Back to the Nineties

Wade Hayes Six Pack

August 18, 2009 // 27 Comments

Wade HayesHe could’ve been – heck, still could be – one of the genre’s great traditional vocalists. The depth of his baritone was matched by its nuance, making Josh Turner sound like an amateur in comparison. Here’s hoping he’ll resurface sometime soon, since he could blow most of today’s young guys out of the water.

“Old Enough to Know Better”
from the 1995 album Old Enough to Know Better

A twenty-something anthem that exudes youthful energy.

“I’m Still Dancin’ With You”
from the 1995 album Old Enough to Know Better

It doesn’t have quite the elegance of “In Between Dances”, but his spin on dance floor loneliness is still effective.

Rick Trevino Six Pack

August 18, 2009 // 16 Comments

Rick TrevinoThe nineties brought some artists who never became full-fledged stars, but were a heck of a lot more than one-hit wonders, either. One of those was Rick Trevino, who showed great promise with a solid gold-selling debut album. Though he strayed too far down the radio fodder road with his next two projects, that approach still produced a #1 hit in “Running Out of Reasons to Run.”

As is often the case with the young stars of the nineties, his more recent work has been strikingly compelling, even though radio hasn’t played it. Here’s a good sampling of underrated artist Rick Trevino.

“Just Enough Rope (Bilingual Version)”
from the 1994 album Rick Trevino

Trevino’s debut single is best heard in both of his native tongues.

“She Can’t Say I Didn’t Cry”
from the 1994 album Rick Trevino

Collin Raye Starter Kit

August 17, 2009 // 24 Comments

collin_rayeWhen Collin Raye first surfaced, it seemed like he was a poor man’s Vince Gill. Nice, sweet vocals but not much depth. However, he’d reveal himself as having one of country music’s stronger song senses. At his peak, he enjoyed both commercial success and regular Male Vocalist nominations.

Most of this list comes from Raye’s first four albums, all of which were certified platinum. His music started to decline in quality toward the end of the decade, but he still put out some good radio singles. He’s been mostly quiet this decade, releasing albums on independent labels.

Ten Essential Tracks

“Love, Me”
from the 1991 album All I Can Be

One of country music’s finest tearjerkers. It put Raye on the map as a balladeer to be reckoned with.

Sawyer Brown Starter Kit

August 14, 2009 // 13 Comments

Sawyer BrownMy favorite band of the early and mid-nineties was Sawyer Brown. Former Star Search winners, they had a decent run of hits in the eighties, though their early albums are legendarily awful. But they found their artistic voice when lead singer Mark Miller began writing with Mac McAnally. Many of their biggest and best hits were written by one or both of them.

The end result was that Sawyer Brown became one of the only country acts that broke out in the last few years of the eighties to actually become far more commercially successful in the nineties.

Ten Essential Tracks

“The Race is On”
from the 1989 album The Boys Are Back

So much of their eighties work was disposable, but there’s a surprising charm to this revved up take on the George Jones classic. Even the Possum himself was a vocal fan of it.

Diamond Rio Starter Kit

August 13, 2009 // 17 Comments

diamond-rioWith four CMA and two ACM Awards and five Gold and two Platinum albums, Diamond Rio was the premier country group of the nineties. They were one of the few groups in country music to serve as the exclusive vocalists and instrumentalists on their studio albums while most other groups in country music utilized professional studio musicians and even singers to fill out their records.

Their sound was a mix of multiple influences, but Diamond Rio’s music was not mistaken as anything other than country, which was particularly a result of the six vital member’s distinct and tight harmonies and organic productions that all gelled together to form a tight vocal group in every sense.

Ten Essential Tracks

“Meet in the Middle”
from the 1991 album Diamond Rio

“Meet in the Middle” is famous for being the first debut single to reach the top of the country charts by a band. This song of commitment and compromise is both singable and relationally instructive. It also appropriately introduces Diamond Rio as a group with a unique sound that will soon be instantly recognizable on nineties country radio.

Tracy Byrd Starter Kit

August 11, 2009 // 13 Comments

tracy-byrd1One of the side effects of the nineties boom was that every Nashville label started looking for young male acts that looked good in a Stetson and could sing with an accent.

The end result was that some solid talent was discovered a bit too early, before they’d fully refined themselves into artists. Tracy Byrd’s a great example of this. Only 25 years old when his first single went to radio, Byrd had been plucked from the Beaumont, Texas music scene that had groomed Mark Chesnutt.

Byrd’s hit material from the nineties was reflective of what the B-list hat acts recorded during that era, though his vocal charm helped him elevate middling songs from time to time. He also turned in a few gems, with his music getting far more consistent as he entered his thirties.

His last studio album, 2006’s Different Things, was excellent, but radio had already moved on to the new twentysomethings at that point, artists who will probably be making better music a decade from now and being overlooked for the new, new twentysomethings.

Ten Essential Tracks:

“Holdin’ Heaven”
from the 1993 album Tracy Byrd

When surprisingly strong sales greeted the release of Byrd’s debut album, radio jumped on board. This catchy tune briefly knocked Garth’s “Ain’t Goin Down” out of the top spot, though Brooks would return to #1 a week later.

