Discussion: Please, Tell Me How the Story Ends

November 19, 2009 // 10 Comments

It’s pretty much an old cliché that country music artists tend to be the most personable and accessible to their fans. I don’t know if it’s technically true, but I tend to believe it myself. Over the years, I’ve heard some stories that have blown me away regarding the generosity of country music artists and I’m not talking about the highly publicized fundraisers or official charitable events. I think those are certainly worthwhile, but it’s the intimate stories that truly tug at my stiff heartstrings.

One of my favorite stories is about Johnny Cash. His brother, Tommy, tells of a time that they were in a locker room together and he caught Johnny inconspicuously looking for the most worn out pair of sneakers that he could find so that he could slip a $100 bill in them.

Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number

November 9, 2009 // 24 Comments

george-strait1While Taylor Swift mania continues to grow, there’s another impressive accomplishment being achieved by two veterans of country music on the opposite end of the age spectrum.

Contrary to what is commonly believed, there has always been a ceiling on how old you could be and still get country airplay. This year, both George Strait and Reba McEntire have been working steadily to shatter that ceiling.

Take a look at the age of country legends when they earned their most recent top ten solo hit:

Women of the Decade

October 18, 2009 // 16 Comments

reba-mcentireCountry Universe contributor and reader Cory DeStein flagged this rundown from Billboard regarding women on the charts this decade:

PERFECT 10: On Country Songs, Carrie Underwood ropes her 10th top 10, as “Cowboy Casanova” climbs 11-8. With the advance, Underwood now stands alone in first-place for most top 10s on the chart among solo women this decade.

Here are the solo females with the most top 10s on Country Songs since 2000:

10, Carrie Underwood
9, Faith Hill
9, Martina McBride
8, Taylor Swift
7, Sara Evans
7, Reba McEntire
6, Jo Dee Messina
5, LeAnn Rimes
5, Gretchen Wilson
4, Shania Twain

Notably, the artist who led the category among women last decade did so with almost three times as many top 10s. Reba McEntire ranked first among solo women in the ’90s with 27 top 10s on Country Songs. Trisha Yearwood placed second with 18 between 1990 and 1999, and Faith Hill, Patty Loveless and Tanya Tucker each posted 14 in that span.

The decline in fortune for women at radio this decade is even more pronounced when you compare the above top ten to the previous decade:

Worst. Country Year. Ever.

October 2, 2009 // 84 Comments

Comic Book GuyI’ve just gotta ask: Is this the worst year ever for country music?

Forgive me, but I can’t remember ever being so uninspired and uninterested in mainstream country music as I have been this year. I started listening to country around 1991, so that would make this the worst of the nineteen years I’ve been listening to it.

Even the nineties artists have been limiting themselves to covers albums and even sequels. Not that some of those aren’t good projects, but what does a guy have to do to get a solid studio album these days?

The reissue market hasn’t been any better. Even the upcoming Dolly Parton box set is a disappointment, a collection that abruptly stops in 1993. A collection claiming to be definitive that ends with her Billy Ray Cyrus duet “Romeo” does not bode well.


September 27, 2009 // 15 Comments

SeptemberThere’s a certain sadness to the month of September. The first hints of fall feel like the beginning of the end, as summer warmth tuns to autumn chill. Perhaps that’s why there are so many great songs about this time of year, nearly all of them tinged with sadness.

For me, “September When it Comes” is the most beautiful example of this theme. The track was recorded by Rosanne Cash and Johnny Cash just months before he passed away. The song eerily foreshadowed his death, which would come to pass that very September:

iPod Check: Recommend Ten Songs Redux

September 25, 2009 // 24 Comments

ipod2It’s time for another iPod (or any other music player) check. Last time, I asked you to put your music device on shuffle and then tell us the first ten songs that you would recommend. This time, I want you to do the same thing, but then jot down your initial thoughts on the songs as your ten recommended songs play. Then share your informal thoughts in the comments.

I’ll play along too, but I’ll spare you the Christmas songs that will inevitably come up in my shuffle, which I’d heartily recommend if I wasn’t keenly aware that it’s still only September.

