Connecticut born songwriter Gary Burr got his first break when he broke his leg in a high school soccer game. With time on his hands, he taught himself to play the guitar and began writing songs. His second break came in 1982 when, without a co-writer, he penned Juice Newton’s “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me”. That same year, he became the lead singer for Pure Prairie League after Vince Gill left the group to pursue a solo career. Gary remained with PPL until 1985 and headed to Nashville in the late 1980′s. He has since been awarded ‘Songwriter of the Year’ on three separate occasions by three different organizations: Billboard, Nashville Songwriter’s Association International, and ASCAP. He has also received over twenty of ASCAP’s recognition awards for radio play activity, and cds featuring his songs have sold more than 50 million units world-wide. He’s currently affiliated with SESAC. Most recently, he was Carole King’s guitarist on her “Living Room Tour”, performing some of his own songs as well.
If you go to Gary’s website and click on Discography you’ll see a Short List of 35 of his best known songs, in alphabetical order by recording artist. If you click on Full List, you see the names of about 170 songs. You’ll find hits and albums track (“hidden treasures” to some) by country artists such as Hal Ketchum, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Tanya Tucker, Ty Herndon, Faith Hill, Leann Rimes, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gary Allan, Andy Griggs, Kathy Mattea, Lorrie Morgan, Terri Clark, Collin Raye, Doug Stone, Ricky Van Shelton, Diamond Rio, Conway Twitty, Chely Wright and many others plus pop artists Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, etc . The website list does not include the current Sarah Buxton hit “Outside My Window”.
Gary appears quite frequently at Nashville’s famous Bluebird Cafe, appearing in the round with singer/songwriters like Mike Reid, Georgia Middleman, J.D. Souther and others. In addition, he performs as part of the group MelDiBurPho which is composed of songwriters Vince Melamed, Bob DiPiero, Gary and Jim Photoglo.These shows are performed on the Bluebird’s small stage and, unlike the shows in the round, includes a drummer in addition to the usual guitars and a keyboard. Gary and the Guys have been doing these great shows for about 12 years. They call themselves the oldest boy band in America and the best band you can see for $12. They really seem to be having a great time together and they can be very funny, much of the humor either self-deprecating or at the expense of one of the other guys. For the February show, the guys performed in their pj’s, an annual event closely coinciding with three of their birthdays. Supposedly Faith Hill once showed up in pj’s and bunny slippers. She was discovered while singing back-up for Gary at the Bluebird.
After seeing Mr. Burr perform twice at the Bluebird, I purchased his two cd’s from the Bluebird on-line store. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before …, released in 1997, includes 18 of his best songs performed and recorded live at the Bluebird. Mariane’s includes 11 songs and was released in 2004. The list of my favorite Gary Burr written songs that follows indicates the artist and cd it appeared on and his co-writer. Many of these favorites are from his Stop Me … cd and a few from Marianne’s. (Songs that can also be found on Gary’s cds have an asterisk next to the title.)
Should you already have or decide to purchase these cds, you may find, as I did, that you prefer Gary’s version for quite a few of them. A lot of his songs are about lost love, some because the guy was clueless, others about love that just didn’t work out and the difficulty in leaving memories behind. At his shows, Gary refers to himself as the “sensitive one” when he sings one of his ballads. Check out the songs listed on Gary’s website and let us know your favorites. Obviously, differing tastes will result in a very different list by many readers.
“I Wear Your Love” – Kathy Mattea Time Passes By, 1991
co-writer – None
An album track for Kathy Mattea from a cd chock full of great songs in addition to the three chosen for release as singles. The chorus concludes, “on the chillest night though I travel light, it is always enough for I wear your love”. Mattea is still one of the best female vocalists in country music.
“A Man Ain’t Made of Stone” – Randy Travis A Man Ain’t Made of Stone, 1999
co-writers – Frannie Golde and Robin Lerner
About this song, Leeann wrote, “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.’” The song peaked at #16.
