Discussion

Discussion: Play the New Stuff, or Stick to the Hits?

March 17, 2015 // 14 Comments

Shania Twain is returning to the road for the first time in more than a decade, and she’s calling it her farewell tour. Well, technically, she’s calling it the Rock This Country tour, but it’s being marketed as both her return to and retirement from the road. I should be all over this.  She’s one of my favorite all-time artists, and I loved her tour in support of Up!, which I still consider her best album. But even though I enjoyed her Vegas television special last month, and even though any set list would be stacked with songs that I love, I’m honestly not that interested in seeing the show. This is for a simple reason:  She’s not touring in support of new material. I think I’m in the minority on this one, but I don’t like it when an artist only plays their hits from the past.   There’s something Read More

Song Talk: Papa Don’t Preach!

July 30, 2014 // 28 Comments

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 villainous 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” 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!

CU10 Flashback: Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain and Gender in Country Music

July 23, 2014 // 8 Comments

In 2008, I was finishing up my degree in journalism and trying to understand what it meant to be a professional writer. I wanted to write about music, but the divide between fan and critic felt, at times, insurmountable. That fall, I stumbled onto Country Universe through this post, and it changed my perspective. As both a writer and leader, Kevin was thoughtful, rational and personally invested in the country music genre. He showed a deep respect for the genre’s history, but wrote about new artists with tolerance and curiosity. Best of all, he held readers and writers alike to the highest standards of decency. It’s for that reason that this post shines. Kevin’s ability to take a stand while cultivating constructive dialogue is unmatched. He cut through the divisive hype around Carrie Underwood –an artist who is as special to me now as she was back then—and underlined the Read More

Song Talk: Music that Moves Me

July 12, 2014 // 10 Comments

My 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 Read More

The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be

May 15, 2009 // 27 Comments

As I was scouring the neighborhood around 9pm last night after work looking for an open pet store, I flipped through the local radio stations looking for something new and interesting. I really didn’t expect to find much, but after awhile, I finally hit something with an interesting beat and lyrics. Something that I hadn’t heard before and sounded different. I kinda liked it, but couldn’t place it.

It turns out that the station was previewing the new Green Day album, 21st Century Breakdown, (due out in stores and online today). I consider myself somewhat of a Green Day fan, despite the fact I only own Dookie and American Idiot. (And there’s a good, somewhat funny concert story related to the band mixed in there as well.) As such, I’ve been cautiously optimistic about their new album.

From what I heard in between futile stops at closed pet stores, I decided to buy it today. But as I made that decision, I realized that, while maybe I’m just uninformed, there are very few albums coming out that I’m genuinely looking forward to with anticipation and excitement. And I was truly surprised about how ambivalent I really felt about this release by a band that I know I like. Maybe that’s because as we get older, we become more picky and more frugal. Or perhaps we just haven’t heard anything awesome in such a long time, we figure it might be best to wait and see if we hear a buzz before we cautiously download a song, much less an entire album.

Hometown <em>Blues</em>?

May 8, 2009 // 23 Comments

One of country music’s gifts is its ability to evoke strong images and feelings through its relatable lyrics. And nothing engenders intense, occasionally conflicting, emotions like your hometown. Whether or not your hometown is a reflection of who you are or have become, it is an integral part of your personal history and has influenced you in ways perhaps too obscure to realize.

I love hometown songs because of the obvious emotion behind the lyrics. That emotion is always imbued with a sense of nostalgia or longing (for what was or what could be or what might have been), even if the lyrics don’t necessarily shine a positive light on the hometown. It’s an irresistible combination, especially for country music listeners.

Satirical Songs

April 30, 2009 // 18 Comments

I’ve known about Kinky Friedman for some years now. Actually, I should be more specific and say that I’ve known Kinky Friedman’s name for quite some years now. Because, to be honest, the only thing I really knew about him until very recently is that Willie Nelson supported him for Texas Governor in 2006, which should have peaked my interest enough to research him back then.

It wasn’t until recently, after doing an Amazon search for stray Todd Snider songs, that I realized that the colorful and fascinating Friedman, while politically extreme at times, was quite the singing satirist. On the 2006 album Why The Hell Not…The Songs of Kinky Friedman, I discovered an incredible cast of artists (Willie Nelson, Todd Snider, Bruce Robison, Asleep at the Wheel, Delbert McClinton, Charlie Robison, Dwight Yoakam, Kevin Fowler & Jason Boland) doing covers of Friedman’s songs, many so sharp that I was more than a little taken aback at first. Through satire and, sometimes, even seriousness, Freidman offers a lot of social commentary that is often colorful and always intriguing.

Before It’s Too Late

April 16, 2009 // 22 Comments

In May of 2004, Bill and I were excited about the prospect of seeing Willie Nelson in our small town, in Maine, of about 13,000 people. We knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see such an icon without even having to travel ten minutes to reach the venue. Furthermore, he was on both of our lists of people to see before we died.

Sadly, we did not get to see Willie after all. On the same week he was supposed to visit our small town, he had to get carpal tunnel surgery. We had the option of either getting a refund or using our tickets for the rescheduled show in September. Once again, our luck was bad, because we were moving to Michigan the month before Willie’s make up date.

If you can’t tell, I still haven’t completely recovered from that disappointment.

Musical Progression

April 9, 2009 // 14 Comments

As I stand in for Leeann on her birthday , I’ve been thinking about how much musical tastes change over time. Musically, it is fair to say that we started pretty far apart, but over five years our musical preferences have both moved and expanded significantly. Tracing the progression of my musical inclinations even farther, it seems that the expansion of my tastes was much different than others in my family. For instance, my grandparents listened to country music. When my father was born the Grand Ole Opry was a staple in his home and he listened to country music all of his life. As a result, I was exposed to country music by my father, but quickly declared my independence when I purchase the first album my parents considered noise. The first albums I ever purchased, a little over a week past my thirteenth birthday, were Use Your Illusion Read More

Favorite Songwriter

April 3, 2009 // 19 Comments

don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I happen to be a huge Steve Earle fan. I find the Virginia-born, Texas-inspired, former drug addict, political activist, actor/radio personality, singer-songwriter, and country-rock star simply irresistible. He is gifted with an instinctive ear for music (which he has generously passed on to his son, Justin Townes Earle), a curious mind, a keen awareness of the world and an empathetic heart.

Given these qualities, one of Earle’s most indelible contributions to country music will be as a songwriter. His empathy, awareness of the world around him and curiosity have allowed him to musically explore the human soul. He is uniquely unafraid to step out of himself and into another’s shoes, to feel another’s joy and pain and to tell his or her story. In many ways, Earle is “the seeker” he sings of in his song of the same title:

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