Category Archives: Site News

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.

Country Universe Turns Eight:

 

 

 

 

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Introducing Ben Foster

Country Universe is proud to introduce our newest staff writer, Ben Foster.   Ben began his blogging career at his own 1-to-10 Country Music Review, which is essential daily reading for country music afici0nados. We are thrilled to have him on board! – KJC.

Hey, y’all!  My name is Ben Foster.  I was born a Yankee up in Michigan, near Detroit, and now I currently live in Russellville – a small town located right smack in Middle of Nowhere, Kentucky.  Some of the regular readers may already have an idea of who I am, since I’ve been an active comment thread participant for well over a year now.

How did I discover country music, you may wonder?  The simple truth is that I didn’t.  Country music found me.  I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true.  In general, my parents were not country music fans.  Their music collection was largely dominated by the pop and rock of the seventies and eighties.  Still, a few country albums would sneak into the stack here and there.  As a child of the nineties, my earliest exposure to country music came through artists like Garth Brooks and Lorrie Morgan.  At that time, I still didn’t really know what country music was, nor did I realize that artists like Garth and Lorrie fit into one unique genre.  At such a young age, I couldn’t fully appreciate the deep emotional resonance of the music.  But what attracted me was, quite simply, the sweet sounds of the fiddle and steel guitar.  I just thought it was the coolest-sounding music I had ever heard.  I still think that today.  Having been attracted to the genre by the sound of traditional country instrumentation, it saddens me to hear such sounds evaporating from country radio.  Granted, I’m no purist.  I can appreciate a good pop-country song (I’m a huge Shania Twain fan, I jam out to “Stuck Like Glue” in the car, and I even kind of like Taylor Swift if that doesn’t tell you something), but it’s safe to say that I will always have a special fondness for traditional country music.

Over time, I began to develop a great appreciation for the lyrical content of country, as well as the palpable sincerity that the most talented country artists seem to exude so effortlessly.  One of the most lauded qualities of country music is that it’s relatable to everyday life.  But I’m still a young guy, so there are relatively few country songs that describe situations I’ve personally experienced.  I’ve never been married, let alone divorced, and I’m not even old enough to drink.  As a certain one-hit-wonder country singer did not hesitate to remind me, I haven’t lived enough.  But when I hear a great country lyric paired with an achingly sincere vocal performance, I can instantly see myself at the heart of whatever story the song is telling.  Sometimes I see where I could be in my life ten or twenty years from now.  Even when I can’t relate to the specific situations portrayed, I can still relate to the emotions being expressed.  For example, the Dixie Chicks sang about falling in love with a soldier who is later killed in the Vietnam War.  Could there possibly be another story further removed from my own?  And yet, when I hear Natalie tell the story, I feel her pain.  I ache along with her.  No other genre has been able to have that effect on me so consistently.

Sadly, I found myself gradually losing interest in FM Country Radio as it increasingly took on the stench of pandering focus-group music as opposed to the authentic, sincere brand of music that I orginally fell in love with.  I can’t be moved by a song if I get the notion that the song is trying to get me to like it – that the songwriters were primarily focused on creating a product that is inoffensive and universally appealing.  On the positive side, I’ve also learned that there’s so much more great country music to be heard than what comes over the radio.

Discovering the world of country music blogs was undoubtedly one of the best things that’s ever happened to me as a country fan.  As I became increasingly disillusioned with the music that was taking over country radio airwaves, I found a community in which lesser-known independent artists whom I had never heard of before were being treated with just as much importance as the top Nashville hitmakers.  The classic country music of the past was continually recognized for its enduring relevance.  Thus, I discovered a genre with more breadth and variety than I had ever known before.  The country blogosphere was a place in which I could freely exchange thoughts with other individuals who loved the music as much as I did – a place to share great music with others who would come to have similar appreciation for it.  I’ve always immensely enjoyed the experience of being able to bond with others, so to speak, over our common love for the greatest music ever.

