Archive for the ‘Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists’ Category

Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Trisha Yearwood

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

trisha-yearwoodThe following is a guest contribution from Country Universe reader Cory DeStein.

Throughout my life I have attempted to share my taste in music with those around me. More often than not friends and family will show a interest then kindly move onto the next subject. Only one person in my life has shown me that genuine interest in everything I have ever done. I will never know if we really had that much in common, or if she was just that good at making me happy. That’s a secret I never want to know. Though we shared many interests in music, food, television and in life, there was one topic we both we both enjoyed: the music of Trisha Yearwood.

Throughout the years, I had chances to meet Trisha backstage and at a book signing. Each time she kindly agreed to personalize a photo for my grandmother. During a 2006 meet and greet, I told Trisha what a fan my grandmother was of “XXX’s and OOO’s.” Just less than 2 years later, Trisha personalized a cookbook “To Thelma, XXXs and OOOs Love, Trisha Yearwood.” I didn’t think she’d remember that. The woman’s personality is as impressive as her voice.

This past August, my healthy grandmother began to go downhill after complications from minor surgery. I mentioned on Yearwood’s fan site that my absence may be related to that. Sadly my grandmother passed away shortly after that message. It was a sudden and shocking loss that affected me in ways I will never be able to explain. I felt as if I was robbed of any future memories to be made with her, similar to the ones of the past I cherished so much.

A few weeks after her passing, I received a card in the mail. It was a “get well” card from Trisha Yearwood. She had signed “Thelma, Get Well Soon. Best Wishes, Trisha Yearwood” Just when I thought the doors had closed on us, Trisha gave me one last memory to share with my grandma. Country Universe has given me the chance to write my 25 favorite Trisha Yearwood songs, and I would like to dedicate it to all the years we both shared together enjoying the wonderful entertainer and amazing person’s music.

“Georgia Rain”
Jasper County, 2005

In 2005, after a 4 year hiatus, Yearwood returned with her version of “Strawberry Wine”….in a truck. She sets the scene perfectly for us. Dark storm clouds looming over the Georgia sky. An old truck parked down on a red dirt road. With lightning illuminating the rusted hood, rain drops begin to penetrate the dried clay. Inside two young lovers embrace in their loss of innocence.

“Dreaming Fields”
Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love, 2007

I am a city boy; I was raised right outside of Pittsburgh, PA. I can’t exactly understand farming life because I never experienced it. Yearwood narrates this Matraca Berg ballad in a way that places me right on those farmlands, watching modern America taking over the land that families had survived on for generations. Any of us can relate to a song like this, watching the places where we have grown up begin to vanish.

“Down on My Knees”
Hearts in Armor, 1992

Linda Ronstadt once sang, “Love Has No Pride.” Yearwood proves her idol right as she contemplates the possibility of her beau ever leaving her. She declares to him, “No one matters more in my life. Oh, makes me feel like you make me feel inside. And I’ve come far enough to know love’s worth never letting go of, and love is not a matter of pride.”


Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Christmas Edition

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

One of my favorite features to write for Country Universe is Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists. So, since I love Christmas music, it seems natural that I change the format a bit to accommodate a list of my favorite Christmas songs.

Narrowing my favorite Christmas songs down to twenty-five choices proved to be a nearly impossible challenge. In order to accomplish this feat, I had to do two things: (1) disqualify all quintessential versions of classics, i.e., Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or any songs by Gene Autry. Instead, I’ve stuck to modern country versions of any classics that may appear on this list. (2) Limit the number of classics included on this list so that there can be room for as many original Christmas songs as possible.

You can listen to most of the songs and purchase them through the Amazon link at the end.  Merry Christmas!


Asleep At The Wheel, “Christmas in Jail”

Merry Texas Christmas, Y’All, 1997

Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have a fun time with “Christmas In Jail.” The lesson he learns?: “Ain’t going to drink and drive no more.” Good!


