Category Archives: Discussion

Albums You Hate By Artists You Love

broken-recordAlbums you hate by artists you love. Okay, so those are some strong words. But, as recently evidenced by the comments given in response to Kevin’s review of Martina McBride’s new album, Shine, even our favorite artists put out occasional stinkers.  Those so-called stinkers may be universally acknowledged as such or just a reflection of our personal tastes, but, regardless of how they got there, they are most notable for the dust they acquire on our back shelves or their unapologetic dumping from our iPods.

Here at Country Universe, we try to be honest about the material, even if the artist involved is one of our favorites.  It is definitely more painful to write a bad review about an artist you love, but unearned praise is the worst kind.

Therefore, I have no compunction about stating that despite the praise George Strait’s recent album, Troubadour, has received, it’s no longer on my iPod. And while generally I’m a Toby Keith fan, I felt Honkytonk University was a waste of money.  Similarly, although Bruce Springsteen is one of my favorite artists ever and has put out two of my favorite albums of all time (Nebraska and Live in Dublin, both of which give me permission to write about him on a country music blog), I’m not afraid to admit that his recent Working on a Dream is a complete stinker, and Magic not among his best.

Now it’s your turn.

What are some albums you hate by artists you love?

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Texas Country

texasStuck in my car stereo over the last couple of weeks has been a CD loaded with tunes from some of my favorite Texas-affiliated artists.  I’m a big fan of the singer-songwriter, old school and raggedy rock styles of country music, and Texas excels at all three. So any time I need a break from the current “Nashville sound,” I like to check in with Texas and see what they’re up to. Invariably, it’s more colorful and interesting.

I can’ t call myself an expert on Texas country by any stretch of the imagination and my education is nowhere remotely near complete (hint: feel free to recommend), but I do sense that it’s a style of music, or perhaps a musical sensibility, that is extremely important to maintain.  Texas artists exude a certain spirit of creativity and sense of individuality that is sorely lacking elsewhere in country music.  And in my opinion, great music and great artists only flourish in settings where both of those are encouraged.

Here’s a sampling of the songs I’m currently listening to:

  • “Dallas,” Jimmie Dale Gilmore
  • “Snowin’ on Raton,” Townes Van Zandt
  • “West Texas Waltz,” Joe Ely
  • “Greenville,” Lucinda Williams
  • “Tortured Tangled Hearts,” Dixie Chicks
  • “Transcendental Blues (Live in Austin),” Steve Earle
  • “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Willie Nelson
  • “Treat Me Like a Saturday Night,” The Flatlanders
  • “Bourbon Legend,” Jason Boland & The Stragglers
  • “Jesus Was a Capricorn,” Kris Kristofferson
  • “Angry All The Time,” Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis
  • “What I Deserve,” Kelly Willis
  • “Old Five and Dimers,” Billie Joe Shaver
  • “Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame,” Sunny Sweeney
  • “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line,” Waylon Jennings

What are some of your favorite Texas country tunes?

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The Return of Recommend a Track

keith-urbanIt’s been a good long while since I’ve shamelessly plugged a favorite song, and far too long since all of you have made me break the bank to purchase your recommendations.

We’ve taken some heat for being a little hard on mainstream country lately, so I’m recommending a track tonight from one of today’s brightest stars: Keith Urban. Now, many of Keith’s best songs have already been radio hits, but he dug deep earlier this decade on his first multi-platinum album Golden Road with the closing track, “You’re Not My God.”

In the first verse, he confronts the addiction of money (“a little sure felt good, but a lot was not enough.”) In the second, he confronts his addiction and subsequent triumph over his cocaine addiction (“You almost had me six feet down, but I’m still breathing air.”)

It’s an unconventional religious song, to be sure, but he’s rejecting the false idols that the material world brings in favor of “the one that I will walk with in the end.” The blistering guitar work that follows sounds like a cathartic release of all of his demons in one fell swoop.

What do you recommend tonight?


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Turn Your Radio On

radioLike many Country Universe readers, I don’t listen to regular cou

ntry radio these days. While there is a ton of great country music out there, the play lists for mainstream country stations seem to be very inflexible and limited to a frustratingly low number of artists/songs. Furthermore, what country radio embraces these days is not well-aligned with my music tastes. Consequently, I keep up with country music through satellite radio, copious research and suggestions by other bloggers whose music tastes I trust.

Judging by the volume of music I’ve acquired in the past 4 years since I’ve stopped regularly listening to mainstream country radio, I’ve been doing a more than satisfactory job of keeping up. Even more importantly, I’ve been able to maintain my love of country music, which surely would have fizzled out if I had continued on the mainstream country radio track.

C.M. Wilcox, proprietor of Country California (who incidentally is one of my most trusted bloggers that has turned me onto an inordinate amount of music), has inspired me to borrow tonight’s discussion topic from his live blogging of 30 minutes of country radio. I decided to check into one of my own local country radio stations for a half hour to hear what was happening there.