Before long, I was inspired to try my own hand at the art of being a country music critic.  Thus, my own blog The 1-to-10 Country Music Review was born.  My past work on The 1-to-10 is a chronicle of my journey in finding my own voice as a writer.  I write for many different reasons.  I write to express.  I write to learn.  I write to spark discussion.  I write to sort out my own thoughts and feelings.  As I continued exploring my newfound passion for writing, I came to realize that it’s something I’m going to keep on doing forever.  I couldn’t stop if I wanted to.  Many of my early posts were quite amateurish, but as my writing style gradually evolved, my little blog grew into something that I could be genuinely proud of, as well as a launch pad for me to be a part of other projects in addition to it.

Country Universe is a site that has long been near and dear to my heart.  Joining the site’s writing staff could hardly be more of a dream writing job for me.  I regard Kevin, Dan, Leeann, and Tara as four of the greatest writers on the planet – honest, straightforward, insightful writers whose opinions I hold in the highest regard.  I’m very humbled that they’ve been so kind as to take me into their company.  Country Universe is a site that I’ve genuinely loved since long before being invited to write for it, so this is a team that I’m truly proud to be a part of.

Of course, there are many people who have been listening to country music longer than I have, and who have a much more expansive knowledge of the genre and it’s rich history.  I don’t know everything there is to know about country music.  I’m learning, and I will continue learning indefinitely.  I know more today than I did last year, and in another year I’ll know even more.  I will never stop digging into the genre’s history, making new and exciting discoveries.

In summary, I am not an expert.  I am, first and foremost, a fan.

I will do my best to provide honest, well-thought out commentary for the readers of Country Universe.  People won’t always agree, but I think it would be boring if they always did.  I hope to be able to introduce others to great new musical discoveries, as I know my blogging buddies will continue to do for me.  And when I hear a new song or album that speaks to me on the same level as all my favorite country songs, and that makes me feel proud to be a fan of great country music, you can be sure that I’ll be quick to tell you all about it.  Is this going to be fun or what?

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Two Too Awesome to Remain in One Universe

2010 brought two big steps for Country Universe writers Dan Milliken and Tara Seetharam!

Dan’s musings on country music have recently been published at CMT.com. Check out his awesome rundown of this year’s reissues: The Greatest Greatest Hits of 2010.  He also contributed to features on Toby Keith and Tim McGraw, selecting “Who’s That Man” as a prime Keith cut, and “Just to See You Smile” as prime McGraw.

Meanwhile, Tara has launched her own blog – TaraSeetharam.com – which features her musings on pop culture and has me secretly wishing to do guest posts on the non-country artists who populate my iPod.

Both writers are so amazing that expanded horizons are inevitable. We’re proud to have recognized their talent early on!

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Catching Up

Daylight Savings Time means one more hour to kill surfing the internet. It’s as good a time as any to catch up on the CMA Awards, your favorite artists, and reviews you might have missed!

Just follow the links below to our archival pages, all of which have just been completely updated:

CMA Awards

Read about every nominee and winner in all major categories since the awards began in 1967, starting with a rundown of this year’s nominees in each category.

Artist Pages

Read all features and reviews from every artist that has ever been written about on Country Universe, along with a listing of all of their industry awards and RIAA-certified albums and singles.

Reviews

Our archives include every single, album, concert, music video, and DVD review we’ve ever published, listed alphabetically by artist.

Just want to see what we’ve written lately? Look back in reverse chronological order:

More new posts are on the way, including our annual rundown of Picks & Predictions for the CMA Awards and the return of Starter Kits, Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists, and Yesterday’s Songs. Stay tuned!

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Movin’ On Up

We’re proud to note that our very own Dan Milliken has been published by CMT.com for the first time.

Check out his write-up of the Toby Keith classic, “Who’s That Man”:

The impossible question of divorce is how to divide lives that have become so intricately knitted together. As Keith demonstrates in this dark, brooding song, no answer to that question comes without its toll. The narrator of “Who’s That Man” has lost every staple of his former life in the collapse of his marriage, and as if that weren’t bad enough, someone else is filling his shoes without any apparent hitch.

