Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

Shania Twain, “What a Way to Wanna Be!”

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

I was inspired to recommend Shania Twain’s “What a Way to Wanna Be!” after seeing this new Dove commercial:

The track comes from her excellent fourth album Up!, which was released in three different mixes. Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Willman wrote my favorite line to ever appear in an album review when he described the set as “Abba Gold without all the melancholy.”

But that isn’t to say the album doesn’t deal with some substantive issues, despite Twain’s trademark optimism remaining dominant. She deconstructs the desire in women to be physically perfect and challenges them to reject the pressure that society places upon them to meet impossible standards of beauty.

She sings, “We like to buy, we like to spend, to keep up with the latest trends. But we don’t get no satisfaction living like a slave to fashion. No more thinking for yourself. Just get it off a shelf.  Why be perfect? It’s not worth it.”

While Twain has criticized in the early stages of her success for using sex appeal to sell her music, such criticisms always missed the obvious fact that the message of her music was specifically tailored to female audiences. It’s been a consistent measure throughout: You’re worthy of respect for who you are. Hold out for the man who treats you that way, then give your full commitment to him.

She wrote “What a Way to Wanna Be!” when she was having trouble losing weight after her pregnancy, and her willingness to share her own inner monologue is a good message to send to her listeners who deal with the same struggles, living in a world where the ideal is memorably captured with the line, “Bigger is the best, but only in the chest.”

What song with an empowering message do you recommend?

Note: “What a Way to Wanna Be!” is available in both country and pop mixes. My preferences vary from track to track, but for this particular song, I think the pop mix is stronger.

Country Role Models

Friday, February 20th, 2009

tswiftThe most recent edition of Rolling Stone features precocious teenage country superstar Taylor Swift on its cover, and also contains a eight-page spread covering her “very pink, very perfect life.” As we have come to expect from Swift, the interview is wonderfully candid and refreshingly young and honest. However, (perhaps given Kenny Chesney’s recent Playboy interview) one thing stood out: Swift’s desire to maintain, and in fact, reinforce, her goody-goody image.

According to the interview, Swift is constantly worried about saying something that could be construed as offense to her fans. In defending her stance on not getting caught up in the shenanigans of young Hollywood, she goes so far as to say: “When you lose someone’s trust, it’s lost, and there are a lot of people out there who are counting on me right now.” That’s a lot to carry on her slender shoulders: the expectations of all of her young fans. But I have to wonder, is it necessary?

Unlike nearly any other public forum, music has always been a bastion of rebellion. What would my teenage years have been without Ani DiFranco, Nirvana, Green Day and Eminem? Where’s a suburban white girl going to rebel, if not in her music? I never looked to musicians to be role models.  Music, for me, has always been a refuge of honest emotion. If sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll come along with it, so be it. Can you imagine what music would be like if musicians were expected to be role models? No Madonna. No Rolling Stones. No Steve Earle. Etc. Etc.

Do you want/expect your country artists to be role models?

Discussion: Greatest Country Songs

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

hornbyBoys like me and Nick Hornby love lists. (I mean, Nick Hornby and I. Whatever.) Hornby, the author of A Long Way Down, How to Be Good and, most famously, High Fidelity, is known for his staunch organizational skills. The narrator in High Fidelity, Rob Fleming (John Cusack for all you moviegoers), is obsessed with creating lists on almost any occasion. He counts down his top five ex-girlfriends, his top five favorite films and his top five dream jobs—the only stable aspect of a life that’s filled with business troubles (the record store he owns sees little traffic) and romantic entanglements (he’s a commitment-phobe who struggles with his past).

CMT introduced its 100 Greatest Country Songs list in 2003, and it’s awfully fun to debate the inclusion (and the rankings) of many entries. Since I’m in the process of establishing my own list of best country albums, songs, men, women, ex-girlfriends, I’m asking for your help. Which country song is missed from CMT’s list? Which ranking is least justified? Which will it be: The Whopper or The Big Mac? Also, please stay tuned throughout 2009; the lists ain’t over here. Plus, Country Universe is a perfect space to express my adoration for the master of lists, Casey Kasem. Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars, folks. And debate, debate, debate!

Flavorless Producers

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

dann-huffWhile on the surface, music revolves around artists and the songs they sing, it’s the music producers who are ultimately essential to the finished product that we all hear and critique. Most producers have a hand in the vocals, the instrumentation and even the song selections that we hear on our favorite or not so favorite albums.

