Archive for the ‘Conversations’ Category

Great Songs: Trisha Yearwood and Babyface, “Take a Bow”

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

It’s not like we’re short on evidence that Trisha Yearwood can sing anything well, but I stumbled on one of my favorite examples of this truth earlier in the evening:

Take A Bow – Babyface and Trisha Yearwood

A great take on one of my favorite songs.

Picking the CMA Nominees: Male Vocalist of the Year

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

The past two decades have only brought eight winners in the CMA Male Vocalist race, with only two of them – Toby Keith and Clint Black – winning only once.  Compare this to the Female Vocalist race, which has brought twelve winners during the same time frame, though even that race has become more streaky of late, with Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood combining for seven victories in the past eleven years.

Is it time for an overhaul in the Male Vocalist race? Yes and no. There’s no denying that some of the multiple nominees/winners over the past nineteen years remain the genre’s strongest male voices. Still, there’s room for some others at the table. The problem is that there are so very few of the genre’s male artists that are genuinely at the top of their game. Even most of the men listed below have had weak singles this year.

Still, if I picked the five nominees for the 2009 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, they would be:

Jamey Johnson

If Johnson earns fewer than five nominations at this year’s CMA Awards, I’ll be shocked. In fact, I think he’ll earn six, with the surprise nomination being in this category. These aren’t predictions, though, so I’ll state that while I’m not particularly a fan of Johnson, his success at retail with a traditional project that has only received airplay for one single is darn impressive. Along with Brad Paisley, he’s one of only two artists I’ve listed that were determined by genuine merit, not process of elimination.

Brad Paisley

The genre’s most consistent radio act and the reigning champion for the past two years. In a stronger year, I would think it’s time to move on from acknowledging him in this category and consider him more for Entertainer of the Year, but he’s still the presumptive favorite in this race. At the very least, he deserves another nomination.

Darius Rucker

Too soon? Possibly.  But replace his name with other candidates  – say, Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Gary Allan, Rodney Atkins, or Blake Shelton – if you think they made better music this year.

George Strait

It’s hard to make the call about which perennial favorite – Alan Jackson or George Strait – deserves a shot this year, especially since neither of them are likely to contend for the win.  “Sissy’s Song” is better than any of Strait’s singles this past year, but all of Strait’s are better than Jackson’s other two – “Country Boy” and “Good Time.” Seeing “I Still Like Bologna” sent to radio puts me firmly in Strait’s corner, whose “River of Love” and “Troubadour” brought me listening pleasure this year.

Keith Urban

I don’t think that there’s a stronger singer in consistent rotation on country radio, even if his material has been slight this year.  A case could be made for Tim McGraw or Toby Keith getting this slot instead, but they’re dealing with the same problem: weaker material than they’ve generally been known for.

If I Were In New Hampshire, I’d Go To This

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

With the gracious permission of Tom Spurgeon, the creator of this feature at The Comics Reporter, I would like to introduce the Country Universe version of “If I Were In _________, I’d Go To This.” With interesting events around the country it is hard to know about everything, so starting with “If I Were In New Hampshire, I’d Go To This” we will present you with our picks of unique or particularly interesting upcoming shows or events.

Big Suprise Tour

PRESS RELEASE:

The Big Surprise Tour – featuring Old Crow Medicine Show, Dave Rawlings Machine (w/ Gillian Welch), The Felice Brothers and Justin Townes Earle – kicks off in Hampton, NH on Tuesday Aug. 4.

Born out of a deep running comradery built on countless tours and ties between a host of excellent musicians, each evening is sure to be a unique experience as they all put their many combined years of musicianship and knowledge of song-craft and American music into play for these performances.

This is gonna be an amazing show, so get your tickets now!

Tour Dates:

8/4 – Hampton Beach, NH @ Casino Ballroom

8/5 – Boston, MA @ House Of Blues

8/6 – New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre

8/7 – Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory

8/9 – Charlottesville, VA @ Charlottesville Pavilion

8/10 – Cary, NC @ Cary’s Booth Amphitheatre

8/12 – Louisville, KY @ Waterfront Park

8/13 – Nashville, TN @ Riverfront Park

8/14 – Knoxville, TN @ World’s Fair Park

Create A Super Group

Friday, July 17th, 2009

highwaymenIn 1985, four country music rebels/icons came together to form a larger-than-life group that people wouldn’t have even dared dream about before their actual union. Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson formed the country super group, The Highwaymen. The four highly revered friends recorded three albums worth of material, much to the delight of the astonished public. While all of the members were extremely successful in their own rights, their potential egos were set aside to make music as a cohesive unit. They sounded like a polished group, not just some people thrown together as a marketing gimmick.