Roger Miller, “Old Toy Trains”

King Of The Road: The Genius of Roger Miller, 1995

I first heard this song as a little girl on a Raffi Christmas album, long before I had any idea of who Roger Miller was. So, after I discovered country music and Roger Miller, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this familiar song was actually written by Roger Miller for his son Dean. In this sweet and irresistible ditty, Miller is trying to coax his little boy to go to bed despite the excitement of Christmas


Clint Black, “Til’ Santa’s Gone (Milk And Cookies)”

Looking For Christmas, 1995

This is sung from the perspective of a five-year-old who is getting ready for Santa’s impending visit. He knows what brings Santa back every year. Milk and cookies, of course!


Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dolly Parton

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

dolly-partonEarlier this month, my friend and colleague Leeann Ward shared her favorite songs by Dolly Parton.    I’m happy to now share mine.

My respect for Parton as an artist knows no bounds.  I don’t think there is another figure in country music that is visible in so many of the contours of the genre’s history.    Given that I have a taste for country, pop, bluegrass, and damn fine songwriting, it was no small feat picking just twenty-five songs.    This is just a sampling of her deep catalog, one that is long overdue to be fully reissued.   Some of these tracks are hard to find, but most can be downloaded digitally or purchased on CDs, though you may need to scour compilations to find them.

“Those Were the Days”
Those Were the Days, 2005

The title track from Parton’s third collection of cover songs is all bittersweet nostalgia, looking back on the dreams of youth that time has revealed to be wide-eyed.   “We’re older but no wiser,” she tells her old friend at the tavern, as she remembers how they thought life would really go: “We’d live the life we choose, we’d fight and never lose, those were the days, oh yes, those were the days.”

Something Special, 1995

How does one retain the last shreds of their dignity and hope for the future after a particularly bruising relationship?  Walk away, and promise not to come back until all of the wounds have healed.   “Someday when I’m over you, and when I think I’m able to, then I might try to be your friend again.   But I don’t want to see your face until then.”

“Here You Come Again”
Here You Come Again, 1977

Parton was so concerned about this song being used as evidence that she was leaving country that she made the producers add a steel guitar to the track.   Not that it really mattered.  A song this catchy was bound to conquer both the pop and country charts.    Known up until then for her country work, she proved she could handle a pure pop melody as good as anyone else.


Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dolly Parton

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Dolly Parton Week kicks off today with the first of two Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists entries.  Mine will follow later in the week, along with Classic Country Singles, Retro Album Reviews, Six Packs, and an Ultimate Buyer’s Guide, all focusing on the legendary Hall of Famer. – Kevin

There really isn’t anything that Dolly Parton can’t do. She has a voice like an angel, but is also capable of showboating with the best of them. She plays several instruments, has written more than her share of classic songs, is an actor, owns a popular amusement park and, most importantly, is involved in many philanthropic efforts.

Starting with traditional annual viewings of A Smokey Mountain Christmas on the Disney Channel, Dolly Parton is one of those people that I loved before I even knew what music genres were, let alone country music in particular. So, while I was nervous about whittling down my favorite Dolly songs to a mere 25, I couldn’t resist the chance to participate in Dolly Parton week at Country Universe.

While this is a list of my favorite Dolly songs, I fully realize that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of her deep catalog with the songs that I’ve chosen.

Joshua, 1971

This is a strange little story, but Dolly proves that she’s a great storyteller. There’s talking, singing and even a little yodeling. What more can you ask for in a song?

Jolene, 1974

While it’s true that whenever I think of this song, I am reminded of The White Stripes’ intensely insane version that makes Parton’s version sound considerably tame, “Jolene” is still one of my favorite Dolly songs. She sings with her own quiet intensity that makes us appropriately feel for the jilted woman.

Backwoods Barbie, 2008

I just think this song is fun. She’s calling this guy out on all of his crap and I suspect that nobody can give a dressing down quite as effectively as Dolly can.

