Saturday, November 1st, 2008
You have the floor. Chat away.
Saturday, November 1st, 2008
You have the floor. Chat away.
Sunday, September 28th, 2008
Back in early August, Kevin posed the following question to readers:
What features would you like to see more of at Country Universe? Are there things we could be doing better? How can we make this a better site?
The post netted a good number of responses, all of which were taken into serious account, and many of which ended up playing out shortly after. Country Universe has seen a lot of expansion over the two months since the time of that post; in addition to three additional writers (Blake, Lynn, and myself), we’ve tried out a number of new or previously infrequent features, including, though not necessarily limited to:
Now that your memory is jogged, consider this post an opportunity to comment on your current feelings about the site. If you think we’re delivering too much of one thing, need to deliver more of another thing, should do something differently, should do something new entirely, what-have-you, we want to hear it. You can even be positive! (Wow!)
The only stipulation is to stay classy with your remarks. Any and all constructive criticism is 100% encouraged and desirable here; just realize that we work hard on everything you see and do have (some) feelings. But this site is ultimately about serving country music fans (namely, you), and what you tell us has a lot of bearing on what we do. So if you’ve got a concern, don’t hold back!
P.S. Before anyone mentions it, a handful of Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists entries are on the way!
Wednesday, September 24th, 2008
I couldn’t help but smile when I saw this entry by CMT Blogger Alison Bonaguro. Apparently, an unlucky Washington Post reporter attended Sunday in the Country at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, only to become an unwitting obstacle to a poor young man looking for a place to…um, un-drink his good helping of beer (he finally settled on the side of the Roasted Almonds stand – so at least he got to enjoy the pleasant aroma of baking cinnamon while he was keeled over).
Having spent a full summer working in the box office of that very venue and dealing with my own fair share of well-meaning alcohol consumers (which is to say, O.A.R. fans), the concert review brought a number of fun memories rushing back to me. Live music is a weird beast that varies in nature from artist to artist and venue to venue, not to mention seat to seat. Sometimes, as with Sunday in the Country, the music is almost just an excuse to gather with close friends and have a grand ol’ time. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
But personally, my favorite in-concert moments have always taken place in smaller venues where the attention has been squarely on appreciating the music and the artists delivering it. To date, the best concert I’ve been to was Nickel Creek’s penultimate performance at the Ryman Auditorium, which fell at the end of last year’s Farewell for Now tour. For all its historic grandeur, the Ryman is beautifully intimate, and even from the balcony I had no trouble making out every one of Chris Thile’s kooky little gestures. The music was uniformly stellar that night, with seemingly no one but smitten fans in the audience, and the band was effortlessly funny in between songs, recalling the very best of Alison Krauss’ awkwardaries and then some.
I’ll never forget those magical few seconds right before the band launched into a certain cover, the likes of which I don’t think anyone thought they’d pull out on as reverent an occasion as one of their final shows. Thile looked out into the audience and murmured, “you guys are great. Seriously, all of you, we love what you do……but you know” – he suddenly started moaning melodramatically – “you know that you’re toxic!”
Cue Britney Spears song. It completely killed whatever decorum remained in the event, and that was what so fantastic about it: it was Nickel Creek leaving on Nickel Creek’s terms. And what terms they were:
Now, your turn. What is your favorite in-concert moment you’ve experienced, musical or otherwise?
Wednesday, September 17th, 2008
For real this time. Not a leading question in sight.
What’s on your mind?
Monday, September 15th, 2008
But admit it: you’ve got a favorite kid. There’s a new or emerging artist out there right now who really piques your interest, who brings something just a little extra-special to the table.
If you ask me, the pool of rising country music talent hasn’t been this solid in years. Now, I personally don’t think that most of the artists who fall under that “rising” classification seem to be making great music right out of the gate – see Blake’s excellent Darius Rucker review for a recent example – but the potential present in some of these acts is pretty exciting, no?
And potential is what we’re rewarding here. For my money, no act out there has got more of it (artistically speaking) than Joey & Rory, the husband-and-wife duo who rose to reality-T.V. semi-stardom on CMT’s Can You Duet (which I never watched) before signing with Sugar Hill. They’ve only released one single so far – the frisky “Cheater, Cheater” – but there’s some clear songwriting talent here, plus a unique sound and an endearing back story. And they just seem so darn real. Like the sort of people I might meet standing in line somewhere or sitting on the subway. Seriously, check out their (admittedly cheesy) submission video to Can You Duet and try telling me you’re not sort of in love with them, too:
Now, your turn. Who is your favorite rising country music act, and why? It can be someone completely new or someone who’s sort of making a belated commercial splash (à la James Otto), and don’t be afraid to get all Americana/Texas/fringey/independent on us if you want. If their profile is on the incline, they’re good. And…go!
Sunday, September 14th, 2008
I was a little taken aback by the language used by Toby Keith onstage this past Thursday, which was the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I’m not going to quote his blue language, but you can read it for yourself here. What i found most interesting was the description of his audience:
Keith has never been shy in front of a microphone, but he was in rare form throughout the outdoor show, dropping numerous expletives in his lyrics and within his off-the-cuff remarks. A surprising number of kids in the audience were hanging onto every word.