At 6:20 P.M., on Tuesday night, I turned my alarm clock radio (my only way to listen to the radio without sitting in the car) to a local country station, q106.5, where it seemed that a local disc jockey was at the helm. Here is what I heard during my half hour of radio:

Billy Currington, “Must Be Doing Something Right”
Brooks & Dunn/Reba McEntire, “Cowgirls Don’t Cry”
Neal McCoy, “Wink”
Kenny Chesney, “Don’t Blink”
Keith Urban, “Sweet Thing”
Craig Morgan, “That’s What I Love About Sunday”

While it certainly could have been worse, I have to say that it was a rather uninspiring half hour of radio. I think I’ll stick to my current regimen of music discovery for now.

So, since C.M. Wilcox and I have done it. I would like all of you to do the same. Turn on your radio for thirty minutes and come back here and report what you’ve heard. We can commiserate. It’ll be fun.

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Idol Opry Night: Live Blog

idolCountry Universe continues its annual tradition of live-blogging country night on American Idol.

LIVE BLOG

9:55 Kind of boring night overall. I liked Anoop the most. Not too much stood out for me.

9:52 When I reviewed “So Small”, I think that I mentioned it would sound better stripped down. No surprise I liked the first half of this performance more.

9:51 Interesting that only the men took on Carrie this year. Probably a good move on the women’s part, as none of them could go toe to toe with her.

9:46 Ten down, one to go.

9:45 Again, I feel they’re just pushing certain people.

9:43 This is the second time tonight – the first being Adam Lambert – that I feel I’m watching a parody of Idol.

9:41 “Walking After Midnight” is the first song that I actually associate with the Opry that’s been performed tonight.

9:33 I’ll say it before Randy does. This sounds current. It’s also easily the best of the night.

9:31 I remember Fantasia nailing “Always on My Mind.” He’s got his work cut out for him. Love his name, though.

9:25 The show seems rigged this year.

9:24 Why do they keep suggesting songs that you can scream all the way through? That would sound terrible.

9:23 Jesus, take the mic.

9:21 This guy wants to be Color Me Badd on the verses and Linkin Park on the chorus. He can’t pull off either of them.

9:17 Seriously. “Jesus, Take the Wheel?”

9:13 That didn’t sound like Dolly Parton, but I guess Simon’s aware of the version she modeled hers after.

9:11 “Jolene” is a simple song in its original version. That’s what makes it so easy to put a new spin on it without making dramatic changes. I liked her performance of this.

9:10 This is the Mindy Smith version.

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Hall of Fame, By the Numbers

hall-of-fameMy good friend and favorite sports blogger Charles Geier, of The Widening Geier fame, has long used statistics-based reasoning when making the case for the best in sports, whether for the current season or throughout the history of a given sport.

He recently launched an in-depth site called Sports Statistics – By the Numbers, which details the crucial importance of statistics, and of course, it got me thinking about country music.

Music statistics are difficult to use in the same way, if only because chart success is but one measure of an artist’s impact. However, with country music being such a commercial genre, it’s interesting to see how the most successful chart acts have fared among Country Music Hall of Fame inductees.

Looking through Joel Whitburn’s Hot Country Songs 1944-2008 and Hot Country Albums 1964-2007, it’s immediately clear that the charts are important. All of the top ten country singles artists are in the Hall of Fame, as are eight of the top ten country albums artists.

But what about those not in the Hall of Fame who are ranked high in either measure? Should they be next in line, or should they still wait? What follows are the top ten singles artists and album artists that have yet to be inducted or announced as inductees of the Hall of Fame. Their rank overall is included after their name.

Top Country Singles Artists Not in the Hall of Fame

  1. Reba McEntire (Overall Rank: #11)
  2. Hank Williams, Jr. (#15)
  3. Alan Jackson (#18)
  4. Garth Brooks (#23)
  5. Ronnie Milsap (#26)
  6. Kenny Rogers (#27)
  7. Tim McGraw (#29)
  8. Brooks & Dunn (#33)
  9. Tanya Tucker (#34)
  10. Don Williams (#37)

Top Country Albums Artists Not in the Hall of Fame

  1. Hank Williams, Jr. (Overall Rank: #5)
  2. Kenny Rogers (#10)
  3. Garth Brooks (#12)
  4. Reba McEntire (#13)
  5. Alan Jackson (#18)
  6. Randy Travis (#19)
  7. Tim McGraw (#22)
  8. Anne Murray (#23)
  9. Toby Keith (#24)
  10. Ronnie Milsap (#27)

This year’s artist inductees to the Hall of Fame are Barbara Mandrell and Roy Clark. Mandrell ranks #55 on the singles list and #64 on the albums list. Clark comes in at #118 on the singles list and #63 on the albums list. Both artists, however, were very successful on television, so they also reveal how limiting such lists can be.

Thoughts?