“More Where That Came From”
Slow Dancing With The Moon, 1993

I was actually aware of this song before and liked it despite it being featured on recent Target commercials. She’s trying to convince her experienced man that she’s the one with whom he should settle down. After she gives him a list of things she can do to keep him happy, one can only imagine what she means by “There’s more where that came from.”

“Cry, Cry, Darlin’”
Sing The Songs Of Bill Monroe, 2002

For the record, this tribute album to Bill Monroe, spearheaded by Ricky Skaggs, is no doubt worth purchasing. Dolly’s contribution is one of the clear highlights on an all around stellar record.


Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dixie Chicks

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Since I started this blog in 2004, I’ve written quite a bit about the Dixie Chicks, my favorite country band.    It may surprise readers to learn that when they first broke out on to the scene, I wasn’t particularly impressed.  Their first Sony album, Wide Open Spaces, sounded cookie-cutter country to me.     I liked Fly quite a bit more, however, and was impressed by how they pushed the boundaries of conventional country on that set.

But it wasn’t until 2002′s Home that I became a die-hard fan.   That brilliant acoustic set remains my favorite album of the decade, and the standard against which I Judge all contemporary country albums these days.   Four years and a lot of controversy later, they resurfaced with the country-rock set Taking the Long Way, which showcased their songwriting talents and California country influences to great effect.

Narrowing down 25 favorite tracks of the Dixie Chicks wasn’t easy, but I certainly enjoyed revisiting their work in the process.   This list doesn’t include any material from their pre-Natalie Maines independent albums, which are entirely different animals but are worth seeking out, if only for a historical perspective of one of the most successful country bands ever.

“Wide Open Spaces”
Wide Open Spaces, 1998

The song that made the Dixie Chicks superstars is still one of their most charming performances.   They can clearly relate to the girl in the song who is leaving home for “wide open spaces”, and the wide-eyed, innocent enthusiasm of their performance is especially sweet to listen to today.

“Favorite Year”
Taking the Long Way, 2006

Contrary to popular belief, Taking the Long Way is not a polemic.   The songs on that Grammy-dominating album are far more introspective, dealing largely with the passage of time and the compromises we are forced to make along the way.  “Favorite Year” is about looking back to young adulthood and remembering when you thought you were going to change the world, and hoping that the person who you shared your dreams with still holds sacred the memories you made together.   There’s a near-resignation in Maines’ voice as she sings, “We search for someone else to blame, but sometimes things can’t stay the same.”

“A Home”
Home, 2002

One of the saddest songs they’ve ever recorded.   A woman looks back alone, thinking of the love that she let get away because she listened to the advice of her pride and “so-called friends quick to advise.”   Now, she lives a solitary life, but every night she “dreams of wandering through the home that might have been” and every day she wakes again “in a house that might have been a home.”


Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Todd Snider

Friday, August 29th, 2008

908 miles. That’s the total distance, door-to-door, from my home in New York to the college I attended in Nashville, Tennessee. If you leave at a decent hour of the day, it’s going to take you 16 or 17 hours. If you do it overnight, you can cut that down to 13.

It was always easy to get a friend to drive up with me to New York, as the allure of the Big Apple was worth the drive. It was on one of those overnight drives, as we sped down I-81 in Virginia, that I was told, “You have to listen to this CD. You’re gonna love this guy.”

This guy was Todd Snider, and the album was Songs for the Daily Planet. My friend was right. I was instantly hooked. Soon, I was buying his entire catalog. But it was once I was done with college, and East Nashville Skyline was released, that I became a hardcore fan. I don’t remember what I was doing in Manhattan that night, but it was close enough to NYU that I went to the Tower Records store and bought the CD. It instantly became my favorite disc of his, later topped by its follow-up, The Devil You Know.

I’ve since seen Snider in concert, just him and a guitar in a bar near Union Square, and he’s even better live than he is on record. He has a new album coming out this fall, and while its running time’s a bit too short and it’s not as cohesive as The Devil You Know, fans of his acerbic writing will not be disappointed. Here are some of my favorite songs of his.