Often times, when I hear that certain producers are going to produce upcoming projects, I automatically get an idea of what the project will sound like based on that particular producer’s previous works. For instance, when I hear that Dann Huff is to produce an album, I fairly or unfairly assume that the album will be slick pop-country that will include a lot of needless eighties influenced electric guitar solos. Similarly, whenever Scott Hendricks is connected to an album, I’m even more sure that I won’t be impressed by the finished product that is almost certain to be full of blandly produced songs that all seem to run together.

Okay, I’ll be more positive next week, but for now, I want to know who your least favorite producers are and what’s so unappealing about his/her style.

We’ll talk about our favorite producers next week, I promise.

Themed Albums

Friday, February 13th, 2009

kathy-mattea-coalKathy Mattea’s brilliant album released last year, Coal, reminded me of how much I love themed albums.  There is something unique and special about an album that addresses a single topic from varied angles or transports the listener on a purposeful ride.  It’s not just a random collection of singles with little to coalesce them together.  Rather, like great movies, themed albums demand that you listen from the first note to the last, lest you miss something important in between.

Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger is one of the most famous themed albums in country music history.  The entire album is based on the conceptual story of a preacher who shoots his cheating wife and her lover before going on the run. However, the theme doesn’t have to be as concrete as the one in Red Headed Stranger or as narrow as the one in Coal, which endeavors to shine a light on the coal-mining industry, to be included in this category. It can be as amorphous as “love” or “heartache.”

Just for fun, I culled through my musical catalog (and all 5 million or so country songs about love, heartache and partying on Friday night) and put together my own themed album very loosely titled: America 2009:

  • Filthy Rich (Big Kenny, John Rich, Bill McDavid, Freddy Powers, Sonny Thockmorton)
  • Workingman’s Blues #2 (Bob Dylan)
  • If We Make It Through December (Merle Haggard)
  • Dirt (Chris Knight)
  • What’s A Simple Man To Do? (Steve Earle)
  • The Ballad of Salvador & Isabelle (Dave Quanbury)
  • If You Don’t Love Jesus (Billy Joe Shaver)
  • Ellis Unit One (Steve Earle)
  • Dress Blues (Jason Isbell)
  • It’s a Different World Now (Rodney Crowell)
  • Everybody Knows (Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison)
  • Up to the Mountain (Patty Griffin)
  • Reason to Believe (Bruce Springsteen)

If you were to create your own themed album, what would it look like?

Kenny Chesney’s Denials Lead to Discomfort

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

kenny-chesneyIn the upcoming March issue of Playboy Magazine, Kenny Chesney forcefully denies old rumors that he’s gay. He, however, forgoes tact and tries to assure us that he’s straight by proving that he’s a womanizer instead.

In response to suggestions that he’s gay, Chesney quips, “I think people need to live their lives the way they want to, but I’m pretty confident in the fact that I love girls (laughs). I’ve got a long line of girls who could testify that I am not gay.”

As if that wasn’t already too much information, when asked if he had reached 100 women yet, he flagrantly boasts that he probably reached 100 women in 2001,

“Man, I was over 100 several years ago. There were years when I had a better summer than A-Rod, buddy. You know? I got on the boards quite often…My first five years on the road were intense because I was the guy in college who never got laid until I started playing guitar.”

At The9513, commenter, Craig R., thoughtfully analyzes the problems with Chesney’s comments:

“As a country music fan Kenny Chesney’s music depresses me. As a gay man Kenny Chesney’s comment saddens me. I understand that the idea of a country singer being called gay would make most want to run to the hills. The country audience, though wide and varied, may not want,need,or desire a gay country singer. But the problem about being tagged “gay” is not about being gay, but about about how you approach your own self- worth and respect.

“Kenny Chesney has never done anything in public that might lead one to think he is gay except this is the second time (with force) that he has denied being gay. I am happy and proud that he is straight. But in order to convince us does he have to degrade women and gays. If I were one of the women he slept with I would be insulted to think that he grouped me and used me to promote his image and quash his fears. As a gay person I would rather him say, ”I am not gay, but I am flattered that my fan base includes that group.

“The shows he puts on are all about having fun, remembering when you were a pre adult, having a beer and hanging out with the boys(by the way all things gay men enjoy as well). That frat boy/beach boy image would be, at least in Chesney’s mind, ruined if he were gay or thought of as gay. And this is the point that truly saddens me: Does Kenny Chesney really think that his fans are that immature, and if so what does that deeply say about Kenny Chesney?”

What are your thoughts?

As always, be mindful of our Comment Policy. Please be respectful and sensitive to your fellow commenters.

2009 Grammy Wish List

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

For the third year in a row, I’m sharing my personal Grammy Wish List.