My question is – How do you feel about the increasing use of profanity by country artists, both on record and on stage? Since we’re a genre that is supposed to cater to adults, does that make the issue moot? Or is it unprofessional and/or inappropriate to have country artists using vulgarity in public?
Tuesday, September 9th, 2008
Music videos can be quite powerful. The very best intensify the song’s message or reveal new ways to interpret it.
Then there are those videos that absolutely ruin the song. They’re so bad that you can’t even listen to it on the radio because it’s been so sullied by its video clip.
The worst offender of this? Travis Tritt. “Tell Me I Was Dreaming.”
Tritt tried to recreate the magic of his “Anymore” clip, which found him in a veteran’s home, dodging the phone calls of his Annie. See, he’s convinced himself that she won’t love him now that he’s in a wheelchair. Anyway, his buddy Sam gets him to take the call, and the clip ends in an embrace, with Tritt saying, “I want to go home, Annie.” She cries. Fade to black. A little cheesy, but not too bad.
Oh, but the sequel is such a disaster. Let me walk you through it. Tritt’s character Mac and his friend Sam have opened up a boat repair company. Annie’s pregnant. Mac throws her a wet sponge from the dock as she’s trying to get out of the boat. She slips. Bangs her head. Falls into the water. Mac can’t help her because he’s in a wheelchair. Sam has a limp so he gets in the water too late. Annie dies. Baby lives. Doctor inexplicably tells Mac and Sam the good news first.
Meanwhile, Tritt wails in between the footage, looking like someone used a steel-tipped boot to make sure he never has children again.
Can you top it?
Monday, September 8th, 2008
I was going to be conventional and just pick O Brother Where Art Thou, since it is the most significant movie soundtrack in country music history. But it would be a bald-faced lie to call it my favorite soundtrack, as it’s a distant second.
My favorite soundtrack accompanies a pretty crummy movie, but the music is classic. Xanadu features ten fantastic songs. The star of the film, Olivia Newton-John, dominates the first half, which was once “Side A.” Every one of her tracks is a keeper, including the #1 hit “Magic”; her best ballad ever, “Suspended in Time”, and satisfying collaborations with Gene Kelly (“Whenever You’re Away From Me’), Cliff Richard (“Suddenly”) and The Tubes (“Dancin’.”)
“Side B” features Electric Light Orchestra, and in addition to the top twenty hits “I’m Alive” and “All Over the World” are two songs that are even better: “The Fall” and the beautiful ballad “Don’t Walk Away.” Jeff Lynne is a great singer, but it’s their signature ELO musical style that make the tracks so satisfying. The set closes with the title track, bringing the headlining talents together. “Xanadu” was a #1 single in England and a top ten here in the states.
I always knew the soundtrack was fantastic, but seeing the show on Broadway brought home how solid a score it really is. Actually, some of the songs sounded better on stage, and I am one of those rare New York City creatures who cannot stand going to Broadway shows. I only checked it out because I loved the music and Whoopi Goldberg was starring in it for a limited time. It was worth every penny.
So that’s my favorite movie soundtrack, and since Olivia Newton-John is a former CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, I think I can get away with giving it a shout-out. The video below, featuring a medley of every song on it, will either prove to you that I’m right or that I’m crazy.
What’s your favorite soundtrack?
Sunday, September 7th, 2008
No, no. We’re not talking about your standard “love songs” here. Sure, country music is filled with some of the finest odes to romantic love this side of Solomon 8:6. But once in a good while, it gets more…specific. You know? A little less distant in focus, a little more…intimate.
Of course, the best songs (and Country Universe discussion posts) usually don’t come right out and say what they’re about. They let the lyrics paint a suggestive picture, and leave it to the listener to figure out what’s going on. In the best records, that picture is also conveyed through an equally expressive vocal performance.
The model example of this sort of song would have to be Charlie Rich’s 1973 classic “Behind Closed Doors.” Over a gently swaying melody that steadily climbs into a joyous celebration of activities unseen, Rich coos and croons with the sort of swagger that could make a Sunday School song sound vaguely dirty.
Of course, sometimes it’s prudent to just come right out and say what’s on your mind. To my way of thinking, that approach is nowhere better exemplified than in Alison Krauss & Union Station’s take on the Robert Lee Castleman tune, “Let Me Touch You For Awhile.” Even in that record, though, the bulk of the sensuality lies in the tense situation implied in the lyrics and in Krauss’ Siren-esque vocal, rather than in an explicit run-down of the business at hand (or, to the singer’s chagrin, not at hand).
And then sometimes, a song is just alluring because it’s sung in an alluring way, without a whole lot of mention of any particular activity. Trisha Yearwood’s silky-smooth touch on “Cowboys Are My Weakness” is one of my favorite recent examples of that phenomenon:
But of course, just as everyone likes their eggs a different way, everyone has their preferred “romantic” stylings. The question is, friends, which country songs do you find the most “romantic”?
(And keep it clean!)