Category Archives: Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists

Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Linda Ronstadt

linda-ronstadtThe following is a guest contribution from Country Universe reader Erik North.

Sometimes you first find out about your favorite artists not necessarily from your peers but, strangely enough, from either your parents or your relatives. In the case of Linda Ronstadt, I found about her through my aunt, who had a copy of Linda’s 1978 album Living In The U.S.A. that I listened to when I was eight years old back in 1978. Since that time, I have been a very staunch fan of Linda’s, even on those occasions when her excursions into other musical arenas have driven others to distraction. As it is with Elvis or the Beatles, if you have to have Linda Ronstadt explained to you, you may never get it.


Linda is not one of those who confines herself to any single genre; while that does tend to cause people a lot of problems, it’s in Linda’s nature to explore as much as she can, regardless of what the critics, or even her own fans, think. Whether it’s big band pop, Mexican rancheras, Gilbert and Sullivan, traditional, contemporary, and urban folk music, the experimental classical music of composer Philip Glass, rock and roll, blues, R&B or jazz, she just can’t stop exploring musically.

And yet, at the same time, even though she has never put herself in the strict category of being a country singer, her classic country-rock albums and songs have influenced at least three different generations of female country and roots-rock singers. She has an appreciation for and a huge knowledge of the country genre, through and through, having grown up in Arizona on a steady diet of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride. The early rockabilly records of Elvis, and later Buddy Holly, were also important factors in her musical growth. And when there was a revival of American folk music as the 1960s dawned, she was into that, too, getting a full dosage of traditional Appalachian folk music and bluegrass. All of those things have factored into how Linda Ronstadt approaches country music. Her approach is just more Sunset Boulevard than Music Row, that’s all.

Although it often gets pointed out that many of Linda’s hits are remakes of long-standing rock, R&B, and country songs that had been hits for others, what often gets overlooked is the complete albums those hits came from, and the songs that surround those hits. Linda was perhaps the first female singer in any genre, country or otherwise, whose career was defined by albums as much as (if not more than) hit singles. And so this is an advocacy of Linda’s great talents within or on the perimeter of the country genre, not only as a hitmaker, but as an album artist par excellence as well.

#25

“The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line”

Hand Sown, Home Grown, 1969

From Linda’s debut album, arguably the very first alternative-country album by a female artist, comes this feminist take on a song that had been a hit the previous year by Waylon Jennings (as “The Only Daddy…”). Linda’s snarling, almost-spat-out delivery, and a clever change in a lyric at the beginning, are almost a challenge against the stereotype of female country singers of that era. It was the first song she did on the Johnny Cash Show on June 21, 1969, that introduced her to country music audiences.

#24

“I Can’t Get Over You”

Adieu False Heart, 2006

Linda’s duet album with Ann Savoy, though rooted in Celtic and Cajun roots music, goes into very rustic traditional folk/country territory with this ballad written by Julie Miller, whose husband Buddy plays acoustic guitar on this track. Linda’s lead vocals transport one back to that rootsy sound, aided and abetted by Ann’s harmony vocals. It is one of the standout tracks on an album that got a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Music recording in 2006.

#23

“It’s So Easy”

Simple Dreams, 1977

At the height of her success, Linda also fueled a revival of rock and roll legend Buddy Holly’s catalog; and one of the ways she did this was to record this traditional rock and roll number from 1958 and spice it up with clavinets, a cowbell, and pounding drums. The inherent rockabilly twang of the song got a fair amount of country airplay, even though it only charted at No. 81 on the country singles chart. It nevertheless got to No. 5 on the pop singles chart. And at the same time, the album it came from was the No. 1 album on both the pop and country album charts.

#22

“Willing”

Heart Like A Wheel, 1974

Who says women don’t do truck driving songs? Thanks to this number written by her good friend, the late Lowell George (of Little Feat), Linda pulls it off in this dissolute tail of being “robbed by the rain/driven by the snow” and being given “weed, whites, and wine” while journeying “from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah.” This is a defining song in the California country-rock repetoire from a landmark album in the genre.

#21

“New Partner Waltz”

Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’, 2003


This all-star tribute to the country/gospel duo the Louvin Brothers won the 2003 Grammy for Country Album of the Year. Overlooked amidst the contributions made by heavyweights like Vince Gill, Terri Clark, Dierks Bentley, and her Trio pals Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, was this particular track in which Linda returns to her traditional country roots by duetting with the album’s producer and her good friend, bluegrass music master Carl Jackson. The two of them do such a good job, and it showed that Linda always had a lot of business revisiting the country arena.