“What’s In It For Me” – John Berry John Berry, 1993
co-writer – John Jarrard
This up tempo song is about a guy asking a girl who dumped him but has changed her mind and wants him back, ” What’s in it for me?” He’s glad she’s back and wants her but are things going to be different this time? “If it’s only more tears, then I’ll have to pass.” The song reached #5 on the charts for John Berry.
“Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard On Me” – Juice Newton Quiet Lies, 1982
co-writer – None
The young lady is a bit skittish about love after being burned in this up tempo tune. Calls to her inner romantic self can’t convince her to try again yet. “I’ll be back when I calm my fears … See you around in a thousand years.” This did better on the pop charts (# 7) than country (#30).
“A Thousand Times a Day” – Patty Loveless (1995); George Jones (1993) The Trouble With The Truth, 1995; High Tech Redneck, 1993
co-writer – Gary Nicholson
Another song about trying to forget someone. Giving up booze and smokes was difficult but “Forgetting you is not that hard to do, I’ve done it a thousand times a day”. The song reached #13 for Patty and was an album track for George. I prefer Patty’s version.
“In a Week or Two” – Diamond Rio Close To The Edge, 1992
co-writer – James House
A song of warning for procrastinators from a group known for their great harmony. “These words in my heart never had a chance to be heard”. The guy waited too long to tell her he loved her so he came out second. The song nearly reached the top of the charts but, as Trent Summar once reminded us, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
“I Try to Think About Elvis” – Patty Loveless When Fallen Angels Fly, 1994
co-writer – None
I recall seeing Patty sing this in a concert about 10 years ago. I would think that “list songs” like this would present a challenge remembering all the lyrics but she nailed it. A fun song that made it to #3.
“Heart Half Empty” – Ty Herndon with Stephanie Bentley What Mattered Most, 1995
co-writer – Desmond Child
“Is my heart half full of the love you gave me, or my heart half empty ’cause your love is gone?” While the half full, half empty metaphor is obviously not new and the song is a bit schmaltzy, I still love it. I add a star for true duets – equal contributions by the duet partners. Although Ty’s recent comeback attempt appears to have come up short, he still has a great voice and was well complemented here by Stephanie Bentley.
“Blue Sky” – Emily West Emily West, 2007 (EP)
co-writer – Emily West
The original version was from her EP. The current single includes background vocals by Keith Urban and online reviews have been very favorable but it hasn’t cracked the top 40 yet. The girl is saddened by her lover’s behavior but resolved not to be hurt by him again. “So you made a list of shoulders that you’d be needing, well mine aren’t yours anymore, come on show me your temper, be the man I remember, so I won’t forget what you’ve done.”
“Out of My Bones” – Randy Travis You and You Alone 1998
co-writers – Sharon Vaughn and Robin Lerner
Randy sings “I’m in need of a remedy, to cure me from loving you”. His remedy is walking in the first verse and talking in the second til she’s “out of my bones”. While his 1986 song “Diggin’ Up Bones” made it to the top, “Out of My Bones” stalled at #2. The album also included the late Patrick Swayze singing background on one of the tracks.
“Rockin’ the Rock” – Larry Stewart (Restless Heart) Heart Like a Hurricane, 1994
co-writer – None
A rollicking song about a girl who rocks his world but didn’t rock the charts peaking at #56. “I had a wonderful sense of balance, everything under control, til the day she came along and started rockin’ the rock that I’m standing on.” If you have a multiple tissues tune on your playlist, play this next. Larry Stewart’s solo career after leaving Restless Heart was not a huge success. He’s been back with them since 2004.
The relationship between a son and his father is portrayed in three vignettes. In the first, the father comforts his young son, calming his fears. Conflict and doubts occur in the second while the final scene finds the son, who makes his living with words and rhyme, trying to deal with the death of his father, asking himself how can I come up with a song to say I love you. The song made it to #6. (I remember liking “It’s Only Make Believe” as a kid but shortly after Conway disappeared from the pop charts. I didn’t know til much later that he had become a country star.)