“Vinyl Records”
New Connection, 2002

In rapid-fire delivery, Snider catalogs all of the artists that make up his collection of dusty vinyl records. With shout-outs given to everyone from Bob Dylan and U2 to Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash, it makes you wonder what’s on his iPod these days.

“Mission Accomplished (Because You Gotta Have Faith)”
Peace Queer, 2008

The rhythmic opening to Snider’s upcoming polemic is a subversive chant, using the drone of an army drill to satirize the repetition of media talking points that become accepted as truth by a public that lacks the access to verify. Oh, and it riffs off an old George Michael song.

“Just Like Old Times”
The Devil You Know, 2006

One of Snider’s gifts as a writer is painting portraits of the underbelly of society that finds the humanity without dulling the rough edges in the process. Here, a hustler runs into a woman he’s always carried a flame for, and hangs out with her in the motel where she often does her evening work. “Your goal was always the same as mine,” he tells her. “We didn’t want to throw a fishing line in that old mainstream.”

Live: Near Truths and Hotel Rooms, 2003

The original version of this song appeared on New Connection , and it’s the story of a man who turns to armed robbery to pay his bills. As he explains before the live performance documented here, a young fan wrote to him saying how disappointed he was that the song glorified violence. So, in the live version, he performs the song in its complete, original form, then adds at the end: “Don’t shoot guns. Don’t be violent. Don’t shoot guns. Don’t be violent.”

“Happy New Year”
The Devil You Know, 2006

Part of the problem in describing the appeal of Snider’s songs is the temptation to just quote the entire song and point to the lyrics, saying, “See! He’s brilliant!” So I’ll just say that he starts with the irony of adjacent bumper stickers and it just gets better from there.

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Kathy Mattea

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

All of my favorite artists make music that I enjoy.   Kathy Mattea makes music that challenges me to become a better person.

The philosophy major in me finds wisdom in her work. The teacher in me, lessons to impart. The Catholic in me, reminders of a higher power and my obligations to my fellow man.

There's a humanity in Kathy Mattea's work that infuses it with passion and purpose. While she had a strong run at the top of the hit parade, winning major industry awards and selling gold and platinum, her most significant work has been produced since she turned her sights away from the charts and looked inward for inspiration.

What follows are the 25 performances that I value the most. Sometimes, while these records play, it's possible to believe in both a better world and my own power to shape it.

“Ready For the Storm”
Time Passes By, 1991

It may have been Mattea's sixth studio album, but it was on Time Passes By that she truly found her voice. Following a trip to Scotland, she began incorporating more Celtic influences into her work. One of her inspirations was Dougie MacLean, who penned the resilient “Ready For the Storm.” Bad times are on the way, but she's prepared to weather them.

“Ashes in the Wind”
Roses, 2002

Mattea has been married to songwriter Jon Vezner since the late eighties, and many of her strongest songs have come from his pen.  “Ashes in the Wind” tells the story of an unrequited love, ending with the man she always harbored feelings for dying at a young age. She's determined to chart a new course in the aftermath of the loss, comforted by the fact that he is now in heaven.

“Listen to the Radio”
Lonesome Standard Time, 1992

This fun Nanci Griffith tune is one of the most straightforwardly country songs Mattea has recorded. She's leaving her unappreciative beau at home, “sittin' on the sofa, lookin' for his supper”, and her only friend is the radio.Thankfully, she's found Loretta Lynn on the dial, and she asks herself the question that countless others have: “Where would I be in times like these without the songs Loretta wrote?”

“Patiently Waiting”
Love Travels, 1997

There are a few songs on this list that share the theme of finally leaving after putting it off for too long.  Here, Mattea realizes that “Good things only come to those who hit the road when they know what they want.” Gillian Welch penned this one.