Then, in 1988, the rock world hit the jackpot when superstars George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne formed The Traveling Wilburys. Again, these immensely famous, talented and respected people formed a super group that still seems too good to be true to this day. Their unbelievable union created two albums that were repackaged in 2007 with bonus material, which sold surprisingly well for a reissue. Like The Highwaymen, their voices blended amazingly well together as if they were meant to be a group.

Dolly Parton has been a part of two dynamic trios: one with Linda Rhonstadt and Emmylou Harris and the other with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Both trios consisted of women equally as talented as the super groups previously discussed, which also provided us with excellent albums as a result.

And of course, anyone who has read anything that I’ve written in the past year or so should instinctively know that my pet super group is The Notorious Cherry Bombs, which was comprised of Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Tony Brown, Hank Devito, Richard Bennett, Michael Rhodes, John Hobbs and Eddie Bayers.

As I think of the competitive climate of the music industry today, I’m discouraged to think that such super groups would be next to impossible to unite anymore. Record label disputes prevented Tracy Lawrence’s collaboration with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw to be officially released to radio. Likewise, Reba McEntire had to replace Kenny Chesney’s vocals with lesser known artist, Skip Ewing, in order to release “Every Other Weekend” to radio. And these were only disputes over single songs, not even an entire album.

In true essay style form: Without considering record company politics, if you were able to create your own super group who could make at least one album, who would be the members? What would you name the group? Explain.

Good Artists Gone Bad

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

I guess that I must have poor taste.

I came across this feature today: Bad Songs By Good Bands.  Reading through the list, I found that not only did I like the songs chosen as “bad”, but many were my favorite songs by that artist.  I love the tracks that they singled out by Blondie, R.E.M., Guns N’ Roses, Depeche Mode, Paul Simon, Outkast, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, The Beach Boys, and The Clash.

But as much as I disagree with their choices, I know a good topic of conversation when I see one.

Perhaps some of you will disagree with me as much as I disagree with the good folks at Spinner, but here are some songs that I think are pretty bad, even though the artist is very good:

  • Faith Hill, “Bringing Out the Elvis” – “When I’m with you I never have to feel like a sardine in a little metal can. I’m more like  wild shark that travels in a pink limousine. Yeah, together with my fans.”
  • Toby Keith, “Whiskey Girl” – I’ll never forget my dad’s reaction to this as he watched the video: “Wow. He’s not even trying anymore.” He was a huge Toby fan, too.
  • Patty Loveless, “You Will” – Goes on forever without ever getting anywhere.

What do you think are perfect examples of good artists gone bad?

2009′s Remaining Release Schedule Comes into Focus

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

2009Thus far, 2009′s releases have done little to fire up the charts,

with most of this year’s strongest-selling albums being holdovers from 2008. While Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, and Keith Urban have sold strongly, the chart remains dominated by last year’s releases from Taylor Swift, Sugarland, Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, and Jamey Johnson.

So what’s left for 2009? Here’s what we know so far:

New Releases

  • Carrie Underwood will release her third studio album on November 3, with a lead single going to radio this fall. Her previous set, Carnival Ride, is nearing sales of 3 million, and produced four #1 singles and a #2 single, all five of which were certified gold in their own right.
  • George Strait will release Twang on August 11. It’s the follow-up to his 33rd platinum album Troubadour, a set which produced his 43rd #1 single and earned him the first Grammy of his career, along with a pair of CMA trophies (Single and Album)
  • Miranda Lambert is readying Revolution for September 29. Lead single “Dead Flowers” is struggling at radio, but that’s never slowed her down at retail anyway.
  • Reba McEntire’s Valory debut Keep on Lovin’ You arrives August 18. Lead single “Strange” is approaching the top ten.
  • Willie Nelson releases another standards collection called American Classic on August 25.
  • Rosanne Cash will release The List, a covers album, on October 6.
  • Sarah Darling releases Every Monday Morning on July 28.
  • Mac McAnally’s Show Dog debut – Down By the River – comes out on August 4. McAnally recently scored a big hit teaming up with Kenny Chesney on “Down the Road”, and was the co-writer on several classic Sawyer Brown singles like “All These Years” and “Thank God For You.”
  • Mindy Smith releases Stupid Love on August 11.
  • Radney Foster and The Confessions release Revival on September 1, with guest appearances by Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker.
  • Chris Young releases The Man I Want to Be on September 1.