“The One You Love” – Terri Clark with Vince Gill The Long Way Home, 2009; Pain to Kill, 2003
co-writer – Terri Clark
While Terri’s new cd did not include lyrics, they can be found with comments for each song on her website. She said that she hesitated to re-cut this song but her mother’s recent bout with cancer inspired her because it put the lyrics in a whole different light. “when someone’s slippin’ away, right before your eyes, how useless we are is a painful surprise”. Although Vince Gill singing harmony is always a plus, the original version on Pain to Kill was still excellent.
“West of Crazy” – Lisa Brokop Lisa Brokop, 1996
co-writer – Vince Melamed
An up tempo tune which reflects a woman’s state of mind after a breakup. “Just a few miles west of crazy, a stone’s throw away from tears, oh, so close to normal, but I can’t get there from here”. Love the song although it didn’t even chart in Canada. Lisa Brokop has become one of my favorite country music singers.
“One Night a Day” – Garth Brooks In Pieces, 1993
co-writer – Pete Wasner
The piano is the star in this song about a guy trying to leave a girl’s memory behind. He tells of the things he’s doing to get through the breakup, including “calling every friend I had, wake ‘em up, make ‘em mad, to let them know I’m okay”. Garth’s version, which reached #7 on the charts, also features a sax while in Gary’s, a steel guitar complements the piano.
“Time Machine” – Collin Raye I Think About You, 1995
co-writer – None
Although it was never a single, it’s one of my favorite Collin Raye songs. The songs tells of a lonely man who knows things won’t be any better tomorrow so he wants to go back in time. “To the casual eye it’s a barstool, but it’s really much more than it seems, a few drinks and then, she’ll be with him again, as he sits on the time machine”.
“Up and Flying” – Reba McEntire If You See Him, 1998
co-writer – Patty Griffin
Her ex-love is doing fine but she’s still doing time. “You make it look so easy, it doesn’t seem quite fair, baby I’m still tryin’, to get up and flying”. An album track for Reba. Should this song have been a single? Love Gary’s take on it.
“You Tell Me” – Terri Clark with Johnnie Reed The Long Way Home, 2009
co-writer – Terri Clark
As noted above, I love duets and on this album track, Terri is joined by Scotland born, Canadian country music artist, Johnny Reid. On her website, she describes it as a grown up song about a relationship in trouble that she wrote with Gary about 10 years ago. The conversational quality of the lyrics made it feel as a natural duet.
“Sure Love” – Hal Ketchum Sure Love, 1992
co-writer – Hal Ketchum
Hal sings of what he would do to find “Sure Love”. “I would chase all ghosts and watch them scatter, drop old dreams and watch them shatter, lose myself and all I own, to find sure love.” This up tempo song reached #3.
“Silence Is King” – Tanya Tucker Soon, 1993
co-writer – Jim Photoglo
This sad tune is about a couple who have reached the point where they don’t communicate any more. The chorus begins “We live in a land where silence is king, whispers have all disappeared”. In the last verse, there’s no let-up, “desperate measures come from desperate times, I don’t regret what I’ve done, if my actions made you speak your mind, angry words are better than none”. An album track for Tanya. On the live “Stop Me …” cd you hear Gary saying “so depressing” after he finishes singing. Probably too serious for country radio.
“I Will Not Be a Mistake” – Cliff Richard Something’s Goin’ On, 2004
co-writers – Helen Darling and Will Robinson
While Cliff is not a country singer, I could easily see someone like Collin Raye covering this song. It’s about a guy who assures the girl he’s about to get together with that while it may not come to anything it won’t be something she’ll regret. “I’ll be a chance you had to take, a heart you had to break, but I will not be a mistake”.
“Can’t Be Really Gone” – Tim McGraw All I Want, 1995
co-writer – None
A man tries to convince himself that his girl must be coming back when he mends his ways because “so much of her remains”. “The shoes she bought on Christmas day, she laughed and said they called her name”. “Her book is lying on the bed, the two of hearts to mark the page, now who would ever walk away at chapter twenty-one.” Just missed the top peaking at #2.
“Station on the Line” Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before …
co-writer – None
A haunting melody about a guy who falls for a girl who can’t commit. The chorus goes “and her type never does linger, she leaves all could and might-have-beens behind, she rode from New York to California, and I was just a station on that line”. As far as I can tell, no one else has covered this song.