John Anderson, “I’d Love You Again”

Nice, sweet song from the rough voice guy who’s still able to sing a tender song with the best of them.

Todd Snider, “Alright Guy”

I love how Snider really seems to be pondering this question: “I’m an alright guy? Right? Right?”

Ashley Monroe, “Can’t Let Go”

Peppy…reminds me of a Garth Brooks type song.

Beatlemania, Nashville Style

September 12, 2009 // 19 Comments

BeatlesI’ve been working my way through the Beatles Remasters that were released earlier this week, thoroughly enjoying myself in the process. As I listened to Help!, I heard Ringo Starr doing his best Buck Owens imitation as they covered “Act Naturally.”

It’s pretty darn cool that the Beatles covered Buck Owens, and plenty of country artists have returned the favor ever since. With the Beatles all over the media these days, it seems as good a time as any to look back on some of country music’s biggest and best takes on the Beatles catalog:

Rosanne Cash, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” and “I’m Only Sleeping”

Cash is the only country artist to score a #1 hit with a cover of a Beatles song, as her take on the Beatles For Sale track “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” became her eleventh and final #1 hit in 1989. An even better listen is her take on “I’m Only Sleeping” from her Retrospective release. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a much better song than “Party”, pulled from Revolver, arguably the best album the Beatles ever made.

Nickel Creek, “Taxman”

This progressive bluegrass band sounds great on record, but you don’t really get the full experience of their talent until you’ve seen their live show. Perhaps all of those royalties from their platinum-selling debut album pushed them into a higher tax bracket, as “Taxman” – another Revolver highlight – soon became a staple of their live shows.

The Music of Our Parents

September 9, 2009 // 23 Comments

imagesOne of the albums that I’m anticipating most this year is Rosanne Cash’s album, The List, which comes out on October 6. Anything new from Rosanne Cash is eagerly welcomed by me, but this project is bound to be particularly special. The album will be comprised of 12 classic songs culled from a list that her father, Johnny Cash (obviously), gave to her as essential listening back when she was eighteen-years old. Since she had to choose only 12 songs out of a reported list of one-hundred, it’s pretty safe to assume that these 12 choices are among her favorites of the list that was lovingly compiled by her father, even if she did not fully appreciate them at the young age of eighteen.

Country Music Firsts

August 24, 2009 // 40 Comments

pamtillisOur readers have clearly responded well to our Back to the Nineties features this month. (Fret not, there are more on the way.) Part of the reason is that so many of you, like myself and Leeann, first discovered country music in that decade.

This isn’t too surprising, as the nineties helped establish country music as a genre with widespread appeal. The suburbanization of once-rural America reached its apex, and at the same time, CMT deeply penetrated the cable market. For you newbies, the channel was 24-hour videos back then, with remarkably democratic video rotation.

A clip in heavy rotation would only be seen two more times a day than one in light rotation. This is the reason both Mutt Lange and Sean Penn discovered Shania Twain through her “What Made You Say That” clip, which was played extensively on the channel despite the song stalling at #55 at radio.

The New York country radio station back then would do a “Country Convert” feature every morning. A radio listener would call in and say what song converted them to country music. Newbies to country music back then had a religious zeal to them, and would work very hard trying to convince others to fall in love with the music.

Recommend A Religious Album

August 12, 2009 // 32 Comments

jesus-thumps-up1Many people may mistake my cynicism regarding, what I perceive as, heavy handed God centric songs in country music as not having appreciation for religious songs as a rule. This, in fact, is not accurate. While I cringe at certain religiously themed songs that feel too forced or contrived, I will admit here that I am easily taken in by religious songs. In fact, Randy Travis’ Worship And Faith is one of my favorite albums from his expansive discography. Likewise, I can’t get enough of Iris Dement’s Lifeline. While I, of course, always recommend those albums to all who haven’t heard it yet, there is somebody else that I urge you to check out if you don’t mind some “ old time religion in your heart.”

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