Brooks & Dunn Starter Kit

August 10, 2009 // 20 Comments

Brooks & DunnWhen news broke of Brooks & Dunn’s impending breakup, we decided to move up our planned Starter Kit feature on this quintessential nineties act.

It’s hard to imagine a time when Brooks & Dunn winning an industry award was a breath of fresh air, but when they surfaced in 1991, they quickly ended the long reign of The Judds at the industry award shows. Brooks & Dunn would then make The Judds dominance seem like child’s play. They’d go on to win 19 CMA awards, including 14 in the Vocal Duo category. This shattered the category dominance record held by The Statler Brothers, who won Vocal Group nine times.

They’ve been a core act at radio for eighteen years, and were the first duo or group in the history of country music to sell six million copies of a studio album, a feat they achieved with their debut album Brand New Man. Their cumulative sales are approaching 25 million.

Ten Essential Tracks:

“Brand New Man”
from the 1991 album Brand New Man

The sheer energy of their debut single made them an instant hit at radio. Truth is, this song could come out today and still sound fresh.

“Neon Moon”
from the 1991 album Brand New Man

Ronnie Dunn is one of the genre’s finest male vocalists, especially when he tears into a beer-sipping ballad.

Lorrie Morgan Starter Kit

August 8, 2009 // 13 Comments

Lorrie MorganAmidst her generation of successful female country artists, Lorrie Morgan was the only one who was clearly from the tradition of heartbreak queen Tammy Wynette, with a healthy dose of Jeannie Seely in the mix. With her contemporaries far more shaped by the work of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, Morgan was instrumental in keeping the sound of female country from the sixties still relevant in the nineties.

While Morgan never earned the critical acclaim or industry accolades of peers like Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis, she was immensely popular with country fans, able to sell gold with albums that radio largely ignored. She was the first female country artist to have her first three studio albums go platinum, with three additional albums going gold and a hits collection selling double platinum.

Many of Morgan’s best recordings were never sent to radio, and those interested in discovering her in depth should seek out her finest studio albums, Greater Need and Show Me How.

But her singles were pretty good too, with these being the most essential.

Ten Essential Tracks:

“Dear Me”
from the 1989 album Leave the Light On

This song broke through just as news of the death of Keith Whitley, Morgan’s husband, became known. She was unfairly accused of capitalizing on his death with this release, as people both misinterpreted the song’s meaning and apparently ignored the fact that it had gone to radio weeks before his death.

Pam Tillis Starter Kit

August 6, 2009 // 18 Comments

Pam TillisThe first week of Back to the Nineties will wind down with women who have something in common. Each one is the daughter of a legendary country star that struggled to break through during the late seventies and most of the eighties, then became commercially successful throughout the nineties.

Today, our Starter Kit is for Pam Tillis. Now, those of you who are longtime readers of this site are already familiar with much of Pam’s work. Perhaps you’ve read my interview with her, or her 100 Greatest Women entry, or that edition of Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists.

But for those less familiar with her, Pam Tillis was one of the most surprising country stars during the boom years. After a pop album and several country singles with Warner Bros., she resurfaced as the flagship female artist for Arista Records. Between the time of her first single for the label going to radio in 1990 and the end of the decade, she’d amass thirteen top ten hits, three platinum albums, two gold albums, a Grammy, and two CMA Awards, including the 1994 trophy for Female Vocalist of the Year.

Ten Essential Tracks:

“Don’t Tell Me What To Do”
from the 1991 album Put Yourself in My Place

Her breakthrough hit was one of two tracks from her first country album to be nominated for CMA Single of the Year. It’s also one of many Tillis hits that helped bridge the generational gap between the self-pity queens of earlier decades and the rah-rah independent women of the post-Shania age.

Travis Tritt Starter Kit

August 5, 2009 // 9 Comments

While Travis Tritt didn’t acquire quite as many number one hits as many of his fellow artists in the nineties, with only 3 to claim, he was still a solid hit maker and strong force throughout the decade. His soulful brand of “southern rockin’ country” is often what he associated himself with, as noted in “Put Some Drive in Your Country”, but he was just as vocally connected to ballads and other more standard country fare.

Even as an artist of the nineties who was not honored as much by the industry as some of his peers, likely as a result of his outlaw image, his album sales still managed to be impressive. They included albums that went gold (1), platinum (3), double platinum (3) and triple platinum (1).

As one of my favorite artists of the nineties and in general, it was difficult to point to only ten essential tracks of Travis Tritt’s to spotlight, especially since the majority of my favorite songs of his were either not hit songs or even released at all.

Ten Essential Tracks:

“Here’s A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)”
From the 1991 album It’s All About to Change

In the nineties, Tritt was credited as having a strong personality, though people close to him, including various opening acts, have reported that he was always surprisingly friendly and accommodating. This satisfyingly and refreshingly retaliatory song, however, helped to perpetuate the feeling that Tritt is not someone to be crossed. It is a glimpse of how it would feel to actually respond with one of those quippy comebacks that we only dream of lobbing, after the fact, of course.

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