Of course, this is an awesome and impressive new platform for Dan’s writing, but let’s be honest. Just like Country Universe got a hell of a lot better once he joined us, CMT can only be elevated by his trademark wit and undeniable talent.

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We’ll Drink to That

Today is the 21st birthday of our very own Dan Milliken, who can now indulge in one of country music’s favorite past times without breaking the law.

In honor of this occasion, we’ve decided to dedicate some of our favorite songs on that subject to the birthday guy.

Leeann:

I don’t drink, but I do love me a good drinking song. In fact, I love so many drinking songs that it’s impossible for me to narrow it down to just one favorite. So, I decided to put my iPod on shuffle and discuss/recommend the first one that popped up, which happens to be “I Drink”, recorded by both Blake Shelton and Bill Chambers and co-written and also recorded by Americana favorite, Mary Gauthier.

If people know “I Drink”, it’s likely due to Blake Shelton’s version from Barn and Grill. It’s a good version, but I prefer the versions from Bill Chambers and/or Mary Gauthier, because they provide the grittiness and moroseness that properly conveys the quiet resignation that the song requires. Therefore, this one’s not a party anthem.

From a grown child’s perspective, the act of drinking is passed down like a tradition. Just as “fish swim, birds fly, daddy’s yell, mama’s cry, old men sit and think”, the grown child proclaims, “I drink.” And that’s just that.

Kevin:

I’m going to go all meta and recommend two songs that are as much about getting older as they are about drinking. Kenny Chesney’s “Beer in Mexico”, which has him pondering why he’s not happy with where is in his life so far. And Rodney Crowell’s “Song For the Life”, which finds him not drinking as much as he used to, perhaps because he’s very happy with where he is in his life so far!

Recommend your favorite drinking song for Dan in the comments. Oh, and wish him a happy birthday too, if you like!

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Nashville Scene Critics’ Poll Features Outstanding Commentary By Local Writer

The results are in for the Tenth Annual Nashville Scene Country Music Critics’ Poll. This year’s survey was created with the input of 77 nationally recognized country music critics, but there’s one that I’m sure you’ll agree is tremendously cooler and more insightful than the rest – our very own Dan Milliken.  Here’s just a sampling of his commentary, more of which can be read here:

One of the fascinating patterns of mainstream country in 2009 was that, as the sound moved further and further away from country music as we traditionally know it, the lyrics tried and harder and harder to pick up the slack. Seemingly every other song shipped to radio these days is about the singer’s inherent “country-ness,” either explicitly (“She’s Country,” “That’s How Country Boys Roll,” “I’m a Little More Country Than That”) or implicitly (“Small Town U.S.A.,” “Bonfire,” “Backwoods,” “Whistlin’ Dixie”). There’s a palpable self-consciousness to the trend, as though songwriters, labels and artists know they’re stamping out a large part of the genre’s core identity, but really, really hope you won’t notice.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: We’re proud of you, Dan. Great work!

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Check Out Our Artist Pages

It’s been a long time coming, but our Artist Pages are finally up and running!

It’s a project I started with Blake Boldt at the end of 2008. We were looking for a new way to archive the site’s content, along with providing additional information that wasn’t currently included on the site.

There is an Artist Page for every single act that has been the subject of a feature, interview, or review throughout the past five years. As of this posting, there are 317 artist profiles. Also included are Industry Honors (Hall of Fame inductions, Grammys, CMAs and ACMs) and complete RIAA Certifications for albums and singles for each artist.

Just like all of our other pages, these Artist Pages will be updated whenever new content is posted. Enjoy!

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Introducing Tara Seetharam

It is my distinct honor and pleasure to introduce the newest writer for Country Universe, Tara Seetharam. As you’ll soon discover, we are quite blessed to have her. On behalf of the Country Universe staff, please join me in welcoming Tara! – Kevin J. Coyne

Hi all! It is such a thrill to step foot into this community of talented and well-versed writers. I am humbled and can’t thank the staff enough for graciously taking me in.

I graduated about a year ago from the University of Texas with a degree in journalism, and I am currently living in Houston and working in corporate communications. Writing and music are two of my greatest joys in life, so the opportunity to use this site as a medium to interlace the two is an absolute blessing.

