Category Archives: Miscellaneous Musings

Four Ways that 9/11 Changed Country Music

The terrorist attacks on American soil ten years ago changed the course of our nation’s history in far more significant ways than just its impact on country music.

But the fact is that country music was changed as well.  Here are the four biggest ways that it did, for better and for worse.

1. Alan Jackson Becomes a Legend

He was still getting solid radio airplay and record sales in 2001, but it seemed like his glory days were behind him. Then, he stepped on to the CMA Awards stage and debuted “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” to a stunned industry crowd on national television.

It was the perfect song by the perfect artist at the perfect time, and it launched an amazing return to the head of the pack.  The commercial success was great, but it’s worth noting that “Where Were You” served notice that he was undergoing an artistic renaissance as well.   The big hits that followed – “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, “It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere,” and “Remember When” – were the best of his career.  Heck, of anybody’s career.

2. Toby Keith Becomes a Superstar

On the same night that Jackson performed his instant classic, Toby Keith just sang his latest hit, the novelty number “I Wanna Talk About Me.”  But the following spring, he came out with the next quintessential post-9/11 anthem, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”

While it didn’t lead to nearly the same level of artistic growth that Jackson experienced, it did launch Keith into the rarefied air of country superstardom.  For most of the next decade, he’d be an instant add at radio.  And if some of those hits made us wince, it was still great to see the finest male vocalist of his generation get his due.   For those of us who thought that he was robbed at radio and industry award shows in the nineties, it was rewarding to see him have his day.

3. The Politicization of Country Music

National unity began to fade in the run up to our invasion of Iraq, and country radio picked a side, much to the detriment of the format.  The shamelessly jingoistic “Have You Forgotten?” became a seven week #1 for Darryl Worley, while a criticism of President Bush wiped the Dixie Chicks off of the radio dial.

The upshot?  Country radio sent the message that if you weren’t on board with the Bush Administration, you better keep your mouth shut.   Then again, with Worley’s career fading soon after “Have You Forgotten?”, opening it was no guarantee for long-term success, either.

4. Female Domination of the Genre Evaporates

This was the worst of it.   Country record sales exploded in 2002, and the industry credited it to traditionalists Jackson and Keith.   Radio drew the conclusion that  listeners didn’t want any more pop-flavored country, despite the fact that two of the biggest selling albums of the year were by Shania Twain and Faith Hill.

Both ladies struggled at radio with their top-selling projects, and the careers of Lee Ann Womack and SHeDaisy nearly ended.   Even ten years later, with the top-selling artists being Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, most female artists are still struggling to get radio play.




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Someone Like You

I didn’t expect much.

I’ve had the Adele album for a good bit now, and “Someone Like You” is my favorite track on it.  I’d already heard how the song shot to #1 in the U.K. after she performed it on the Brit Awards.

I checked out that performance, and thought it was good. Not great, but good.

So when I heard all the buzz about her performance of the song on Sunday’s MTV Awards, I didn’t rush to check it out, and ended up just watching it last night out of boredom.

I can’t tell if it’s because she was a bit hoarse, or if she was trying to hold back her tears. Either way, it was so stunningly powerful that I was even a bit shaken up by the whole thing.

I know that there’s going to be the inevitable claims of authenticity and real talent and such, which makes sense given the pop landscape that she’s performing in.  But honestly, it’s been a really long time since anything has happened on a country music stage that’s even come close to what Adele pulled off that night.

It reminded me of Reba McEntire’s performance of “For My Broken Heart” on the 1991 CMA Awards.  She’s a seasoned pro who rarely misses a note, but she tears up so much in the final chorus that she can’t get the notes out, and imperfection that makes the performance timelessly perfect:


I can’t find the clip online, but it also reminded me of Vince Gill singing “The Key to Life” on the 1998 show, also breaking down in the final few lines of the song.  I miss moments like this in country music.

No wonder I’m so awfully disinterested in country this year.  Besides the usual mainstream drivel, I’ve also been disappointed by new albums from usually reliable folks like Dolly Parton, Todd Snider, Alison Krauss & Union Station, and even Emmylou Harris.   I’ve taken to pretending that The Civil Wars are somehow country so that I don’t write the genre off completely this year.

The only thing I’ve really loved so far?  Matraca Berg’s The Dreaming Fields.  It’s got that same rawness that must be speaking to me for some reason these days.  There’s no chance of Berg making it back on the radio in 2011, but with all the shameless format-hopping that’s been allowed by country programmers in recent years, maybe we can get them to give a few spins to Adele.


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In Praise of The 9513

On behalf of the entire staff of Country Universe, I must express our sadness that The 9513, the internet’s premier country music blog, is being retired.

I remember when Brady and Brody Vercher first launched their website, and I watched in awe as it completely redefined the landscape for what a country music blog could be.

The caliber of writing, the breadth of music covered, and the overall excellence in content didn’t just raise the bar for online country music journalism.  It created a rising tide that elevated all of us, partly because they made us work harder, but mostly because they always used their larger platform to shine the spotlight on lesser-known blogs like this one.

They discovered so many incredible writing talents that it’s impossible to list them all, but I’ll especially miss reading the musings of Juli Thanki and Karlie Justus, the insights of Chris Neal, the wry commentary of C.M. Wilcox, and the irreplaceable historical writings of Paul W. Dennis. I know that their talent will remain and resurface in other places, but I truly doubt that there will ever be another place like The 9513, where so much talent resided in one place, under the brilliant leadership of the brothers Vercher.