“Asking Us to Dance”
Time Passes By, 1991

Hugh Prestwood is the songwriting poet who can claim this among his best work. Romantic without being sappy, “Asking Us to Dance” is a mature look at love, with one lover reminding the other that “All the things on earth worth having are things that we've already got.”

Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Patty Loveless

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Patty Loveless has built a Hall of Fame-worthy career, one that has perfectly blended country music’s past and present into a trademark musical style that she can truly call her own, all the while selling gold and platinum and succeeding at country radio. Her mix of commercial and critical success is almost unsurpassed in modern-day country music.

Along with Tony Brown, and later with her producer husband Emory Gordy Jr., Loveless made a true effort to sing songs that were significant to her, wringing every last drop of emotion into each lyric. The listener felt every hopeful or hurtful moment, and I have selected my 25 favorites in a career filled with classics.

The emphasis is on her Epic recordings, although she had plenty of fine moments during her MCA days.

“Hurt Me Bad (In a Real Good Way)”
Up Against My Heart, 1991

One of Patty’s earlier successes, she sees the positive in a bad breakup. The light at the end of the tunnel was a new love, one she would have never found without going through the hard times.

Honky Tonk Angel, 1988

Loveless gives as good as she takes on this gem, her second #1 record. Is it rocket science? No. But Patty’s rarin’ to go from the first note. It is pure and simple fun as she portrays a woman  ready for romance but trying like mad to resist her man’s advances. She almost revels in the back-and-forth that comes with so many love affairs. This same spirit is captured in her future single “I’m That Kind of Girl.”

“To Have You Back Again”
Long Stretch of Lonesome, 1997

Loveless is among the walking wounded on this song, asking for forgiveness from the one she has done wrong. She strikes a beautiful balance between desperation and determination, sounding wise and yet aware of her weaknesses. She absolutely wails in the chorus, lending an immediacy to every little line.

“You Can Feel Bad”
The Trouble with the Truth, 1996

A bittersweet kiss-off to an old companion, this Matraca Berg tune was one of Pattys’ five #1 singles, and it features a contemporary twist on the ol’ heartache song. Once she reaches the chorus, Loveless’ voice is a mix of resignation and indignation. She’s committed to overcoming the pain with a tough-to-the-core attitude that is not always apparent, but is always underneath the surface of much of her material.

“On Down the Line”
On Down the Line, 1990

The working woman’s anthem. As she says, she will keep on “Laughin’ and cryin’, livin’ and dyin’, on down the line”. The title cut of her 1990 collection, it is a message of a woman’s day-to-day drive to succeed (or even just survive).

Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Pam Tillis

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

Pam Tillis was the artist that made me a fan of country music. There were songs and artists I had liked before, but hearing “Maybe it Was Memphis” was an epiphany, a sudden realization that the music of my parents could also be my own.

By the time she'd released Sweetheart's Dance in 1994, I was listening almost exclusively to country music, and she became my favorite artist with that record. Over the course of the past two decades, she has made some incredible music. The completist in me has hunted down everything from her early pop releases for Elektra and Warner Bros., to obscure guest appearances on albums by Jason Sellers and the Fairfield Four.

Needless to say, picking my favorite 25 tracks wasn't easy. I could make a list twice as long and still not cover all of the songs by hers that I love. But this is the cream of the crop. Hopefully, readers who have discovered country music more recently will seek some of these songs out, though I recommend buying most of her albums in their entirety.

“Better Off Blue”
Sweetheart's Dance (1994)

This upbeat song is chock full of female empowerment, as she refuses to give a second chance to the heartbreaker who has shown up at her door, seeking a second chance. “If you're thinking I'll forgive you one more time,” she replies, “I ain't that lonely and love ain't that blind.” She'd rather be lonely for a little now, and wait for true love, rather than indulge “the same old book with a brand new cover”, that she'd have to be crazy to read again.

