It’s been a good long while since I’ve shamelessly plugged a favorite song, and far too long since all of you have made me break the bank to purchase your recommendations.
We’ve taken some heat for being a little hard on mainstream country lately, so I’m recommending a track tonight from one of today’s brightest stars: Keith Urban. Now, many of Keith’s best songs have already been radio hits, but he dug deep earlier this decade on his first multi-platinum album Golden Road with the closing track, “You’re Not My God.”
In the first verse, he confronts the addiction of money (“a little sure felt good, but a lot was not enough.”) In the second, he confronts his addiction and subsequent triumph over his cocaine addiction (“You almost had me six feet down, but I’m still breathing air.”)
It’s an unconventional religious song, to be sure, but he’s rejecting the false idols that the material world brings in favor of “the one that I will walk with in the end.” The blistering guitar work that follows sounds like a cathartic release of all of his demons in one fell swoop.
I was inspired to recommend Shania Twain’s “What a Way to Wanna Be!” after seeing this new Dove commercial:
The track comes from her excellent fourth album Up!, which was released in three different mixes. Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Willman wrote my favorite line to ever appear in an album review when he described the set as “Abba Gold without all the melancholy.”
But that isn’t to say the album doesn’t deal with some substantive issues, despite Twain’s trademark optimism remaining dominant. She deconstructs the desire in women to be physically perfect and challenges them to reject the pressure that society places upon them to meet impossible standards of beauty.
She sings, “We like to buy, we like to spend, to keep up with the latest trends. But we don’t get no satisfaction living like a slave to fashion. No more thinking for yourself. Just get it off a shelf. Why be perfect? It’s not worth it.”
While Twain has criticized in the early stages of her success for using sex appeal to sell her music, such criticisms always missed the obvious fact that the message of her music was specifically tailored to female audiences. It’s been a consistent measure throughout: You’re worthy of respect for who you are. Hold out for the man who treats you that way, then give your full commitment to him.
She wrote “What a Way to Wanna Be!” when she was having trouble losing weight after her pregnancy, and her willingness to share her own inner monologue is a good message to send to her listeners who deal with the same struggles, living in a world where the ideal is memorably captured with the line, “Bigger is the best, but only in the chest.”
What song with an empowering message do you recommend?
Note: “What a Way to Wanna Be!” is available in both country and pop mixes. My preferences vary from track to track, but for this particular song, I think the pop mix is stronger.
I’ve written before about my fondness for Iris Dement, and was planning to discuss her song, “No Time To Cry.” But rather than discuss my personal connection again, I thought it would be more interesting to explore how the song has shifted as it’s been covered by other artists.
One would think that such a personal song would be difficult to cover. Dement’s original recording is nakedly confessional. But the death of a parent and the difficulties that follow are universal experiences, so much so that it is two male artists who have since made the song their own.
Merle Haggard was an early champion of Iris Dement. Back in the mid-nineties, there was a major label tribute album to Merle called Mama’s Hungry Eyes, but when Hag was asked his favorite cut, he chose one off of a lesser-known independent label tribute album called Tulare Dust. His pick was Dement’s reading of his classic hit, “Big City.”
Haggard then recorded “No Time to Cry” for his 1996 album. His reading of the song is weathered and resigned. Whereas Dement sounds like she’s choking back tears that she has no time to let flow, Haggard sounds like the hard act of living has long dried up all of his tears. He’s not indifferent – the grief is still palpable - but he sounds nostalgic for when tears could help relieve some of the pain. It’s just as powerful a performance as Dement’s, even though it creates a completely different kind of empathy for the narrator.
Joe Nichols covered the song for his album Revelation, and it’s clear that he learned it from the Haggard album. His vocal performance is a near carbon copy of Haggard’s, with the emphases in the same places and the same lyrical change from Dement’s original. Whereas Dement sang “I’ve got no time to cry,” both Haggard and Nichols “ain’t got no time to cry.” The Nichols version is the least effective of the three, though there is a quiet power to his understated performance. His interpretation just isn’t original enough to be as distinctive as Dement’s and Haggard’s.
What do you think of these three versions of “No Time to Cry”? Can you recommend a track that’s been recorded well by more than one artist?
One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2009 was to get back into shape. I’ve been working non-stop the last couple of years and it was definitely time. Of course, I thought getting back into shape would entail joining the local gym and carving out a little bit of time in my week. But, no. I allowed a friend to convince me to sign up to run the local 26.2 mile rock ‘n roll marathon in May. God help me. I’m now on a strict running schedule … and it’s killing me. I played varsity soccer in college and graduate school, but running for the sake of running is … let’s face it … deathly boring. So, this week, if you wouldn’t mind, please recommend a high energy track that gets you moving!
On the drive home from a particularly trying workday last week, I was twisting the radio dial in search of one last song before I arrived at my house. It was a dark and stormy night, as Charles Schulz would say, and through the doom and gloom came Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine,” a CMA Song of the Year winner and a No. 1 single in 1996. Now, contrary to popular playlist belief, Carter recorded music after, say, 1998. In fact, she recorded a real gem in 2005 with The Story of My Life, a delightfully infectious, thought-provoking album that showcases Carter’s sensuous Southern drawl and nakedly honest observations.
That terrific set includes “Sunny Day,” where she slowly glides from caustic to cautiously optimistic in the span of a few minutes. “Sunny Day” is her resolution to throw off the chains of negativity and those that wield it with such carelessness. Plus, it’s a fairly blatant stab at the music industry (“I ain’t picked up my guitar in 15 days/Some music man doesn’t give a damn what I have to say”), and she eventually swears that her “son of a bitch” boss won’t steal her sunshine. Who wouldn’t want to express that sentiment sometimes?
Track of the week: “Sunny Day,” Deana Carter from 2005′s The Story of My Life.
I wrote last week about my affection for sad Christmas songs. The only upbeat Christmas songs I usually like are the spiritual ones. But good Lord, do I love this piece of fluff from Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton:
“With Bells On” is one of the only country Christmas songs that won’t make me change the radio station. You can find it on Kenny & Dolly’s album Once Upon a Christmas.
I used to think that Dolly Parton’s early country tragedy songs were over the top. Then I heard some of Porter Wagoner’s, and realized that she’d actually toned down some of his excesses. Nothing is more entertaining from Wagoner than “The Rubber Room”, tonight’s recommended track. It simply needs to be heard to be believed. You can watch a stripped down version here, but seek out the studio original. The production theatrics and his manic ad-libbing toward the end are priceless.
Anybody have a guilty pleasure worth recommending tonight?
Tonight’s Recommend a Track, “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?”, has been recorded three times by its songwriter Dolly Parton. First, as a solo tune, it was the B-side to the 1982 version of “I Will Always Love You.” Then in 1990, it was cut as a duet with Randy Travis on his album Heroes and Friends.
Tonight’s recommendation is the third recording of the song, this time with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. Finally, the song is recorded in a pure country style, with Harris singing lead. It’s the best showcase for one of Parton’s best lyrics.