Category Archives: Discussion

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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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.

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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”



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?


Filed under Discussion, Miscellaneous Musings

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


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!


Filed under Discussion, iPod Check

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?

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