Category Archives: Eighth Anniversary

Country Universe Turns Eight: An Introduction

Way back in July 2004, Country Universe went live on its original Blogspot home.   This month marks its eighth anniversary.  Today, our writers are sharing their thoughts about the site and some of their favorite posts from the past eight years.

As the founder of Country Universe, it is amazing to me that what started as a quite self-indulgent little blog has become a showcase for so many talented writers.  I remember being a lone voice in the wilderness.  Now, there is such a sprawling and diverse community of country music blogs and websites that I believe Country Universe would have lost any relevance years ago, had it not been expanded by the new perspectives of a rotating writing staff.

I’ve written so many things over the years that I’m proud of, along with a few posts (and several comments) that I’d like to see disappear down the memory hole.   But the piece that I’m most proud of these days wasn’t well-received upon publication:  Single Review: Brad Paisley, “Online.”

In retrospect, it feels prescient.  At the time I wrote it, bullying hadn’t yet emerged as part of the national dialogue, at least not outside of educational circles.   Hearing “Online”, I immediately related it to the realities that I saw regularly, but I think that the connection was difficult for readers to make if they weren’t directly involved with education.  Today, I think that there would be a greater understanding of my concerns with the record.  At least I hope so.   Either way, it remains my favorite personal piece of writing from the past eight years.

Among my colleagues’ best work, I must single out Dan Milliken’s “The Jealous Heart”, which showcases his ability to interweave his vast knowledge of music with originality and wit.     Ben Foster’s “Pop Goes Country – A Cover Song Report Card”, which critiques many successful and not-so-successful attempts to make a pop song country.  From Tara Seetharam, I particularly loved her conversation starter, “Discussion: Music and Lyrics”, which managed to make The Breakfast Club relevant to a discussion about country music. Total win!

Last, but never least, my first and longest partner at Country Universe.  I’ve said many times that we didn’t really become Country Universe until Leeann Ward joined the staff.   Before then, it was just Kevin’s blog.  But her unique perspective, and more important, her ability to be magnanimous with even our harshest critics, set the climate of mutual respect that would ultimately distinguish our site for the better.   She brought the same dignity to a discussion regarding a quite undignified personality in her piece, “The Trouble with John Rich.”    Most other country commentators eventually voiced the same concerns she outlined way back when.

There have been many great moments from both our former writers and current contributors as well, as you’ll soon discover from our other anniversary posts.  Follow the links below to read the rest of our anniversary coverage, and share your favorites in the comments!

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Country Universe Turns Eight: Jonathan's View

I distinctly remember the google search that first led me to Country Universe back in early 2006. I was listening to Joy Lynn White’s “comeback” album, One More Time, and I was curious about the songwriter behind her mid-90s single “Wild Love,” the cassingle for which I had somehow misplaced.

All Music Guide didn’t have the information I wanted– typical of the gaps in their catalogue at that time when it came to somewhat obscure country acts– so I turned to google, which led me promptly to entry #395 on Country Universe’s “400 Best Contemporary Country Singles” countdown. A few hours later, having read through the rest of that feature and a host of single and album reviews, the site had officially made it onto the list of music review and news sources I check daily. And, give or take a day or two, I’ve kept up with Country Universe ever since.

The way people write about country music has changed dramatically – for the better, I’d argue – in the past

few years. And, though the exact roster of contributors to Country Universe has remained in flux during its eight years online, it has consistently offered writing that is passionate, authoritative, and distinctive: A testament to everything that the much ballyhooed “democratization” of internet criticism gets right. I find it humbling that this crew keeps me in their company.

The piece that best captures what I think makes Country Universe such a unique and essential source for writing about contemporary country music is the spectacularly-titled editorial Kevin posted after Taylor Swift’s much maligned performance of “You Belong With Me” at the Grammy awards. Not only is the article itself thoughtfully composed and smart, but note how the comments section plays out: The lengthy discussion that followed the post is every bit as revelatory as the original piece, with an exchange of actual ideas that’s as well-reasoned, civil, and rare as anything you’ll find online.

