Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous Musings’ Category

Disappointment

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

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.)

Sigh.

Maria McKee original:

Dixie Chicks version:

Unanswered Prayer

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Dear Sugarland and Little Big Town,

Please stop covering “Like a Prayer.”

Sincerely,
Country Universe

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

International Women’s Day

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

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?

Blake Shelton, Superstar?

Monday, March 7th, 2011

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.

Inspiration

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

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?

The Civil Wars

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

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.”

Identity Crisis

Monday, January 31st, 2011

I became a country fan twenty years ago, and have been fully immersed in the genre for about as long.  I’ve read up on the history, heard pretty much every significant artist and recording, and can speak knowledgeably about the genre’s highs and lows over the past few decades.

We’ve never been this low.  I think I finally understand why that is.

Jonathan Keefe from Slant wrote this in his review of the JaneDear Girls album, and it really hit home with me:

…the JaneDear Girls use a couple of catchy melodies and garish costumes to mask the fact that they can’t sing even a little bit, and, if they could, wouldn’t have a single authentic thing to say. In other words, they’re exactly what country music, in the throes of a pretty severe identity crisis, doesn’t need right now: its own Katy Perry.

This is the paradox that’s increasingly devouring country music.  Artists are singing more than ever about how country they are, yet they’re doing it with songs that sound less country than ever.

Perhaps all of these “loud and proud” country identity songs are a reflection of the country lifestyle being fully swallowed up by suburbia, and “country” is now more of a chosen lifestyle than it is something homegrown.  But “country music”  has almost completely shifted to “music about being country.”  You don’t have to sound country, you just have to revel in being country.

Country music cannot retain its identity this way.  As a radio format, it isn’t going anywhere. As the larger player on the field, it’s managed to absorb a good chunk of what we used to call Adult Top 40, picking up a few of their core artists along the way.

But as a relevant genre of its own? That can’t continue if the vast majority of the new  mainstream artists have little connection to what came before them.  Superstars are hard enough to come by as it is, and when you think about the ones who have emerged from country music in recent years – Sugarland, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum – their tenuous links to country music as a distinct art form are virtually nonexistent.

Ten years ago, Carrie Underwood would’ve been grouped as a pop-country diva.  These days, she’s the only recent superstar that even seems to care that her music sounds identifiably country.  And while there is no shortage of alternative country acts who are connected to the genre’s roots, their very existence on the outskirts of the mainstream prevent them from having a meaningful enough impact to carry on country music’s rich legacy.

Without a new generation of country stars breaking through enough to really captivate the interest of the public, I see no way for country music to continue as a viable art form and culturally relevant presence in contemporary music.

We’re in trouble, folks.

The Funniest Country Music Videos?

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Donna Hughes over at The Boot has done a rundown of what she considers the ten funniest country music videos of all-time.

It’s an interesting list. I think the Luke Bryan clip is funny, but so many of her choices rely on stunt casting.  I think she left off a few great ones.

Here are a few of my favorites that didn’t make the list:

Alan Jackson, “That’d Be Alright”

The fourth wall is completely disregarded here, in a meta send-up of country music videos as an art form that even pokes fun at Jackson’s own CMA nomination for Music Video.

Junior Brown, “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead”

This actually won the CMA award for Music Video in 1996.

Shania Twain, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

So many people missed the humor in Twain’s work. This gender role reversal video is brilliant, managing to satirize the blatant sexism in the classic Robert Palmer clip while also paying tongue-in-cheek homage to it.

Matraca Berg & Friends, “Back in the Saddle”

There’s more talent in the back of that paddy wagon than country radio has seen in more than a decade.

Thompson Brothers Band, “Back on the Farm”

Because there aren’t enough talking animals in country music videos.

What are your favorite funny country videos?

Where’ve You Been? – 2011 Edition

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

It’s hard to believe that there once was a time that country artists put out two full-length albums a year.  If they were part of a regular superstar duet team, like Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn or Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, a fan might hear as many as four new studio albums from their favorite artist.

