Category Archives: Discussion

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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Requiem for the Compact Disc

cdChet Flippo comes not to praise the compact disc, but to bury it and dance upon its grave:

Well, it is time to write an obituary for the compact disc. It’s trying to hang on, but the poor critter has just plain outlived its usefulness. Although just how useful it turned out to be is open to debate…

On a personal level, I will not miss CD. From the onset, I didn’t like the packaging or the more compressed sound or the increasing lack of liner notes and album art. And, I especially didn’t like the price. An $18.98 or so list price for 10 or 12 songs (especially when many of those were dross surrounding singles) never struck me as a fair deal.

Flippo goes on to praise vinyl records and the possibilities of having entire label catalogs available for download.

I’ve long since switched to downloading new music, though I still purchase used CDs often and receive most promotional music in that format as well. I think Flippo misses out on some of the amazing advantages that came with the CD. The continuity of an entire album not split up into sides, the convenience for listening to music in the car, and the ability to store large amounts of music in a smaller space are just a few advantages brought by the CD.

When I think about it, I don’t know of a way that I could have transferred all of my music on to an iPod so easily if it hadn’t all been on CD in the first place. So while I’m leaving the CD behind,  I don’t share Flippo’s hostility for the format.

What do you think about compact discs – thank you and good night, or goodbye and good riddance?

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The Illumination of Film

I discovered most of my favorite country artists through music videos. Throughout the nineties, CMT played videos around the clock, giving equal weight to mainstream, veteran and Americana artists.

Music videos feel like a quietly dying art form these days, if only because there seems to be fewer outlets for them to garner the exposure that makes their expense worthwhile.

It’s a shame because the very best videos can illuminate the accompanying song, adding layers of depth to the original material.

There is one particular video that does this so well that I have trouble watching it all the way through. Some of you know that I am a teacher. Kenny Chesney’s clip for “Who You’d Be Today”, a song that laments the death of someone young, opens with a basketball game between two teenagers, one of whom will grow into a soldier who perishes overseas.

Click through to watch:

What videos best illuminate a song’s subject matter for you? Post your picks and, if possible, a YouTube clip in the comments below.

For YouTube clips, simply copy and paste the URL, adding a v after the http.

Example:

httpv://www.youtube.com/…

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Iconic Songs of the Last Decade

I was listening to The Band’s album Music From Big Pink earlier this week, and something struck me about the song “The Weight.” Trust me, you know the song. It goes a little like this: “I pulled into Nazareth / Was feelin’ about half past dead / I just need some place / where I can lay my head.”  Ring a bell yet? No? Try this:

In the song, The Band, originally consisting of Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Levon Helm, draws from a familiar cast of characters and American mythology to tell a universal story set in the town of Nazareth, PA. First released in 1968, “The Weight” only reached #63 on the U.S. charts, but has since achieved iconic status. It has become an American standard in a way few songs have accomplished. Indeed, Rolling Stone lists it as the 41st greatest song of all time. 

Further cementing its iconic status, check out a very small sample of the artists  – across genres, of all ages – who have covered the song:

  • Van Morrison
  • Bob Dylan
  • The Black Crowes
  • Little Feat
  • Grateful Dead
  • Travis
  • Old Crow Medicine Show
  • Gillian Welch
  • The Staple Singers
  • Joan Osborne
  • John Denver
  • Deana Carter
  • Weezer
  • Lee Ann Womack
  • Cross Canadian Ragweed
  • Diana Ross, the Temptations and the Supremes
  • The Allman Brothers Band
  • The Marshall Tucker Band
  • Panic at the Disco
  • Aaron Pritchett

Songs with enduring power like “The Weight” are few and far between, and seem to be even more so nowadays. So tonight’s discussion asks:

What songs of the past decade have enduring power? What songs will we be listening to and hear covers of in the next 50 years?

