easy Go

220px-George_Strait_-_Id_Like_to_Have_That__One_Back

“I'd Like to Have That One Back”
1993
Peak: #3

This song, however, portrays a lost relationship rife with regret. Strait's performance, supported by strains of lonely steel, fully captures the pain of losing a good love due to one's own negligence.

Written by Aaron Barker, Bill Shore & Rick West

Grade:  A

Listen:  I'd Like to Have That One Back

Next:  1994-1995

Previous:  1990-1991

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In Memoriam: Mindy McCready, 1975-2013

Mindy McCready

The very sad news that Mindy McCready has taken her own life has been reported by several sources.  Our hearts go out to her family and those close to her, especially her two young children.

Rather than focus on her troubled life, it seems most fitting to acknowledge this tragedy by spotlighting the bright spots in her life, particularly her musical talents.  While her music career is sparse compared to others who’ve been in the business as long as she has, her out put is noteworthy all the same.

In 2010, she released an album that went largely unnoticed, but I’m Still Here was a strong set of songs that found McCready in fine voice.  Included on the well produced project was a cover of Garth Brooks’ “The Dance,” along with some gems such as the regretful “Wrong Again,” the wistful “By Her Side,” and the stormy “I Want a Man.”

Of course, the height of Mindy’s success was in the mid nineties with memorable songs such as “Ten Thousand Angels,” “Guys Do It All the Time,” and “Maybe He’ll Notice Her Now.”

Perhaps the most fitting tribute that Country Universe can pay to Mindy is the fact that the origins of our Six Pack series began with her music.  Kevin said it best, in May of 2008, when he wrote, “Mindy McCready made some great music back in her day, and I look forward to hearing more from her.  Quite frankly, she deserves to be known by her work, not her personal life.  Check out these six solid moments from her career and you’ll see what I mean.”

So, may we all follow Kevin’s advice, and know Mindy McCready for her work, not her personal life.

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Merry Christmas: A Christmas Card Playlist

I know that we’d love to send each of you a Christmas card from us, but since we can’t, here is a playlist of Christmas songs to enjoy as a stand-in, which is probably better than any card we could send anyway.

These songs are hand-picked by me as songs that I find particularly relaxing, yet still entertaining, during the chaos of the Christmas season. I hope you enjoy.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Country Universe staff.

 

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Country Universe Turns Eight: Leeann's Favorites

In 2007, a little over five years ago, I discovered Country Universe. At that point in my relationship with  mainstream country music, I had been a diehard fan for over ten years, but was  realizing that I was starting to feel less content with Top 40 country radio.

In my effort to expand beyond the radio, but still stay connected to country music, I  eagerly discovered the world of music blogs. As it happened, the very first country music blog that captured my attention beyond a cursory look was Country Universe. At the time, Kevin was the sole writer and he had been running the blog for three years prior to my discovery of it.

As I remember it, the first article that I happened upon was Kevin’s A Conversation with Pam Tillis. I was inordinately impressed by their easy exchange and Kevin’s obvious  respect  for and knowledge of his interviewee. As the title suggests, however, it was much more than just an interview, but rather, a warm, in-depth conversation.

To make a sort of long story short, my respect for Kevin’s blog only increased as I combed through the Country Universe archives while  also keeping up with the updated content. As I followed along, what struck me the most was that while  it was clear that Kevin had no interest in sensationalizing, he felt a responsibility to  sometimes tackle difficult and even controversial topics regarding  the landscape of country music.

One such article,  Say What? — John Rich, specifically caught my attention, as it discussed a weighty topic with a perspective  that was not especially popular among the predominantly conservative country music fans at the time. For me, it was  intriguing and refreshing to read such an intelligent, unexpected perspective.

So, imagine my  fright and delight when Kevin invited me to join him here in early 2008. My first big article was the very first installment of the Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists feature that kicked off with my favorite artist, Vince Gill. The article of mine that I think of  with the most fondness, however, is my interview with Joey+Rory, which was only thanks to their warmth and openness.

Since my time with Country Universe, we’ve had some writers come and go, but I am very proud of the writers that we have now. The absolute best part of being a part of Country Universe is that I am a fan. I am fortunate to genuinely enjoy the writing of Kevin, Dan, Tara, Ben, Jonathan and Sam. Even more importantly,  I am a fan of their voices, both as writers and behind the scenes of Country Universe. What’s more, even if my name wasn’t on the list of writers, I would be a devoted reader of the site.

And, finally, it cannot be stressed enough that the richest part of Country Universe as a whole is the thoughtful and passionate comments of you, our readers. Without all of you, this experience would  surely be much less fun and engaging. So, thank you for being a part of

it all. Long live Country Universe.

Country Universe Turns Eight:

 

 

 

 

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