While we’re all fans of country music here, many of us enjoy other styles as well, be it rock, rap, jazz, classical or R&B. Sometimes, the songs from those genres would be perfect fits for country artists. I’m going to match up a few, and I invite you to do the same in the comments.
I’ll start with John Lennon, the guy who is responsible for 80% of the Beatles songs I love and the only one that I enjoy the solo work of, too. I was going to recommend “Working Class Hero”, but Green Day’s cover of that acoustic number revealed a pulsating rock edge underneath it. I don’t know if “Jealous Guy” could be a country hit, but I could imagine Keith Urban knocking it out of the ballpark.
When reviewing Up!, Chris Willman described Twain’s sound as “Abba Gold without all the melancholy.” I’d like to see Twain tackle the divorce epic “The Winner Takes it All”, which is one of the most nakedly vulnerable songs I’ve ever heard in any genre. “I apologize,” the woman left for another sings, “if it makes you feel bad, seeing me so tense, no self-confidence. But you see, the winner takes it all.”
When Elton John performed “Turn the Lights Out When You Leave” on the CMA Awards, it was already a country song. As good as his performance of it is, this one is begging for a revival by Toby Keith, who would give a kiss-off like this better than any other recording artist I can think of.
One of our most popular features is Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists, which has one of our writers describe their twenty-five favorite songs by one of their favorite artists. Sometimes, the title just says it all, doesn’t it?
The feature was conceived by Leeann, and Blake and myself have since contributed entries. I’m currently working on Todd Snider, which should be up in the next day or two. Tonight, I’d like to invite you to share your favorite five or ten songs by your favorite artist. Are they the hits that we already know, or are there some great songs that only fans with complete collections are privy to?
I did a post similar to this last November (“Songs I Hate by Artists I Love”) but readership has grown exponentially since then, and the topic complements yesterday’s perfectly. Since I already hit up the Dixie Chicks, Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, Pam Tillis and Dwight Yoakam back then, I’ll turn my sights on another act that I rarely find fault with: Trisha Yearwood.
There are only two Trisha Yearwood albums that I don’t particularly care for. The first is her debut, Trisha Yearwood, which features four great singles and another track or two that I somewhat enjoy. As a whole, though, it’s a tentative affair, which is understandable, given that it’s a debut album and all.
The other is less excusable. Released at the height of her popularity, Where Your Road Leads was her only album to feature Tony Brown at the helm. I could forgive its pop flavor if it was actually good pop, but never before or since has Yearwood been paired with such forgettable material. For me, the worst offender was one of the hits: “Powerful Thing.”
I’ve never understood the appeal of this song. It’s a few beats too slow, and there’s no discernible melody in the verses, which are sung like they’re supposed to rhyme, even though they don’t. Then there’s the chorus, with its repeated declarations of “it’s a powerful thing”, a maddeningly vague description that the rest of the lyrics fail to illuminate. It’s radio-friendly pap that’s beneath the singer trying to sell it, the worst offender on the album that is thankfully both Yearwood’s first and last blatant attempt at making a commercial record.
What are some songs you don’t like by artists you do?
There really aren’t that many country artists that I don’t like. Most of them that I don’t enjoy much, like Montgomery Gentry or Brad Paisley, I am usually indifferent to, liking a song every once in a while.
So for this thread, suggested by Leeann, it was tricky for me to come up with an answer to the question: What are some songs you like by an artist you don’t? Since my site is often accused of being anti-Rascal Flatts, and they are an act that I definitely dislike, I’ll go with them.
I like “Bless the Broken Road”, though I prefer Marcus Hummon’s original recording. I think “What Hurts the Most” is a great country-pop song, and that they do it better than Mark Wills did. I like the chorus of “These Days.”
But I absolutely love “I’m Movin’ On”, a single from their debut album. It’s a flawless song, and Gary LeVox’s restrained vocal allows the lyric to shine through. It’s actually one of my favorite songs of the decade.
What are some songs you like by an artist you don’t?
Last week’s Recommend a Track got this series off to a great start. In fact, some readers already flagged songs I was planning on featuring in future weeks: Sugarland, “Stand Back Up” (Lanibug); Tim McGraw, “Why We Said Goodbye” (Aeroyacine); and Faith Hill, “Stronger” (Stephanie). Longtime reader Roger Newcomb shared the Bobbie Cryner masterpiece “Girl of Your Dreams”, which led to others confessing their affection for that phenomenal singer-songwriter.
Joseph really got me because I was going to write about Sara Evans’ “Rocking Horse” this week. Darn!
Instead, I’m starting things off with a track from Nickel Creek’s Why Should the Fire Die? – “Helena.”
That particular Creek album has a bitter edge throughout, at least on what I consider the best tracks. I tend to like the band best when it’s Chris Thile in front, especially since he started singing with rough intensity on this project.
“Helena” is a tour de force. I can’t fully describe the premise, but in short, Helena is the girl who he’s been dating while waiting for the girl he truly loves to give him “any reason to leave.” The song starts out soft and sweet, as he seems to be sincerely concerned for Helena, but a viciousness begins to seep in. The production builds as well, into a thunderous climax as he spews, “Go ahead and tell her anything you want. ‘Cause Helena, guys like me never sleep alone at night. ”
It’s one of those songs I can’t listen to just once.
What’s your recommendation this week? What overlooked album track deserves our attention?