“What Mattered Most” – Ty Herndon What Mattered Most, 1995
co-writer – Vince Melamed
A lament by a clueless guy who knew all the trivial stuff but missed what mattered most. “I never asked…she never said,and when she cried I turned my head, she dreamed her dreams behind closed doors, and that made them easy to ignore”. A #1 song for Ty in his successful stretch during the 90′s.
“In Front of the Alamo” – Hal Ketchum with LeAnn Rimes One More Midnight (no U.S. release)
co-writer – None
Allusions to one of the most famous battles in American history are combined with the story of a woman’s love gone bad because of her husband’s infidelity. The couple met as tourists in front of the Alamo. The second verse ends “she wanted trust, she wanted truth, the two things he found hard to do. So forever was shorter than she planned”. (The lives of the defenders of the Alamo were shorter than they planned.) She returns to the Alamo so that she can move on. The bridge begins “she didn’t come for inspiration or to breathe the mighty dust of heroes lost” and concludes “She just felt the time was right, at this random traffic light, to say ‘enough is enough’ and move on”. The third verse ends “maybe something in the air makes the timid braver there, to cross the line that they’ve drawn in the sand”. The tag chorus completes the analogy “they held on she lets go” (they were brave by holding on she by letting go) and concludes “in front of the Alamo, that’s a pretty good place to make a stand”.
While I do recall hearing the song on the radio, it failed to crack the top 40.
Kevin Coyne wrote here in 2007, “… a beautifully sympathetic portrait of a woman leaving a bad relationship behind. After all, what better a place to make a stand than in front of the Alamo? Before you worry that this is one of those over-the-top country numbers with a tortured metaphor, it’s actually wonderfully understated. The character is so believable that it seems just a happy accident that she makes a tough choice in front of a historical landmark.”
Also in 2007, Jim Malec of the 9513 wrote about the Ketchum song, “if you ask me, his latest, “In Front Of The Alamo,” is the best single I’ve heard so far this year. Featuring a brilliant support vocal from LeAnn Rimes, this song does everything right. Lyrically, it is a lesson in excellence, accomplishing in just over three minutes what most songs never do. On the production side it’s damn near perfect, even down to the mix (the short but fitting instrumental parts are well-played and perfectly placed).
It just doesn’t get much better than this.”
For a good stretch in the nineties, women were the dominant creative force in country music. Songwriter Matraca Berg was an indispensable component of that dominance, penning many of the biggest hits and best-loved tracks by signature acts like Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, and Martina McBride.
It’s no surprise that this list of Favorite Songs written by Matraca Berg is almost completely composed of female artists. So distinguished is Berg’s catalog that worthy cuts by the Dixie Chicks, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Gretchen Wilson just missed the list. Even Berg herself is only present with one performance, despite releasing several outstanding recordings in her own right.
But the beauty of these lists is that these are my own favorite songs, so I don’t have to force anything on to the list just to make it more well-rounded. Add your own favorites in the comments, and read Matraca’s 100 Greatest Women profile to learn more about this stunning songwriter.
“Wild Angels” – Martina McBride Wild Angels, 1995
This was meant to be the title cut of an album that Berg never released. Instead, the cut went to Martina McBride. It was McBride’s first #1 single, and listening to it today, it sounds remarkably rough around the edges for an artist who’d eventually become an AC radio staple.
“Fool, I’m a Woman” – Sara Evans No Place That Far, 1998
Berg’s writing can be effortlessly snarky, as evidenced by this breezy Sara Evans track that was a minor hit in 1999. “Did I say that I’d never leave you behind?” she queries. “Well, just keep treating me unkind. ‘Cause fool, I’m a woman, and I’m bound to change my mind.”
“When a Love Song Sings the Blues” – Trisha Yearwood Real Live Woman, 2000
Trisha Yearwood is Berg’s finest vessel, the only voice elegant enough to equal Berg’s words. This melancholy closer to Yearwood’s excellent Real Live Woman set finds the protagonist seeking solace in a dusty old piano, playing “Faded Love” and “Born to Lose” so she doesn’t have to cry alone.