By the time that I got into country music – twenty years ago, natch – things had slowed down a bit.  Artists usually released a new album every 12-18 months.  Sometimes they’d push it to two years, but not often.

Those were the days.  Waits between album releases have gotten crazy lately.  I’m all for taking the time to get it right, but once we push past the half-decade mark, things have gone too far.  Sure, we’re given side projects to carry us over, but there’s no substitute for a full-length studio album of all-new material.

Here are five artists who I’d really love to see make a long-awaited return with a new album in 2011, along with a brief rundown of the side projects that they’ve been busy with while we’ve waited for that new album:

Shania Twain

Last Studio Album: Up! (2002)

Side Projects: Greatest Hits (2005), featuring four new tracks; contributions to a Dolly Parton tribute album, a live Willie Nelson album, an Anne Murray duet album, and the Desperate Housewives soundtrack.

It’s been over eight years since Twain released that 19-track opus. It was cool that she released the album in three different mixes, essentially giving us 57 new mp3s for the iPods we didn’t even have yet. Of all the superstar acts, she’s the one who has been away the longest.

Wynonna

Last Studio Album: What the World Needs (2003)

Side Projects: Live album, Christmas album, covers album, Cracker Barrel album…

In a sense, she’s never really gone away. But despite being a fixture in the media and releasing so many other-type albums, we haven’t gotten a real studio set from Wynonna in over seven years. Given that the last one was among the finest in her career, it’s a shame she has yet to craft another mainstream country album.

Dwight Yoakam

Last Studio Album: Blame the Vain (2005)

Side Projects: A Buck Owens tribute album in 2007, Dwight Sings Buck.

The most distressing absence on the list, mostly because he’s been so prolific in the past. Movie appearances are keeping him busy. Here’s hoping that when he does return, we get more than ten songs.

Dixie Chicks

Last Studio Album: Taking the Long Way (2006)

Side Projects: “The Neighbor”, from the Shut Up & Sing documentary; contributions to a Tony Bennett duet project; Emily and Martie’s Court Yard Hounds set; Natalie’s duet with Neil Diamond.

It’s hard to follow up an album that wins a bunch of Grammys, but it’s not like they haven’t done so before. If they’re insisting on writing all of the next album, it could be gestating for a very long time. Can’t we get a Patty Griffin or Darrell Scott covers album to hold us over?

Vince Gill

Last Studio Album: These Days (2006)

Side Projects: A mother lode of duet and harmony appearances on other artist’s albums (Reba McEntire, Charlie Daniels, Amy Grant, Clay Aiken…)

Gill’s last album was a four discs worth of new material, so it’s understandable that it would take a couple of years for him to craft a new one. But we’re going on five now. Since Gill was able to create those four discs a mere three years after his previous studio set (2003′s Next Big Thing), we should be due for a new album soon.

2011 Singles: A Wish List

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

The bulk of our work at Country Universe this month has been catching up on singles currently at radio.  Collectively, they’ve been abysmal, with review grades rarely reaching a B, let alone an A.

How can we turn this around? Here are five songs that I’d love to see sent to radio tomorrow.  Share your own in the comments!

Zac Brown Band, “Let it Go”

A dizzying dose of positivity, with a few great musical twists to boot.  The Serenity Prayer never sounded so good.

Court Yard Hounds, “Ain’t No Son”

The only truly country song on their album. The only truly great song on their album.

Toby Keith, “In a Couple of Days”

It’s easy to take Keith for granted, so consistent are his vocals and song structures.  Usually, its his lyrics that trip him up. It’s his heartbroke ballads, like this gem, that showcase his talent best.

Reba McEntire, “The Day She Got Divorced”

Country singers used to sing about people like this all the time.  Flawed anti-heroines like this don’t come along too often anymore.

Carrie Underwood, “Change”

I suspect those with more refined tastes than mine are clamoring for “Someday When I Stop Loving You”, an admittedly beautiful ballad, but this is the track I’m returning to the most from Play On. I think it captures the nagging cynicism that prevents many of us from fully embracing our inner benevolence.


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