In a previous Open Discussion thread, Kevin asked us to share our Country Convert song. On that thread, a comment by Jim Malec made me think of my very first album purchase.
While my parents started buying me country albums for birthdays and Christmases as soon as they knew that country music was a passion of mine, the first country album that I purchased with my own money was Vince Gill’s I Still Believe in You. At the time that I started listening to country radio, Vince’s “Tryin’ To Get Over You” was moving up the charts. I really liked that song and I especially liked his voice, but that’s not what got me to become a lifelong fan.
In my introductory piece, I mentioned that I had undergone several eye operations in a three month period that made me feel quite sick. Country music was the only thing that could take my mind off of the physical and emotional stress of that challenging time. Meanwhile, my parents insisted that the entire family had to go on a camping trip.
Camping was the last thing I wanted to do, mainly because I wouldn’t be able to have my lifeline of country music for a week. Fortunately though, unlike me, a nearby camper was granted the luxury of a boom box and he or she repeatedly played his I Still Believe in You album throughout the week. So, I was able to strain to hear it each time it was played, which really made that trip bearable for me. When we finally returned back to civilization, I bought the cassette tape of that album the first chance I got.
So, while I don’t expect your answers to be quite as trite or revealing as mine, I ask:
What is the first country album you purchased with your own money and why?
Where to begin with this category? The CMA has been working double-time to strip itself of all things distinctive. After moving the Musician award to pre-telecast and bumping the Hall of Fame inductions completely, they have now renamed the Horizon Award the “New Artist Award”, a generic title already used by the more prestigious Grammys and on three ACM trophies every year.
Further complicating matters is a new artist scene that is full of many acts with a hit or two to their credit, but few breakaway stars. Assuming the same rules apply, artists can’t be nominated more than twice. This means that Little Big Town and Miranda Lambert are out of the running.
Quite honestly, it’s slim pickin’s for me in this category, but I’ll try to make the case for five worthy nominees.
One of the few rising stars with two solid and successful albums under his belt. He was nominated in 2007 but overlooked in 2006, meaning he’s eligible for one more shot. He deserves it.
He’s connecting with the lead single from his second set, and the talent there is undeniable. I’d like to see him garner his first CMA nod in this category.
Even though his most recent single has struggled, the four #1 hits that preceded it and the platinum-plus sales of the set they’re culled from has earned him another shot at this award.
Also known as: Little Big Town 2.0. Catchy first single, good harmonies, no obvious autotuning going on. They’re pretty good.
A solid hitmaker who hasn’t been matching his airplay record with sales. The exposure of the nomination would be beneficial in helping more fans match the name with the face. Quite frankly, a guy who can sing both “Tough” and “International Harvester” convincingly is a keeper.
At lunch today, a friend of mine mentioned that she doesn’t care for Fleetwood Mac, but loves the way the Dixie Chicks do “Landslide.” “Better than the original,” she said.
To which I thought, “Yes! I don’t have to come up with my own open thread discussion tonight!” (Seriously folks, start suggesting some in the comments. Please.)
There is one cover that I think absolutely decimates the original, even though it’s pretty darn good on its own. Dolly Parton’s “The Grass is Blue” isn’t just the title track of her bluegrass set. It’s the high point.
But Norah Jones’ cover of it is far better. She turns it into a haunting piano ballad, and it works better in her jazzy style. I love when she covers country songs. She’s done fantastic versions of “Wurlitzer Prize”, “Cold, Cold Heart” and “For the Good Times”, too.
What covers do you think are better than the original recordings?
The invaluable ggcolumn pointed me to a fascinating interview with Wynonna that ran in The Capitol Times, a newspaper out of Madison, Wisconsin. She’s one of those rare icons who is compelling whether they’re speaking or singing. This particular quote from the interview has been lingering in my mind since I read it:
I don’t know how old you are, but when you’re that young, you’re God. You think you’re in control of everything. You think it’s “I” and then somewhere between 35 to 40, you realize it’s “we.” At that age, you could have all the wisdom in the world, but the brain is only capable of so much at that age. I traded in my youth card for my wisdom and experience card. (Pause.) It would be nice to have both, but I don’t think that’s realistic.
I wholeheartedly agree with her. My early twenties seem like a lifetime ago, which always reminds me of the line “I still remember when thirty was old” from “Strawberry Wine.” Now, thirty is next June.
Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines once spoke of how she always loved the song “Landslide” but never understood it until she was 27. When she shared that with songwriter Steve Nicks, she learned that’s how old Stevie was when she wrote it.
In an era where music by and for teens is thriving everywhere, even on the country chart, I find myself seeking out music informed by the wisdom and experience Wynonna spoke of. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “The Moon and St. Christopher” and Todd Snider’s “Age Like Wine” are two in that vein that I always come back to, as are Willie Nelson’s “Yesterday’s Wine” and more recently, Sugarland’s “Very Last Country Song.”
What are your favorite songs about time and the many changes it brings?
Earlier today, a new feature was introduced at Country Universe. Songwriter Series will take an in-depth look at the tunesmiths that craft so much of the music that we love to listen to. While some of our best songwriters are also established and successful recording artists, most of them stay behind the scenes, and their work becomes famous when married with a singing voice other than their own.
Leeann wrote an excellent piece about Darrell Scott today, who has penned big hits for Sara Evans, Dixie Chicks and Travis Tritt, among others. There are so many other great writers out there. Who do you think is the best writer right now in country music? Are there any writers that you'd like to see featured here?