“Give Me Some Wheels” – Suzy Bogguss Give Me Some Wheels, 1996
A tense struggle between being herself and living up to an idealized creation formed by her lover leads to choosing the car keys over sticking around. “I’ll never be the angel you see in your dreams. Give me some wheels if I can’t have wings.”
“The Last One to Know” – Reba McEntire The Last One to Know, 1987
Berg’s talents came to full fruition in the nineties, but there are a handful of treasures in her catalog from the previous decade. McEntire’s dignified performance is tasteful and understated, as she asks herself, “I believed you really loved me. Why can’t I believe you said goodbye?”
“Demolition Angel” – Pam Tillis The Collection, 2006
A variety of CD and MP3 albums have been compiled from the live DVD released by Pam Tillis in 2005. She debuted several new songs in that concert, including “Demolition Angel”, a stellar Berg song that has yet to be included on a studio album. She’s asking God to send down a “demolition angel” to tear down the walls she’s built around her heart, which she describes as a “monument to pride.”
“Everybody Knows” – Trisha Yearwood Pure Country, 1992
I once saw Yearwood remark durin a concert that she had to record this song because it included the words “jerk” and “chocolate.” She’s growing frustrated with everyone in her life that has a different opinion on how to get over her heartache. She’s be happy to be left alone with “some chocolate and a magazine.”
“You Should’ve Lied” – Lee Ann Womack Something Worth Leaving Behind, 2002
A deliciously bitter rejection of a cheater’s apologetic confession. “You overestimated me,” Womack seethes, “thinking I would understand. Believing that your honesty would make me see a bigger man. Was that all part of your plan?”
“You Are the Storm” – Dusty Springfield A Very Fine Love, 1995
Springfield covered this evocative track from Berg’s debut album, a weary goodbye to a man plagued by his own inner demons. “I tried to love you, I tried to keep you from harm,” she rues, “but I can’t give you shelter when you are the storm.”
“You’re Still Here” – Faith Hill Cry, 2002
This shamefully overlooked gem from Hill’s Cry collection is painfully poignant. A woman sings to her husband who has passed on, but is still everywhere that she goes. My personal favorite moment is when she sings, “I heard you in a stranger’s laugh, and I hung around to hear him laugh again. Just once again.”
“Cry on the Shoulder of the Road” – Martina McBride Wild Angels, 1995
Levon Helm provides the killer harmony track as McBride finally leaves a troubled relationship behind, content to find her comfort out on the interstate. “I’d rather break down on the highway with no one to share my load, and cry on the shoulder of the road.” I’ve always thought that the lyrics of Lee Ann Womack’s “A Little Past Little Rock” were heavily influenced by this song.
“For a While” – Trisha Yearwood Inside Out, 2001
Another Berg song cut by Yearwood that uses the word “jerk”, though I suspect it was the undercurrent of self-deprecation that truly appealed to the songstress when she cut this song. Watching an old Road Runner cartoon, she notices the “poor old coyote. Someone had a worse day than me for a change.”
“Mining for Coal” – Randy Travis No Holdin’ Back, 1989
This deep and moving performance by Randy Travis makes me wish more male artists would cut Berg’s songs. He’s so surprised to have found a true love while he was just looking for someone to ease his loneliness. “It’s like finding a diamond when you’re mining for coal.”
“Come Back When it Rainin’” – Trisha Yearwood Real Live Woman, 2000
Here, Yearwood is refusing to indulge her rainy day lover, who only seems to come around when he’s feeling down. “I’m just someone to call when you need a place to fall,” she notes, showing him the door.
“You Can Feel Bad” – Patty Loveless The Trouble With the Truth, 1996
Loveless turns the tables on the man who thinks he’s letting her down easy. “Your head is hanging and you look real sad. Maybe you should have called?” Her heart may be broken but her dignity – and biting wit – remain intact.
“Strawberry Wine” – Deana Carter Did I Shave My Legs For This?, 1996
Berg’s signature song of lost innocence is a perfect match for Carter’s sandpaper vocals. For those of us who “still remember when thirty was old”, this remains a beautiful commentary on the passage of time.