Reissues and Compilations

  • Brooks & Dunn release the 30-track #1 Hits…and Then Some on September 8. Track listing here. The set is preceded by lead single “Indian Summer.” The duo’s previous set, Cowboy Town, was their first to fall short of gold certification. The new hits compilation is similar in set up to top-selling collections by George Strait, Toby Keith and Reba McEntire in recent years.
  • Wounded Bird just released 2-albums-on-1-CD collections for Kris Kristofferson on July 7. Eight albums are included from his 1972-1981 output
  • A pair of Tommy Cash’s albums from 1970 will combine on one CD on July 21; Tommy is the younger brother of Johnny Cash
  • Hank Snow’s 1958 album When Tragedy Struck is being remastered and reissued on August 11.

I’ll be picking up many of the above releases, but I have to say that I’m most looking forward to picking up all of the remastered Beatles albums and the Madonna anthology this fall.

What releases are you most looking forward to in the second half of 2009?

Traditional Country is a Link in a Long Chain

Tuesday, June 30th, 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.

Celebrating the King of Pop: 1958-2009

Monday, June 29th, 2009

No words, printed or spoken, seem to do justice to the life and career of the late Michael Jackson, the brilliantly talented, irreplaceable entertainer who united the world with his music and spirit. The only fitting way to pay tribute to this musical icon is to celebrate his music – because his is the rare, exquisite kind that transcends the boundaries of genre, color, gender and time, and will continue to impact lives for generations to come.

The Jackson 5 perform mega-hit “I Want You Back” on Soul Train in 1972

Jackson debuts legendary moonwalk on the 1983 Motown 25 television special

Jackson’s 1991 music video for the idealistic, global anthem “Black or White”

How has Michael Jackson’s music touched you? Post your thoughts, along with your favorite performances and music videos, below.

George Strait Goes Platinum…Again

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

george-straitGeorge Strait’s Troubadour has been certified platinum, his 33rd album to reach that sales mark.

How rare is this accomplishment? He trails only Elvis Presley (45) and The Beatles (39) among all recording artists.

Strait’s nearest country competitors are Alabama (20), Reba McEntire (19), Kenny Rogers (19) and Garth Brooks (16).

George Strait is one of those artists that I buy every album of. I remember being amazed how many albums he already had released when I became a fan in the nineties.  It’s good to see him still going strong.

How many Strait albums do you own? What other artists do you buy every release from?

Playing Catch-Up

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

tortoise_hare1_featureIt’s one of those life/blog paradoxes: we dedicate a lot of words to the new – new releases, new issues, new news – and yet, when it comes down to it, our personal, non-internet selves spend just as much time trying to get up to speed on things we’ve missed. History is fat, full of great stuff that happened while you were preoccupied with playing on jungle gyms or raising babies. There’s always something to catch up on if you set your mind to it!

Like right now, for instance, I’m discovering the music of the 90′s. I was under 10 and on a Pacific island for most of those years, and was honestly only marginally aware of the “country” classification for most of them. So I’ve been diving in.

Although the 90′s are regarded by many as a very strong period for mainstream country, my current catch-up squeeze is the alt-country group Old 97′s, and one song in particular: “The Other Shoe”, from their ’96 set Wreck Your Life. It’s a catchy, clunky little tune about a creepy husband who tells his wife he’s leaving for Phoenix (the specific phrasing is an apparent nod to Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” – cute), only to hide under their bed and await the appearance of her lover, whom he promptly guns down along with his adulterous wife.

It’s a very simplistic sort of murder story, and Rhett Miller’s rough ‘n’ tumble singing style is probably polarizing, but I keep coming back to it because of it’s just got one of those unstoppable hooks. “The oTHER! shoe to faaaaallll.” It occurs right after the following sample cuts off, Grrrrr:


What music have you been catching up on recently? Any good finds?

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