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Toxic People

This post, originally written on September 19, 2005, seems to have disappeared from the Country Universe archives when we switched over to self-hosting. I’m reposting it today for the sake of posterity.

I’m starting to wonder if the people I like and can get along with all fall into one category and the people I can’t stand to be around or have a conversation with fall into another. The categories?

1 – You believe that you have a moral obligation to other people, and live your life accordingly.
2 – You look out for yourself primarily, and what you feel is best for you informs any obligation you feel to other people.

I’m sure I’m oversimplifying this, but as I’ve cemented my foothold into adulthood, I find I can’t stomach selfishness anymore. I can’t have a calm conversation with somebody who reveals a complete lack of concern for other people in the process. I can’t stand people who voice opinions without having enough information, or basing beliefs on incorrect information. Yes, I do believe that if you’re a member of a society, you have a moral obligation to be an informed one; indifference to ignorance can cause a tremendous amount of damage.

I thought for a long time that being a good person meant you have to be as nice as possible and as patient as possible with everybody you meet. I thought that being a good friend meant overlooking faults and allowing yourself to be the one with hurt feelings so you don’t hurt anybody else. I thought that being outwardly sensitive meant not being inwardly sensitive.

I forgot the lesson my greatest teacher taught me: “Avoid toxic people.” If someone is affecting your mental well-being, cut them off. It’s a nice lesson. But I’ve adjusted it. For me these days, it’s “Confront toxic people.” Stand up for the truth. If somebody is revealing a complete lack of humanity and/or knowledge, call them on it. They are a poison to society.

Toxic people will single out what makes you special and try to convince you it makes you inferior. Toxic people will take more than they ever give, but when they do give, they’ll make you feel guilty about it. Toxic people will do their best to invoke pity, the most pathetic and selfish emotion there is to invite. Toxic people won’t kill you, but they will drain your love of life.

I’m all for compassion and sensitivity. But if it comes at the expense of your own well-being, you’re being used and exploited.

Yes, this is geared toward some people close to me who are dealing with people like this right now in their lives. You deserve better. Walk away, or confront, but don’t endure those people any longer. You’ll be much happier in the end.


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Dierks Bentley’s new single, “Am I the Only One”, is not a cover of “Am I the Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way.)


Maria McKee original:


Dixie Chicks version:



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Unanswered Prayer

Dear Sugarland and Little Big Town,

Please stop covering “Like a Prayer.”

Country Universe

CC: Tori Amos, Rufio, and the Cast of Glee.



Filed under Dear Country Music, Miscellaneous Musings

International Women’s Day

Today is the 100th Annual International Women’s Day.

I have mixed feelings about days like this. I understand why they’re necessary, but I can’t help but wonder what today being international women’s day makes the other 364 days of the year.  A little more than half the population should be due at least 183 days.

But I can’t pass up a day to celebrate female country artists, so in the spirit of the day, how about some recognition for women who don’t get a lot of praise?

I’ll go with Mandy Barnett.  What a set of pipes. Here’s her debut single, which still sounds fresh fifteen years after its release:


What female artist do you think deserves recognition?


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Blake Shelton, Superstar?

He’s a good singer. He’s put out a few good songs here and there. I’m partial to “Goodbye Time” myself.

But is he really this good?

Country singer Blake Shelton has been cast as the final judge/coach on Mark Burnett’s upcoming singing competition series. Shelton joins Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, and Adam Levine on the panel.

“We couldn’t have a panel that represented the hottest American music without a strong country presence, and Blake is at the top of his game right now,” said NBC’s reality chief Paul Telegdy. “Not only is he incredibly charismatic, but his passion for collaborating with and bringing the best out of other talented artists makes him the perfect choice to round out this ‘Dream Team’ of musician coaches.”

I don’t want to overstate the significance of being on this panel, because the show might not even be successful.  But isn’t it a bit odd that  our reigning Male Vocalist – “at the top of his game”, no less – hasn’t put out a new studio album in three years?  That after four gold albums, the last one didn’t even reach that sales height, which isn’t terribly lofty? That even his budget EP’s aren’t selling that hot, despite featuring #1 radio hits?

He’s a charming guy, and as I said before, a good singer. It’s hard not to wish him to be a big success. But he isn’t one yet, and they really seem to be forcing the issue here, making him out to be a bigger star than he really is.  I don’t get it.


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Inspired by Leeann Ward.

Sometimes it’s hard to write about country music.

Outside life intrudes, and the music that used to offer you sanctuary now greets you with mind-numbing banality.

But if there’s something true about all long-term country music fans, it’s probably that the music has uniquely inspired us, moved us in a way that other genres had failed to do.

The country music that I grew up with is the gift that keeps on giving. Twenty years later, songs that I know by heart but never had a personal connection to will suddenly become the story of my life.   I’m certain that the same is true for other country music fans.

The song that’s hitting home for me right now is “Little Hercules” by Trisha Yearwood.  Sometimes the burden we put on ourselves is greater than that which is put upon us by others. This song helps me keep things in perspective.


What country song is inspiring you these days, even if it isn’t a current day release?


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The Civil Wars

In August 2009, I wrote about The Civil Wars, an unsigned country-folk duo that I discovered through a friend.

Um, they have the #12 album in the country this week.

Maybe 2011 won’t be so bad after all.

Let’s celebrate with a little “Poison & Wine.”



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