Author Archives: Leeann Ward

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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "(Who Says) You Can't Have it All"

1993 | Peak: #4

“(Who Says) You Can't Have It All” is not just an average song of lost love. Rather, the loss translates into a certain resolution from a man who is the lord and master of his proverbial castle that has turned into nothing more than a lonely room with “a ceiling, a floor and four walls”, full of pictures and memories of the broken past.

From the first strains of the mournful fiddle, we can almost be sure that we will be treated to a pure country song. What's more, Alan Jackson's equally forlorn voice singing the opening lyrics, “A stark naked light bulb hangs over my head/ There's one lonely pillow on my double bed”, serves as confirmation that we're in for 3 minutes and 30 seconds of a deliciously straight-up country weeper that turns out to be one of Jackson's most satisfying singles yet.

Written by Alan Jackson and Jim McBride

Grade: A

Next: Summertime Blues

Previous: Mercury Blues

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Retro Single Review: George Strait, “It Ain’t Cool to be Crazy About You”

1986 | Peak: #1

It’s rare that the melody of a song’s verses is just about as memorable and catchy as its chorus, but such is the case with George Strait’s “It Ain’t Cool to be Crazy About You.” Just hearing the first strains of the simple piano intro makes it almost impossible to get the tune out of your head once it’s there. What’s more, words like “suave” and “debonair” make it nearly irresistible to sing along with.

However, There’s more to this established earworm than a memorable tune. Strait adeptly portrays the imbalance of a relationship where he is much more invested than the woman happens to be. While he knows he’s being jerked around by her, he can’t help but be crazy about her anyway.

While it almost seems like just a catchy ditty on the surface, Strait’s delivery of a mix of sadness and regret, with a hint of frustration, turns this song into something substantive with a relatable scenario.

Written by Dean Dillon and Royce Porter

Grade: A

Next: Ocean Front Property

Previous: Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, “That Don’t Impress Me Much”

1998 | Peak: #8

One of the defining aspects of Shania Twain’s music has been her propensity for inspiring women to feel as though they have a right to express themselves.

Her empowering attitude hasn’t been expressed through songs of revenge or violence, but rather, through straightforward, no-nonsense lyrics that simply cut to the point with humor and clever turns of phrase.

With some playfulness, “That Don’t Impress Me Much” follows in this no-nonsense tradition by making it clear that it takes more than a high IQ, good looks or a fancy car to truly impress this woman. Along with the straight talk, we also hear traces of amusement throughout the song, which is one of the signature endearing qualities of Twain’s music.

While the Brad Pitt reference threatens to date this somewhat quirky single, it is catchy, sing-able and one of Twain’s more country-sounding efforts.

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Pop Version:

1999 |  Peak: #7 (U.S.); #3 (U.K.); #2 (Australia)

After scoring with two remixed hit ballads, Twain’s first uptempo pop crossover hit required a lot more work under the hood.  While the vocal track remained the same, the backing music is completely reinvented.

The synthesizer-drenched dance mix was dated even in 1999, though it gave the song a campy feel that matched the over-the-top video well.  It also made the song very appealing for international audiences.   It’s not as good as the original mix, but it does lay the groundwork for the ambitious Up! project, which uses synths a lot more effectively. – KJC

Grade: B

Next: Man! I Feel Like a Woman!

Previous: Honey, I’m Home

Country Mix:

Pop Mix:

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, “Tonight I Climbed the Wall”

1993 | Peak: #4

There really isn’t anything much more sad or upsetting in a relationship than cold, awkward silence. Things left unsaid or the silence after things that shouldn’t have been said can create what seems like an impenetrable, cold wall.

In his twelfth single, Alan Jackson expertly captures the forlornness of being in just such a situation. With crying steel and mournful vocals, “Tonight I Climbed the Wall” sounds like a perfect country song. Except, there’s a happy ending where, in the end, humility saves the day and the wall of silence is climbed. Ultimately, a song that manages to be both mournful and hopeful makes for an even more perfect country song.

Peaking at #4, “Tonight I Climbed the Wall” may not be one of Jackson’s signature hits, but its quality makes it one of his best.

Written by Alan Jackson

Grade: A

Next: Chattahoochee

Previous: She’s Got the Rhythm (and I Got the Blues)

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Twelve Songs of Christmas: Day 12

Song #12: O Holy Night

Sam’s Pick:  John Berry

If this list has shown anything, it’s that I’m partial to a good reworking of a Christmas standard – something that stands out from the hundreds of other versions.

But for “O Holy Night,” there is nothing like Berry’s simple, traditional, note-perfect version. It’s a particular favorite among golden-voiced singers like Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli, but Berry’s is the gold standard.

Leeann’s Pick: Martina McBride

This song is meant to be powerfully sung, even belted. Who better to fulfill this requirement than Martina McBride? On my favorite Christmas song, McBride doesn’t disappoint.

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Jonathan Keefe: John Berry

I have to second Sam’s mention of John Berry’s rendition of this song. Among the religious-themed Christmas standards, “O Holy Night” is far away my favorite, thanks to its flawless construction and evocative melody. The problem with the song, though, is that melody and the dramatic crescendo in the refrain both make it real, real easy to oversing. Right, Celine?

Berry, who is absolutely one of the most gifted and underrated singers in country music’s rich history of gifted and underrated singers, takes a far more low-key approach to the song, letting the purity and warmth of his vocal tone and the soulfulness of his slow vibrato convey a real sense of reverence for the song’s message and narrative.

On a song that’s too often undone by bombastic performances and arrangements, Berry’s approach is a gift that keeps on giving.

Kevin Coyne: Carrie Underwood

For the same reason Berry and McBride are mentioned above. For me, Carrie Underwood has the most powerful voice out there, able to alternate between subtlety and raw power with ease.

It seems only fitting that a talent on loan from God should sing about the birth of His son so beautifully.

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Twelve Songs of Christmas: Day 10

Song #10: Christmas Time’s A-Coming

Sam’s Pick: Peter Rowan

Admittedly, this is a much more recent song that some of the other songs we’ve covered. But this song, written by Tex Logan, has become a standard in the bluegrass and country world. I heard this version from Peter Rowan on a Sugar Hill Christmas sampler album many years ago, and it’s still my favorite. It’s a very relaxed, low-key version, but it still captures the joy of coming home for the holidays.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFv62JXdO2k

Leeann’s Pick: Sammy Kershaw

There are a few fun recordings of this song, but my favorite is Sammy Kershaw’s Cajun flavored version. As the song is meant to be, it’s fun and bright and still holds up today despite not having a traditional production.

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