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Country Universe Turns Eight: Ben's Best

The eight-year mark is definitely a noteworthy milestone in the transitory world of the internet.  Country Universe’s longevity is both a substantial accomplishment –particularly on Kevin’s part – as well as a testament to the site’s enduring appeal.

There are few country music web sites that have been as near and dear to my heart as Country Universe, and it’s hard to sum up why.  The high caliber of writing is definitely a major factor, but perhaps what drew me to this site above all else is the way that it absolutely radiates a sincere passion for music on the part of all of the writers, while creating a warm and inviting environment conducive to free and open discussion.

Each writer brings a unique set of gifts to the table – Kevin’s substantial genre knowledge and deep sincerity; Leeann’s simple straightforwardness and attention to detail; Dan’s knack for keeping things fun whenever possible, yet serious when necessary; Tara’s ability to discuss good and bad music alike with eloquence and class; Jonathan’s ability to analyze different qualities of music on a deep, insightful level; Noah’s uniquely colorful writing style; and Sam’s signature sense of humor.

Country Universe is a site that I’ve always just plain loved and been excited about, regardless of whether I had any part in writing for it.  Though I still feel like a newbie in some ways, having been with the site for only one year so far, words scarcely express how genuinely privileged  I feel to be a part of the Country Universe family, as well as a part of its history.

Favorite post I’ve written:  Single Review:  Scotty McCreery, “Water Tower Town”

I am a very repetitive writer, and I know it.  I am constantly fighting the tendency to keep using the same descriptions over and over again, but at the same time I find it difficult not to do so when each new release often sounds very much like the one before it.  I was determined to find a way to shake things up with my review of Scotty McCreery’s “Water Tower Town.”  I found an approach through which I felt I was able to highlight the weaknesses of McCreery’s single while simultaneously poking fun at my own repetitive tendencies, and bucking that trend by doing so.  At any rate, I had a lot of fun writing the review, and it’s one piece that I always look back on with fondness.

Favorite post by another writer:  Single Review:  Taylor Swift, “Mean” (Kevin John Coyne)

I had always enjoyed Swift’s “Mean,” mostly because of the cool arrangement.  But when Kevin posted a review of the song, I fully expected it to be a single sentence takedown, particularly since Kevin was not known for being a Taylor Swift enthusiast.  My jaw dropped as I read.  I found myself agreeing with Kevin’s praise of the song, and the purpose the lyric served.  I found “Mean” quickly becoming my favorite Taylor Swift song, as well my favorite single of 2011 (I was even privileged to write the caption for it on our Best of 2011 countdown).  Though there have been many excellent writers who have extended influence over my own view of music, this was by

far the most outstanding instance in which a review caused me to gain a whole new appreciation for a song – a testament to the power of a carefully thought out, well-written review.

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Country Universe Turns Eight: Tara's Take

How to define Country Universe? Thoughtful, authentic, accessible, open-minded – all qualities established long before I came on board. Eight

years in, it’s still home to a rare breed of music criticism that knows no boundaries when it comes to what moves people. I treasure that.

But because of Kevin’s leadership, this blog is more than just a critical eye on country music. Its defining characteristic is that it’s truly a place – a universe — where readers and writers alike are held to the highest standards of respect, honesty and decency. In a genre built on the simplest stories of humanity, this couldn’t be more appropriate.

Country Universe is a blessing in my life for which I am continuously grateful. In the last three years, this blog has not only deepened my relationship with the genre, but challenged me to be a more insightful writer, thinker and person. It’s taught me that being a fan doesn’t have to mean compromising your credibility, that passion and sincerity are as important as intelligence and wit. And, above all, it’s introduced me to a family of writers I never thought I’d be lucky enough to find.

In honor of Country Universe’s 8th anniversary, here are ten of my favorite pieces:

1. The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Conclusion: #20-#1
2. Discussion: Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain and Gender in Country Music
3: Single Review/Shameless Rant: Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”
4. Single Review: Taylor Swift, “Sparks Fly”
5. Sincerity
6. Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Sara Evans
9. Single Review: Jerrod Niemann, “Lover, Lover”
7. Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dixie Chicks
8. Favorite Albums: Christmas
10. The Coping Power of Music

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Country Universe Turns Eight: Dan's Perspective

Like Jonathan, I first discovered Country Universe via random Google search. It was during my first semester at Belmont University in Nashville, and Carrie Underwood had just released Carnival Ride.