The earliest entry in Berg’s trilogy of songs inspired by her grandfather’s farm. I don’t know if this one is as autobiographical as “Strawberry Wine” and “The Dreaming Fields”, but it’s certainly as beautiful. “Calico Plains” tells the story of an older sister sharing her dreams with her younger sister. Little sis ends up making that dream her own when the elder Abilena finds herself with child and must marry and stay at home.
“Nobody Drinks Alone” – Keith Urban Be Here, 2004
A cautionary tale sung to a man who thinks he is at home by himsef, drowning his sorrows and painful memories with a bottle of wine. “Don’t you know nobody drinks alone?” Urban warns. “Every demon, every ghost from your past, and every memory you’ve held back follows you home.”
“Wrong Side of Memphis” – Trisha Yearwood Hearts in Armor, 1992
If there’s a better song out there about chasing the dream of country music stardom, I haven’t heard it. As the opening track of Yearwood’s landmark sophomore set, it announced her arrival as one of country music’s greatest album artists.
“On Your Way Home” – Patty Loveless On Your Way Home, 2003
Loveless earned a Grammy nomination for this confrontation of a cheating spouse who isn’t quite as forthcoming as his spurned lover needs him to be. “The truth is gonna set you free,” she sings, wearily promising, “If you keep on lying to me, I might stay right here just to spite you.”
“Diamonds and Tears” – Suzy Bogguss Something Up My Sleeve, 1993
Berg’s finest philosophical moment, a reflection on how the journey of life is its own destination. Even lost love is a form of “higher education”: “I have said and heard the word ‘goodbye’, felt the blade and turned the knife sideways. But I crossed bridges while they burned, to keep from losing what I’ve learned along the way.”
“The Dreaming Fields” – Trisha Yearwood Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love, 2007
A return to the wheat fields of her youth upon the death of her grandfather contains a sprinkle of social commentary, but is mostly a heart-wrenching exploration of grief over “the end of a world I love.”
“My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again” – Patty Loveless Strong Heart, 2000
The end of a first love brings not only the death of that romance, but also of the innocence that dies along with it. “It’s too bad, it’s so sad when your innocence is gone. It’s wasted on the ones that do you wrong.” Thus is the end result of a love “too blind with trust to know the Judas kiss.”
“Back When We Were Beautiful” – Matraca Berg Sunday Morning to Saturday Night, 1997
Berg received a standing ovation when she performed this stunning song on the 1997 CMA Awards, the same night that she won Song of the Year for “Strawberry Wine.” It recounts a conversation between grandmother and granddaughter, with the former confessing to the latter that “I hate it when they say I’m aging gracefully. I fight it every day. I guess they never see.”
The song is not available digitally and the album is out of print, but you can listen to it here.
“Lying to the Moon” – Trisha Yearwood The Song Remembers When, 1993
Berg refused to perform this song for years after Yearwood’s version was released, feeling that she couldn’t do it justice after Yearwood’s flawless rendition. Berg’s poetic style could be too precious in lesser hands, but Yearwood’s ability to be sincere without being schmaltzy makes her the perfect singer for “Lying to the Moon,” a song so breathtakingly beautiful that it’s easy to forget it’s essentially about getting stood up.
“I told the starry sky to wait for you. I told the wind to sigh to like lovers do. I even told the night that you were true, and that you would be here soon, and now I’m lying to the moon.” It’s one of Berg’s finest songs, combined with one of Yearwood’s finest vocal performances, a high-water mark for two of the genre’s greatest talents.
I’m pleased to introduce a new feature to Country Universe readers, which is a spin off of Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists called Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters.
While we all appreciate songwriters for their invaluable contributions to our favorite artists, they still often remain unrecognized as the people behind the scenes and, therefore, stand in the shadows of the big name artists who sing their songs. The purpose of this feature is to spotlight those songwriters who had or have aspirations of being stars, but are better known for sharing their craft with the more visible artists.