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Country Songs by Non-Country Artists

amigoNeil Young is a rock icon, but he is also known for a lot of folk influenced music. However, while recently listening to his 1992 folky album, Harvest Moon, I was amused to hear a song that is pretty much a country song. “Old King” is a silly ditty that is accompanied by rootsy instrumentation, including a prominent banjo. Furthermore, it’s about man’s best friend, which is a staple for a good stereotypical country song.

 Without being snarky about current mainstream radio (just this one time!), what country sounding songs have you heard on albums by artists that aren’t typically considered country?

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Play Something Country

kathy-matteaLater this month, I’ll be seeing Kathy Mattea in concert. I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen her live more often than anybody else – at least six times, going back to the Summer of 1994.

One of the things that I like about her is that she mixes up the set list. There is a very small group of songs that she always plays: “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”, “Where’ve You Been”, “Love at the Five & Dime”, and “Come From the Heart.” Nearly every show includes “Mary, Did You Know” and “Walking Away a Winner” as well.

But the rest of the concert is a balanced mix of the best cuts from her current album, other hits from the past, and an unorthodox cover or two. I keep going back because she keeps it fresh.

Still, if I had my way, I’d get to hear “Love Travels” and “God Ain’t No Stained Glass Window” every time out. But no matter how good the performer is, and how much they mix it up, you never get to hear all of the songs that you want to hear.

Which leads to tonight’s discussion topic:

If you could choose the set list for one of your favorite artists, what would it look like?

You can make the list as short or as long as you like, so long as the artist wouldn’t pass out from exhaustion halfway through!

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Random Question about Kellie Pickler

Entertainment Weekly included a song from Kellie Pickler among its selections for the Ultimate American Idol playlist.

The title of the song – “Rocks Instead of Rice” –  caught my attention. Take a listen:

Here’s my question. Which of the following two songs does Pickler’s track rip off more:

Dolly Parton’s “I Don’t Want to Throw Rice”

or

Lee Ann Womack’s “I’ll Think of a Reason Later”

I side with Parton, though that reference to her thoughts not being Christian sounds pretty darn similar to the chorus from Womack’s hit.

While we’re on the subject, which song is the best of the three?

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I am not ashamed.

“Pride attaches undue importance to the superiority of one’s status in the eyes of others; And shame is fear of humiliation at one’s inferior status in the estimation of others. When one sets his heart on being highly esteemed, and achieves such rating, then he is automatically involved in fear of losing his status.”

- Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher

shame

This week’s iPod challenge requires you to check your shame at the door. Too often, there is embarrassment associated with our favorite music. We worry about the cool factor.

When I started Country Universe, I was determined to write honestly about what I like and dislike, regardless of how it might affect my credibility in the eyes of others. But I often keep mum about the guiltiest of my guilty pleasures.

So with this iPod check, I’m hitting shuffle and listing the first twenty songs that I’d normally be too embarrassed to share. Just to keep it fully honest, I’m using my “Favorites” playlist, the 3,000 or so songs that I truly enjoy, so you know these aren’t songs that I like. They’re songs that I love:

  1. Kellie Pickler, “Best Days of Your Life”
  2. Grease 2, “Back to School Again”
  3. Mr. Mister, “Broken Wings”
  4. N*SYNC, “Pop”
  5. Paula Cole, “I Don’t Want to Wait”
  6. Alabama, “Love in the First Degree”
  7. Guns ‘n Roses, “November Rain”
  8. Blondie, “Rapture”
  9. Billy Ray Cyrus, “In the Heart of a Woman”
  10. Neil Diamond, “Yesterday’s Songs”
  11. Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U”
  12. Doug Stone, “Little Houses”
  13. Trick Daddy, “Nann…”
  14. They Might Be Giants, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”
  15. Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Come On Eileen”
  16. TLC, “No Scrubs”
  17. Arrested Development, “Tennessee” (A game of horseshoes!)
  18. Michael Bolton, “How Can We Be Lovers”
  19. Olivia Newton-John, “Have You Never Been Mellow”
  20. Shakespear’s Sister, “I Don’t Care”

Cast off your shame and share your own list in the comments!