#20

“That’ll Be The Day”

Hasten Down The Wind, 1976

Having previously done a superb country/folk version of Buddy Holly’s last hit “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” on Heart Like A Wheel, Linda returned to the Holly catalog two years later with this modern rockabilly remake of his and the Cricket’s No. 1 hit from 1957. The use of echo on Linda’s vocals, and the twin guitar breaks provided by her guitarists Waddy Wachtell and Dan Dugmore, propelled this song to No. 11 on the pop singles chart, and No. 27 on the country chart in October 1976, and led to Linda earning her second Grammy award, this one for Best Pop Female Vocal.

#19

“Crazy Arms”

Linda Ronstadt, 1972

Linda’s penchant for understanding the traditions of honky-tonk heartbreak songs, while realizing the timelessness of them, is borne out in this recording of a song that had previously been a hit for, among others, Ray Price in 1956, and has since been more recently covered by Patty Loveless, one of Linda’s many fans and peers. Coming from her self-titled album, which was her first true country breakthrough (it reached No. 35 on the country album chart early in 1972), this song also features contributions from a couple of guys named Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Need I tell anyone what became of them?

#18

“Break My Mind”

Hand Sown, Home Grown, 1969

Another country standard, this one written by John D. Loudermilk (he of “Tobacco Road” and “Indian Reservation” fame, among others), this one was a favorite among the elite of the Los Angeles country-rock movement of the late 1960s; and Linda had the foresight to give it a honky-tonk rock throwdown rendition, complete with an unusually growling lead vocal from her, and a stinging guitar break from the late, great West Coast C&W guitar master Clarence White.

#17

“Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me”

Simple Dreams, 1977

Linda often took a lot of hard knocks from critics for being “self pitying,” so in response, she shocked them by doing this very atypical Warren Zevon-penned hard country-rocker (complete with cowbell and syn-drums). This song revealed a humorous side of Linda, though it’s a brand of humor that is as black as coal. If its chart placement at the time seemed a little low (No. 31 pop, No. 56 C&W), it still remains one of Linda’s all-time best performances, given that it is essentially an ode to gang rape—a point that Terri Clark may have missed when she did this song nineteen years after Linda.

#16

“Long, Long Time”

Silk Purse, 1970

One overlooked fact about this incredibly heartbreaking ballad is that Linda recorded it, and the album it came from, largely with a group of Nashville session musicians known as Area Code 615. The fact gets overlooked because the contributions made by fiddle player Buddy Spicher and pedal steel master Weldon Myrick to the song make it seem more orchestral than pure country. This song was also the only time Linda strongly advocated for its release as a single, over the objections of her then record label Capitol, and it paid off. Not only did it go to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1970 (getting onto country radio later in the decade, when Linda’s crossover popularity was too great to ignore), but it also got Linda her first Grammy nomination, for Best Contemporary Female Vocal.

#15

“Colorado”

Don’t Cry Now, 1973

Much like her version of the Eagles’ “Desperado” on this same album (her first for Elektra/Asylum), this country-rock ballad, written by Rick Roberts of the Flying Burrito Brothers (he replaced Gram Parsons) and later of Firefall, is a tale of homesickness and a desire to come back to the homestead after many long years of being alone. It is a fitting song for Linda, for though she grew up in Arizona and not Colorado, its sentiment and its setting in the Intermountain West are borne out in Linda’s passionate, heartfelt delivery, boosted by a lush string section and surrealistic pedal steel guitar work from the late, great Sneaky Pete Kleinow.

#14

“He Was Mine”

Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, 1999

Linda and her good friend Emmylou Harris are a Mutual Admiration Society of the highest order, and their 1999 collaboration, recorded in Linda’s hometown, was a substantial hit with country and roots-rock fans (No. 73 pop, No. 6 C&W, October 1999). One of the songs on this album that stands out is this track, written by Emmy’s ex, Paul Kennerley, and given a typically passionate delivery by Linda, boosted by Emmy’s harmony vocal and Greg Leisz’s pedal steel solo. This was meant to be heard by a larger core of listeners, but country radio sadly stayed away from it.

#13

“When Will I Be Loved?”