Therefore, the criteria for this feature is that the spotlighted songwriter has to have both written songs that other artists have recorded and recorded music of his/her own. For instance, Darrell Scott, Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Robison, etc. are eligible songwriters, since they’ve recorded their own music and written songs for other artists. Conversely, people like Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Clint Black etc. won’t be eligible, since they’ve mostly only written songs for themselves and not others.
Finally, Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters will include a mix of songs that the songwriter has recorded, and songs that he/she has written that other artists have recorded, which will obviously depend on our favorite songs by that songwriter and our preferred version of the chosen song.
With this feature, we hope to help readers realize the contributions of individual songwriters and, perhaps, inspire you to explore the artists’ own discographies as a result.
Last summer I kicked off our Songwriters Series with my favorite modern country music songwriter, Darrell Scott. So, I thought it fitting to do the same with this new feature. Since I’ve already taken up considerable space describing this feature, I encourage you all to refer to my aforementioned spotlight to learn more about the man about which this article is written.
A pertinent note, however, is that most of the songs on this list have been recorded by both Scott and other artists. While the majority of the songs on this particular list will specifically refer to other artists, please assume that Scott’s own recordings are more than worth exploring as well.
Darrell Scott, “Banjo Clark” Aloha From Nashville
One of the things that I marvel the most about Darrell Scott is his ability to write songs that sound like timeless standards. “Banjo Clark” is one such song. In fact, I had to double check to make sure Scott had actually written this song and that it wasn’t a public domain standard that he revived.
Tim McGraw, “Old Town New” Live Like You Were Dying
Scott wrote “Old Town New” with another superb modern songwriter, Bruce Robison. So, it’s no surprise that this song about a man wishing that he could make his old town feel new again after a failed relationship is good. While it remained just an album cut on McGraw’s signature album, it’s as good as many of the singles that were released from it.
Suzy Bogguss, “No Way Out” Give Me Some Wheels
“No Way Out” is up-tempo, but is not devoid of life’s realities. The family experiences familiar hardships, but the husband and wife hold themselves accountable by reminding each other that they’ve “fell in love and there’s no way out.”
While Bogguss’ recording is the superior version, both Darrel Scott’s and Julie Roberts’ versions are good as well. Moreover, this is the first song of Scott’s that was recorded by another artist.
Darrell Scott, “When There’s No One Around”
Garth Brooks recorded a version of “When There’s No One Around”, but Scott’s version is more organic and sonically appealing. It’s a poignant look at who we are when there’s no one around, which is inevitably different than our public personas.
Travis Tritt, “It’s A Great Day to Be Alive” Down the Road I Go
We all know “It’s A Great Day to Be Alive”, since it was a big hit for Travis Tritt. This song has been recorded by Scott and Cory Morrow. Tritt’s is the definitive version, however. It tries to be hopeful while still somehow managing to feel a little bleak at the same time. While he proclaims that it’s a great day to be alive, there’s a sadness that lurks under the surface that seems to threaten the bright outlook, which is actually more tangible in Scott’s recording.
Darrell Scott, “With A Memory Like Mine”
“With A Memory Like Mine” was co-written with his dad, Wayne Scott. Darrell found the beginnings of this song in a notebook of his father’s and encouraged the Elder Scott to finish it with him. Scott’s version, which can be found on a solid project with Tim O’Brien, is darker than the quick paced recording by The John Cowan Band, which is more appropriate for this chillingly sad song. The man sends his son off to war by telling him to “be a good soldier/but return again someday.” His son does return, but in the most devastating way possible for a parent. In a casket.
Martina McBride, “I’m Trying”
“I’m Trying” has been recorded by both Diamond Rio as a duet with Chely Wright and Martina McBride, though McBride’s is the stronger version. It explores a struggling relationship that almost seems like more work than it’s worth. Instead of leaving us with a typical happy or tragic ending, we are only given an assurance that they love each other and they are trying to make things work. The melody is tastefully simple with a fitting production that showcases McBride’s atypical restrained vocals, which translates into appropriate empathy for the characters within the song. It is a simple song with a simple production, but still poignant in a quiet way.