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Grammy Awards Change Eligibility Period

grammyThe Grammy Awards have made a few changes for 2010′s ceremony. First, the awards show will move to the last week of January, a full week earlier than it has aired in previous years. Second, the eligibility period has changed: Releases must street by August 31 of the previous year to be nominated, a full month earlier than the previous September 30 cut-off.

Thankfully, the eligibility period for the 2010 ceremony will begin on October 1, 2008, so there won’t be the embarrassment of work from September 2008 being nominated again. The CMA moved up their eligibility period by a full month in 1995, but allowed June 1994 releases to compete for a second time. The end result was two consecutive nominations for Album of the Year for Alan Jackson’s Who I Am.

An interview with NARAS head Neil Portnow is quite illuminating, revealing all of the moving parts of this new decision. Still, reaction has been negative in some quarters, as there’s a feeling that this will make the ceremony seem more dated and less relevant, and there is confusion as to why they would make a change that excludes fourth quarter releases completely.

Personally, I disagree. I think that the Grammys are better off having a longer time to consider the quality of those fourth-quarter releases. That way, there won’t be a rush to nominate something that has a lot of hype surrounding it at the time, and  a worthy album that is overshadowed by high-profile releases from the fourth quarter is less likely to get lost in the shuffle.

What do you think?

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Country Metaphors

monkeyCountry music is famous for its three chords and the truth strategy or at least for the tagline. The straightforward and simple lyrics that cut into our souls are what ultimately draw us to this genre.

Country music, however, is also rife with songs that contain metaphors. Many times, the metaphors are easy to comprehend, but there are times when they seem almost out of reach. They are the songs that can be interpreted in different ways, which are often the most fun.

Fore me, one such song is Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson’s “Monkey on A Wire.” In my mind, at least, it’s somewhat of a challenge to pinpoint the exact symbolism of the monkey on a wire. In my review of their album, I give it a respectable try, but I’m still not convinced of my interpretation. My guess was:

“The unshakably catchy “Monkey On A Wire” explores the tenuous act of attempting to resist the desires of temptation, but ultimately recognizing the futility of the exercise. With us as flawed humans playing the part of the symbolic monkey on a wire who’s attempting to evade the devil, they sing: ‘Oh, here I go/Me and my desire/Everyone’s got their own monkey on a wire/Oh, down below/Leader of the choir/He’s waiting for the next monkey on a wire.’”

So, my question is:

What are your favorite songs with metaphors or symbolism? Explain.

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson – Monkey On A Wire

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Fifteen, There’s Still Time For You.

100-yearsDeep thoughts from the dentist’s chair tonight…

Given that my dentist likes to keep the acoustic station on, I get a chance to hear a bit of reflective music during my visits. Sometimes there’s even a country song thrown in there, like the unplugged version of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” that I heard tonight.

But what jumped out at me the most was hearing Five For Fighting’s “100 Years.” I love this song. Early on in my teaching career, the priest presiding over our faculty retreat used it as a framework for a discussion on time.  The way it changes us, the way it slips away from us, the ways we try to manage it but it persistently remains in control of us.

There’s a line in there early one, “I’m fifteen for a moment,” that the chorus refers back to: “Fifteen there’s still time for you.” This year I’m turning thirty. It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived another fifteen years since fifteen, but I still remember who I was back then. Fate has been reconnecting me with high school friends that had been lost over time, and reconnecting me with what it was like to be that age in the process.

Back then, I knew what I wanted to be: a music industry hotshot in Nashville. I wanted to run a label, sign cool artists like Kim Richey and vote for the CMA awards. Time revealed that wasn’t who I wanted to be. One philosophy class with a teacher who knew my own reason for being before I discovered it myself put me on a different path, but I never would have met that teacher if not for my original dream.

But fifteen, there’s still time for you, and it’s called Country Universe, my way of staying in touch with the dreams of my youth. He’d certainly be pumped that grown-up me gets to talk to Kathy Mattea and work with a family of writers who share my enthusiasm for great country music and never tire of talking and writing about it.

What songs make you think deeply about life, and why?

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Pop Goes the Country, Part I

taylor-swiftWhat follows is a guest piece from Country Universe reader VP exploring the latest wave of country artists who have crossed over to the pop charts. Part II, written by me, will follow later in the week. – KJC

I have always found the country music industry to be a reputable one. Generally the artists seem to be intelligent, hard working, honest and all around nice people. However, my thoughts after hearing Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” on a pop station was,  “When is it okay to have your music crossover, and when is it just wrong?”

I was quite surprised when I first heard “Love Story.” I thought this is the kind of music Taylor should be making, nothing that is vocally challenging or out of her reach. She is a soft singer, and this single was reminiscent of “Tim McGraw”, which was the only song I appreciated off of her debut album.

Then while flipping through the stations, I found the pop remix. I wondered,  “Where did the fiddle go? Where is the steel guitar? Where are the country elements that were once part of this song?”  This type of crossover I don’t agree with.

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