Heart Like A Wheel, 1974

The hard-belting style Linda displays whenever she gets her teeth into a traditional rock and roll number is very much in evidence in this Everly Brothers remake, essentially the Sunset Strip meeting the rockabilly sound of Sun Records, with its twanging guitar break from Linda’s long-time favorite session player Andrew Gold. All that kept it from going to No. 1 on the pop chart was the Captain and Tenille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”; it became Linda’s one solo No. 1 country hit in June 1975.

#12

“Walk On”

Feels Like Home, 1995

Matraca Berg considered it an extreme honor to have one of her songs recorded by one of the female legends who inspired her the most, even asking that those who were listening with her keep silent as she took it in. This hoedown, fueled by Linda’s Southwestern drawl and Allison Krauss’ fiddle, sadly got what amounted to The Shaft from country radio in April 1995, as it charted only at No. 61 on the country singles chart. Nevertheless, it is one of Linda’s strongest, most countrified vocal performances in her stellar career.

#11

“Telling Me Lies”

Trio, 1987

Linda’s 1987 collaboration with good pals Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton was among the best-selling country albums of the pre-Garth, post-Urban Cowboy era; and one of the reasons was this Linda Thompson/Betsy Cook-penned ballad about betraying and deceitful men—perfect for a world-class vocalist like Linda, who sings lead here. “Telling Me Lies” peaked at No. 3 on the country chart on July 15, 1987, when Linda turned 41; and Trio peaked at No. 1 C&W, No. 6 pop, winning a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Duo/Group performance for 1987.

#10

“I Fall To Pieces”

Linda Ronstadt, 1972

It may be considered sacrilege for a non-country singer to tackle a song made immortal by Patsy Cline back in 1961, but Linda takes a cue from Patsy’s relaxed delivery, giving this standard it a modest shuffle sound, rent with pedal steel and fiddle flourishes, and the ambience of a live audience (this was recorded at the legendary Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles in August 1971). Once again, future Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey are there, assisting Linda with good grace.

#9

“I Never Will Marry”

Simple Dreams, 1977

A traditional Appalachian folk ballad popularized first by the Carter Family is given a restrained treatment by Linda, complete with her good friend Dolly Parton’s authentic Appalachian harmony vocals, which makes it appropriate that it should have peaked at No. 9 on the country singles chart in June 1978. What gets overlooked, though, is that Linda plays acoustic guitar on this track as well, helped out by the traditional Dobro shadings of the Seldom Scene’s Mike Auldridge (as an addendum, this song’s A-side, a hard-rocking version of the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” was a No. 37 pop hit).

#8

“A River For Him”

Winter Light, 1993

Winter Light, released in late 1993, was one of Linda’s most criminally underrated albums (only getting to No. 92 on the pop album chart); and one of the highlights of it was this tear-inducing, acoustic guitar-and-synthesizer-dominated ballad written by her good pal Emmylou Harris. Linda’s low-key delivery of Emmy’s lyrics is really affecting without being manipulative, and she gets all of the heartbreaking nuances, as she had done twenty-three years before with “Long, Long Time.”

#7

“Crazy”

Hasten Down The Wind, 1976

Once again, Linda isn’t afraid to tackle a classic, as she does here with this Willie Nelson-penned ballad immortalized by Patsy Cline in 1961. Linda’s approach is more bluesy than Patsy’s is, but her delivery, besides paying homage to a legend, also helped coin the phrase “torch rock.” The song, which hit No. 6 on the country chart in February 1977, also made the album it came from a No. 4 hit on the pop album chart, and No. 1 country.

#6

“I Will Always Love You”

Prisoner In Disguise, 1975

There is such a thing as subtlety, something that Linda proved when she became the first artist to cover this Dolly Parton mega-classic, just fourteen months after Dolly’s original. If you think you’ve heard all you need to hear of this song through Whitney Houston’s arguably way-over-the-top 1992 version for the movie The Bodyguard, do yourself a favor and take a listen to Linda’s version, powered by Andrew Gold’s subtle piano, the R&B-tinged backup singers, Dan Dugmore’s pedal steel flourishes, and, above all else, Linda’s dramatic, heartfelt soprano voice. This song helped power the album to No. 4 on the pop album chart, and No. 2 on the country album chart in late 1975.