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Rarities and Outtakes

granada-spainA couple of summers ago, I picked up the 3-disc The Essential Bruce Springsteen album in an El Corte Ingles in Granada, Spain.  I was road-tripping it around the country and needed some good tunes. But somehow, the third disc completely escaped my notice until a few weeks ago.  It turned out to be comprised of a number of previously unreleased songs recorded over a long and fruitful career.  After popping it in, I gleefully discovered a couple of new fantastic, classic Boss songs.

I experienced the same excitement earlier this week when I picked up Springsteen’s 18 Tracks while browsing in Barnes & Noble. That album similarly includes rarities, B-tracks and outtakes. (How did I ever miss “The Promise,” which is apparently a continuation of “Thunder Road”?) I felt like a kid who had just gotten herself locked overnight in a candy store.

Although few artists are as prolific as Springsteen, many artists have a lot of work floating around out there that has not made it onto a studio album.  Much of that work is either pre-fame or covers, found on random bootlegs or videos, but every once in awhile you can find a previously unheard original that simply never made it onto a studio album.  The best part, for fans, is that these tracks come with zero expectations and a big payoff.  It’s simply an opportunity to acquire a more all-encompassing view of a favorite and to achieve new insight into them as artists.

What are your favorite non-(studio) album tracks by your favorite artists?

(If you are attaching a YouTube video, you simply have to place a “v” after “http” so it looks like “httpv://” when posting the URL)

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Into the Circle: The Country Music Hall of Fame Changes Criteria

halloffamelogoThe Country Music Association, mere weeks after inducting its 2009 class, has announced a change in the Hall of Fame criteria. Per the CMA website:

Three inductees will continue to be announced as new members of the Country Music Hall of Fame annually, each selected from a different category.  Beginning in 2010, the categories will be renamed and defined as follows:

  • Veterans Era – This category will be for professionals that have been in the industry longer than 25 years. It combines the former “Career Achieved National Prominence Between World War II and 1975″ (which was voted on annually) and “Career Achieved National Prominence Prior to World War II” (which was voted on every third year in rotation) categories into one.
  • Modern Era – This category will be for professionals that have been in the industry at least 20 years, but no more than 25 years, and takes the place of the former annual “Career Achieved National Prominence Between 1975-Present” slot.
  • Rotating Categories – The third slot will continue to be a rotating category, with each group in the spotlight every third year. The Recording and/or Touring Musician and Non Performer slots will remain, joined by a new Songwriter category.

The Modern Era category seems far too limiting, especially given the numerous artists and industry insiders that are fully deserving of this honor. The change does present Randy Travis, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson the opportunity to be inducted within the next two to three years, but also leaves legends such as Connie Smith, Jean Shepard and the Oak Ridge Boys to “compete” with newer acts such as Reba McEntire and Hank Williams, Jr. for one solitary spot each year.

Eventually, all of those artists appear to be locks for the Hall of Fame, but, as My Kind of Country alluded to earlier in the week, very few artists in modern-day country music will truly be remembered. Here’s a list of ten contemporary artists who could make the Hall of Fame one day. Although their careers aren’t complete, they have the potential to be lauded for their talent in the coming years. Sound off in the comments with your opinions on who is in, who is out and who could still make a case for induction. Feel free to add any other artists you’d deem worthy. This is not my judgment of who should/should not be included, but a random listing of ten artists who could at least present interesting cases in, say, 2020.  Feedback it up. (For a glance at near-future candidates, see Six Pack: Hall of Fame Inductees. Barbara Mandrell, Roy Clark and Charlie McCoy are the 2009 honorees.)

  • Clint Black
  • Rosanne Cash
  • Faith Hill
  • Kathy Mattea
  • Martina McBride
  • Tim McGraw
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Pam Tillis
  • Shania Twain
  • Dwight Yoakam

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