I was scouring the web for critical reviews of the album, and when I happened upon Kevin’s unusually smart one, I was immediately filled with admiration – as well as bitter, bitter envy. Who was this random dude who thought he could write so incisively about my genre? Someone who needed to be taken down a peg, that was who!

So I decided I’d show him and left a blustering comment defending “The More Boys I Meet” (that is, “the more boys I meet,–” wince, “–the more

I love my dog“), complete with an pretentious mini-thesis on the psychological value of novelty songs and how “The More Boys I Meet” was totally like Roger Miller – an artist from whom I knew, oh, maybe three songs at the time.

It’s funny, and strange, and ever so humbling to think how much has changed in five years. I’m seven months graduated from college now. I know, like, at least four Roger Miller songs. I get to work and interact with a warm, hilarious, inspiring community of country music fans who like to think and be thought at. And Kevin Coyne, random dude, has become a personal mentor and one of my all-around favorite people.

I don’t know. I’ve felt a little weird writing this piece, mostly because I don’t write nearly as much other stuff for Country Universe as I’d like to anymore, so I don’t know what my authority necessarily counts for. I just know it’s been a joy to talk about music with you guys on here…and I just hope my internet comments have, you know, declined in obnoxiousness.

Finally, three all-time favorites, two quite recent:

Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, “Gone Country”

Single Review: Chris Young, “Neon”

Favorite Albums: Christmas

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Country Universe Turns Eight: Leeann's Favorites

In 2007, a little over five years ago, I discovered Country Universe. At that point in my relationship with  mainstream country music, I had been a diehard fan for over ten years, but was  realizing that I was starting to feel less content with Top 40 country radio.

In my effort to expand beyond the radio, but still stay connected to country music, I  eagerly discovered the world of music blogs. As it happened, the very first country music blog that captured my attention beyond a cursory look was Country Universe. At the time, Kevin was the sole writer and he had been running the blog for three years prior to my discovery of it.

As I remember it, the first article that I happened upon was Kevin’s A Conversation with Pam Tillis. I was inordinately impressed by their easy exchange and Kevin’s obvious  respect  for and knowledge of his interviewee. As the title suggests, however, it was much more than just an interview, but rather, a warm, in-depth conversation.

To make a sort of long story short, my respect for Kevin’s blog only increased as I combed through the Country Universe archives while  also keeping up with the updated content. As I followed along, what struck me the most was that while  it was clear that Kevin had no interest in sensationalizing, he felt a responsibility to  sometimes tackle difficult and even controversial topics regarding  the landscape of country music.

One such article,  Say What? — John Rich, specifically caught my attention, as it discussed a weighty topic with a perspective  that was not especially popular among the predominantly conservative country music fans at the time. For me, it was  intriguing and refreshing to read such an intelligent, unexpected perspective.

So, imagine my  fright and delight when Kevin invited me to join him here in early 2008. My first big article was the very first installment of the Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists feature that kicked off with my favorite artist, Vince Gill. The article of mine that I think of  with the most fondness, however, is my interview with Joey+Rory, which was only thanks to their warmth and openness.

Since my time with Country Universe, we’ve had some writers come and go, but I am very proud of the writers that we have now. The absolute best part of being a part of Country Universe is that I am a fan. I am fortunate to genuinely enjoy the writing of Kevin, Dan, Tara, Ben, Jonathan and Sam. Even more importantly,  I am a fan of their voices, both as writers and behind the scenes of Country Universe. What’s more, even if my name wasn’t on the list of writers, I would be a devoted reader of the site.

And, finally, it cannot be stressed enough that the richest part of Country Universe as a whole is the thoughtful and passionate comments of you, our readers. Without all of you, this experience would  surely be much less fun and engaging. So, thank you for being a part of

it all. Long live Country Universe.

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