#5

“Heartbreak Kind”

We Ran, 1998

There is just no way of getting around it: We Ran, released in June 1998, is one of Linda’s greatest latter-day albums and arguably also the single most criminally underappreciated album of her career (it only got as high as #168). And one of the highlights of this album is this track, penned by Paul Kennerley and country maverick Marty Stuart, a return to Linda’s early ’70s C&W-rock roots. It is essentially a duet of sorts, as former Eagle and longtime Ronstadt musician favorite Bernie Leadon harmonizes in a very slithery way with her and also does the twangy Telecaster guitar licks. This one track should have gotten country airplay.

#4

“Silver Threads And Golden Needles”

Don’t Cry Now, 1973

How does this grab you—a remake of a remake. Linda had originally recorded this song, first a hit for Wanda Jackson in 1956, on Hand Sown, Home Grown in 1969, but she was unhappy with the arrangement of the song on that album. Four years later, she redid this country standard as a country-rock hoedown, fueled by the fiddle work of Cajun musician Gib Guilbeau and some piercing steel guitar work from Ed Black. With a No. 20 placement on the country singles chart in May 1974 (the album it came from hit No. 5 on the country album chart, and No. 45 pop), “Silver Threads” began Linda’s crossover dominance, by which she helped reconnect rock and roll with its traditional country roots.

#3

“Blue Bayou”

Simple Dreams, 1977

What had originally been a very modest hit for its writer, the late and legendary Roy Orbison, in 1963 turned into one of Linda’s signature hits, also helping to re-establish Orbison’s place in the rock pantheon. With its bass line, marimba, and lush electric piano backing, in Linda’s hands, “Blue Bayou” is influenced to no small degree by Linda’s Mexican roots (she re-recorded this song again shortly after this had hit, this time in Spanish). Propelled near the climax by Dan Dugmore’s soaring steel solo, “Blue Bayou” got to No. 2 on the country chart in November 1977, and on Christmas Day was at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. With “It’s So Easy” also at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time, Linda had set two records. She became the first female artist to have two top five hits at the same time, and the first act of any kind to pull off such a feat since the Beatles dominated the Top Five in April 1964.

#2

“I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)”

Heart Like A Wheel, 1974

Linda always mentioned Hank Williams as a pivotal musical influence; and on her version of one of Hank’s signature hits, she puts her money where her big voice is. Aided and abetted on harmony vocals by her good pal Emmylou Harris, Linda pulled off a remarkable feat. “I Can’t Help It,” which hit No. 2 on the country singles chart in March 1975, was the B-side of “You’re No Good,” Linda’s No.1 pop hit of one month earlier. The following year, she won the first of (so far) eleven Grammy awards, for Best Female Country Vocal, beating out, among others, Emmylou and her other Trio pal Dolly Parton.

#1

“Love Is A Rose”

Prisoner In Disguise, 1975

One can trace the Dixie Chicks’ approach back to this bluegrass-fueled version of a Neil Young composition that reveals Linda’s approach to country—more Laurel Canyon than the Opry, but still rooted in country, thanks to the contributions of Herb Pederson on banjo, and David Lindley on fiddle. “Love Is A Rose” hit #5 on the country chart, while the A-side, a pounding version of the Motown classic “Heat Wave,” simultaneously hit No. 5 on the pop singles chart in November 1975.

If you are interested in writing a guest post for Country Universe, send an e-mail to kevin@countryuniverse.net

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Trisha Yearwood

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.

#25
“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.

#24
“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.

#23
“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.”

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Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Christmas Edition

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!

#25

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!

#24

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

#23

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!

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dolly Parton

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.

#25
“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.”

#24
“Change”
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.”

#23
“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.

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dolly Parton

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.

#25
“Joshua”
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?

#24
“Jolene”
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.

#23
“Shinola”
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.

#22
“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.”

#21
“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.

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dixie Chicks

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.

#25
“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.

#24
“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.”

#23
“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.”

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Todd Snider

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.

#25
“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.

#24
“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.

#23
“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.”

#22
“Broke”
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.”

#21
“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.
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Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Kathy Mattea

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.

#25
“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.

#24
“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.

#23
“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?”

#22
“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.

#21
“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.”
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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Patty Loveless

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.

#25
“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.

#24
“Chains”
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.”

#23
“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.

#22
“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.

#21
“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).
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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Pam Tillis

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.

#25
“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.

#24
“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.

#23
“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.

#22
“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.

#21
“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.

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