Trace Adkins, “Someday”
Adkins is the only artist to record this song, as far as I know. It’s a beautiful and hopeful song, with tinges of sadness. As is duly noted about Adkins, he sings these more serious songs the best, even if radio disagrees.
Dixie Chicks, “Heartbreak Town”
This is an indictment on Nashville, which is one of two songs written by Scott and recorded by The Chicks that tackles the topic. The song portrays Nashville, a place where so many people hope to enjoy success, as a “heartbreak town, which is something that both the Chicks and Scott have surely learned from personal experience.
Kathy Mattea, “Loves Not Through With You Yet”
Right Out of Nowhere
I’m thrilled that one of my favorite Mattea albums includes this thoughtful, gorgeous Celtic flavored song by Darrell Scott: “You may think that love takes two, but loves a gift from you to you.”
Sara Evans, “Born to Fly”
Born to Fly
Scott happened to write one of Sara Evans’ most recognizable and best hits to date. “Born to Fly” is an infectious coming of age song. While her parents are stable and grounded, that’s not the way the songs’ character wishes to live and she asks, “How do you keep your feet on the ground when you know you were born to fly?”
Darryl Worley, “Family Tree”
I Miss My Friend
While many of Scott’s songs can be heavy, this is an example of his sillier side. Scott does a great version, but Worley cuts loose just the right amount. He clearly revels in singing deliciously smarmy lyrics like, “Well, raisin’ up babies is our new sport/You’re one day late and I’m one dollar short/Now, maybe it was planned or maybe it was a goof/But a cat’s got to dance on a hot tin roof.”
Darrell Scott, “Goodle’ USA”
The Invisible Man
A more watered down version of this song can be heard on Faith Hill’s album. If one doesn’t listen closely, it’s easy to miss the probing lyrics that question the state of America. While Scott’s recording is not quite as polished, the political message is much more overt, which includes his original lyrics that were altered for Hill’s version to be less controversial.
Dixie Chicks, “Long Time Gone”
This is the other song that was written by Scott and recorded by The Chicks that takes Nashville to task. Wrapped in an unshakably catchy melody, “Long Time Gone” disregards conventional niceties and tersely critiques the music that’s being played on the radio:
“Now me and Delia singin’ every Sunday
Watchin’ the children and the garden grow
We listen to the radio to hear what’s cookin’
But the music ain’t got no soul
Now they sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard
They got money but they don’t have cash
They got Junior but they don’t have Hank
I think, I think, I think…the rest is…
A long Time Gone”
Patty Loveless, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”
Patty Loveless’ recording of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” sounds like a superb arrangement of a forgotten classic, except it isn’t a remake and was written just over ten years ago. While I feel the definitive version was recorded by Patty Loveless, Darrell Scott has recorded two versions that, even if Loveless’ version did not exist, would earn a spot on this list. Through haunting lyrics and melodic structure, “Harlan” tells the tragic story of the bleak existence of coalminers that is just about inevitable:
“But the times got hard and tobacco wasn’t selling
And old granddad knew what he’d do to survive
He went and dug for Harlan coal
And sent the money back to grandma
But he never left Harlan alive
Where the sun comes up about ten in the mornin’
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you’ll fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you’re drinkin’
And you spend your life just thinkin’ of how to get away”
Patty Loveless sings this song with an immense emotional intensity that was likely gathered from personal experience as a daughter of a coalmining father who eventually succumbed to “Black Lung Disease” as a result of coalmining in Kentucky. In fact, each person who has sung this song so far, including Darrell Scott himself, has a personal and deep understanding of the significance of the hopelessness that the lyrics convey, since Brad Paisley, Kathy Mattea and Scott also lived in coalmining towns as children. Consequently, they were all exposed to the horrifying reality of the song’s title that authoritatively proclaims that “you’ll never leave Harlan Alive.”
This list certainly does not exhaust the extent of Darrell Scott’s immeasurable songwriting prowess, but it shows his wide range of capabilities as a diverse composer and lyricist. He can do fun, heartbreak, inspirational, political, social commentary, fast, slow, etc. Moreover, he does it all with poignancy and wit, as it is appropriate.