2007 was a good year, with my preferences winning in 15 of the 22 categories  I cared about – a 68% success rate.

2008 was less pleasing.  There were only 14 races that interested me last year, and my favorites triumphed in just 4 of them – a 29% success rate.

This year, my wish list features 17 categories.  I’ve voiced opinions on many races in other threads, but these are the ones that I truly care about this year.  I’ll keep a running tally in our annual live blog on Sunday night.

Check out the full list of nominees and add your own wish list in the comments!

Record of the Year: M.I.A., “Paper Planes”

I’ve been waiting a long time for this type of sound to break through into mainstream pop music. My first school community had a large Hindu population, and some of my students had exposed me to the style that is featured on this record. Good stuff.

Album of the Year: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand

I love the mood of this album. I can put it on and get lost in the grooves.

Best Female Pop Vocal Performance: Pink, “So What”

She’s one of the best pop singers of her generation, so I’m glad to see that Pink is being embraced by radio and record buyers again.  She really should have won this award for “Who Knew,” which missed its chance because of it becoming a hit on its second try. “So What” is nearly as good.

Best Male Pop Vocal Performance: Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours”

A friend of mine made a convincing comparison between Eminem and Jason Mraz in terms of lyrical creativity. I love the idiosyncratic vocal patterns on this.

Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals: Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, “4 Minutes”

Three artists with very different styles come together for a record that is cohesive without sacrificing any of their signature sounds. I doubt they’ll beat Plant & Krauss, though.


Self-Promotion: What Works?

Friday, February 6th, 2009

toby-keithMy favorite country music-related headline of the week: “Toby Keith Takes On Fashion with TK Steelman Clothing Line.”

In case you missed the latest in a long line of increasingly bizarre marketing attempts by country stars, Keith is planning on introducing his own clothing line into the  marketplace.  The “part rocker, part biker” themed clothing line will have a wide selection of options, including Keith’s trademark sleeveless shirts and leather wrist straps.  Overall, the line is aiming for a “country sexy” aesthetic.  (Somehow, that managed to put a smile on my face for an entire day.)

While Keith’s clothing line may be a little more about raking in the dough (and maintaining his spot on Forbes) than about selling albums, with the economy as it is and albums sales at an all time low, most country stars are resorting to almost anything to sell an album these days. But, what works? Does an appearance on a talk show (Letterman, Leno, Ellen, Today) pique your interest and convince you to buy? Do online blogs such as this one? Do online performances through Yahoo or AOL or videos posted on YouTube? Does intense fan devotion on MySpace or Facebook? Does promising backstage passes? A great bargain on Amazon? An exclusive with Walmart? Commercials? Radio play? Giving your music away a la Radiohead or Prince?

Or does the promise of an awesome concert sell albums? I applauded Kenny Chesney this week for announcing that Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert would join him on his upcoming summer tour. Those were genius choices.  One leaning pop, the other country rock. Both are younger, with rising fan bases and great word of mouth. They should both help Chesney inspire people to come out for his annual summer tour based upon a lackluster album. My question this week is therefore the following:

If you were managing a new group, based on your own experiences, how would you go about marketing them? What works for you?

Discussion: Book Nook

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

guitarThe book industry, despite notable successes in 2008, is experiencing the same tumult as other niches in the economic world.  Even the comic-book kingdom has suffered, with numerous indie stores signing off after poor sales. New technology tricks are now designed to rekindle the flame in this flagging economy.

The nation’s bookstores are still home to a number of fine titles that focus on music. Artist biographies and industry examinations provide us with a different viewpoint about the songs we hear every day.

Recommend a book about music, country or otherwise.

Independent Suggestions

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

emusicIn one of last summer’s discussion threads, Matt B., from Roughstock, mentioned a great place to buy music. As a compulsive music buyer, I was easily compelled to check it out.

For those who aren’t aware of it, E-music has a wide variety of independent digital music, including plenty of our favorite kind, country music. However, as an independent digital retailer, they don’t necessarily have the big, recognizable names. For me, this is refreshing because it forces me to do some serious searching on their site in order to purchase music from artists that I might otherwise inadvertently overlook.

I’ve found a ton of great music so far, including albums from Darrell Scott, Jason Boland, Reckless Kelly, The Be Good Tanyas, Chris Knight, etc. My favorite find, however, was the two bonus tracks on Kathy Mattea’s Coal.

My question to you tonight is in every way self-serving, but I’d like to have your help so that I can continue to expand my independent music collection. So, I come to you, our wise readers, with this question:

What lesser-known artists would you suggest who can be found on E-music or other independent outlets?


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