“Jagged Hearts”
Thunder & Roses (2001)

Pam's swan song for Arista records opens with this tale of jaded lovers. She acknowledges that they've both been hurt in the past, and how difficult it is to heal old wounds, but vows that it can be done. Even the leftover pieces of jagged hearts can fit together. Also worthy of note from this set are the philosophical “Which Five Years” and the traditional weeper “It Isn't Just Raining”, which features harmony by Vince Gill.

“Mandolin Rain”
All of This Love (1995)

When Bruce Hornsby & The Range had a major pop hit with “Mandolin Rain”, the mandolin itself was a no-show. Tillis stripped the song down to its core, then turned it into a rootsy ballad. Her vocal performance builds as the song progresses, and the underlying foundation of the record is the mandolin part, performed by Marty Stuart.

“Morning Has Broken”
Peace in the Valley (1997)

For her contribution to the Arista Nashville gospel collection, Tillis revived the standard “Morning Has Broken”, which was popularized by Cat Stevens. While his hit version was dominated by the piano, Tillis favors the mandolin. It's one of her strongest vocal performances, breathing new life into an old classic.

“Burning Memories”
It's All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis (2002)

Pam's tribute to her father, Mel Tillis, is one of her most traditional efforts to date. “Burnin' Memories” kicks off the album with irresistible twin fiddle action, and her vocal is pure honky-tonk, recalling the best of that era while still sounding contemporary.


Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Randy Travis

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

Randy Travis

Randy Travis

Randy Travis has one of the most distinctive voices in country music.  Moreover, his unbridled twang is credited for helping to pull country music out of the doldrums of the Urban Cowboy phase that plagued the eighties.

With his unmistakable rich baritone, Randy Travis was able to hook me from the first time I heard his voice sing “Before You Kill Us All” in 1994.  Since then, of course, I have been pleased to be able to go back and discover his music that began in 1986 with Storms of Life and continues to this day with his recent release of his July 2008 offering, Around the Bend.

While his deep catalog of music, which consists of 17 studio albums, has made it somewhat difficult to choose just 25 of my favorite Travis songs, I have enjoyed the excuse to immerse myself in his music for the past week in preparation for this list.

“Pray for the Fish”
Rise and Shine (2002)

This tongue and cheek account of a baptism finds a man who must have been quite a scoundrel prior to his redemption: “Then the preacher said/People take a moment or two/There’s something we need to do/Pray for the fish/They won’t know what’s coming/When the sin starts rolling off the likes of him/Lord, be with them they ain’t done nothin’/Please, won’t you just leave them a little bit of room to swim/Pray for the fish.” Randy’s delivery makes this song fun and not judgmental.

“Love Lifted Me” (with Mack Powell from Third Day)
Worship & Faith (2003)

This song starts slow and gives the illusion that it’s going to be another somber rendition of an oft sung song, but it is pleasantly deceiving. After delivering a few slow bars, the song picks up the pace with a rousing rootsy production. The addition of Third Day’s Mack Powell, with his soulful growl, is a welcome one. Travis turns this song that I usually find mundane into something fun and uplifting.

“A Man Ain’t Made of Stone”
A Man Ain’t Made of Stone (1999)

I love Travis’ vulnerable, yet passionate, vocal delivery in this song. This man thought it was important to seem strong and unflappable, but realizes that she needed to see the softer side of him at times. Unfortunately, he reached this conclusion too late. Her leaving unearths his emotions and he abruptly learns that “a man ain’t made of stone/A man ain’t made of steel.”

“An Old Pair Of Shoes”
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (1992)

As one might expect, Randy can turn out a good self pitying song with the best of them. Using an old pair of shoes as his metaphor for feeling unimportant, he complains, “There’s a hole in my soul/And I’m really feeling used.”

“Too Gone Too Long”
Always & Forever (1987)

This starts with a cool guitar riff that makes the song instantly identifiable. Travis’ is telling his ex that she’s “been too gone for too long”, which means it’s too late to come crawling back now. My favorite line is the bitter punch of “It’s been so long since you walked out my door/Now you’re just an old song that nobody sings anymore.”



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