When I tell people that I live and breathe country music, I’m almost always met with surprise. Some are better at hiding it than others, but I typically receive an inquisitive stare, a “Really?” or a confused smile. It leads to about 20 seconds of awkwardness, with me trying to sum up my passion for the genre in an eloquent explanation, and generally failing. Because quite frankly, how do you prove to a near stranger that yes, an Indian-American can love country music from the depths of her soul?

I suppose I’m not the typical Indian-American. Both my parents are of Indian descent, but while my dad moved to the U.S. as a teenager, my mom moved here as a young child – making my sister and I “second-and-a-half” generation Indian-Americans. My mom was a country fan herself growing up in the U.S., and she in turn filled our home with all sorts of country music when I was a child. I have the sweetest memories of the two of us singing along to The Judds’ Why Not Me album on repeat, day after day. My mom never made me feel like it was anything but normal to adore country music from the inside out. She never made me feel like my skin color had to match the skin color of the country artists I idolized. And why should it?

You see, to me, as much as country music seems to be about traditionalism, it’s more so about universal truths – about love and family, heartache and despair, faith and persistence. You don’t necessarily have to relate to the story to relate to the raw emotion of a country song. The best country songs are sung with such conviction and such honesty that you just get it. The most poignant country songs stop me dead in my tracks every time I hear them, because I can’t seem to disconnect my emotions from the songs.

And to be honest, I couldn’t feel out of place in country music even if I tried, as there are few things in this world that are more intrinsic to me. I remember the first time I heard Vince Gill’s “If You Ever Have Forever in Mind,” thinking that it immediately felt like “home”. Like I had found an extension of myself in the song. It sounds melodramatic, but it’s so true, and it is this very intimate, personal quality of country music that keeps me coming back for more.

My taste in country music ranges from traditional to mainstream, from George Jones and Johnny Cash to Lady Antebellum and Keith Urban. I have a deep respect for the country greats, but I have a particular soft spot for artists who can skillfully walk the balance beam between traditional and mainstream, like the older (but never forgotten!) Dixie Chicks.

And I even enjoy many of the genre-stretching contemporary artists who haven’t quite mastered this balancing act. I’m in the minority of people who see the fusion of old and new in the country music industry as intriguing and, well…fabulous. Artistic integrity comes in many forms, and I firmly believe that it can even come in the form of commercially successful artists.

Because if there’s anything I’ve learned from the inquisitive stares, “Really?”s and confused smiles I receive on occasion, it’s that, in this world so rich with contradiction, you have to learn to scrap assumptions. It’s so important to savor every piece of music by searching not for its definition but for its unique contribution, or you’ll prevent yourself from catching moments of artistic brilliance (Reba McEntire’s 2007 collaboration with Justin Timberlake? Stunning.).

This goes all ways, of course, but what I think I have an ear for, and what I hope to bring to this site, are the “gems” of mainstream country music. I’m going to humbly strive to bring a fresh perspective, one that you might not always agree with, but that comes from a place of sincerity.

Which brings me to my greatest hope for my journey with Country Universe – that I stay true to who I am. I spent much of my college career feeling that I needed to think a certain way in order to fit the music journalist mold, but I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not. I don’t hate country radio. I appreciate pop culture. I’m an award show junkie. And I’ll tell you right now, with no shame, that my favorite song is “Bless the Broken Road” (I’ll take it in any form, by any artist). I want to offer this site unapologetic authenticity, because that’s what good country music never fails to offer me.

So with that said, a huge, heartfelt thank you goes out once again to Kevin and the staff for welcoming me with open arms. More than anything, and I can’t stress this enough, I am looking forward to learning from this astute community of writers and readers. To steal liberally from Ms. Carrie Underwood: “It is my belief that country music makes the world a better place.” And ain’t that the truth?

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Join CU @ Twitter

twitter-logoJoin CU @ Twitter if UR looking for updates and recommendations!

Thanks to Lynn, Country Universe is now on Twitter and we’d like to invite all of our readers to join us there for quick and easy updates. You can follow Country Universe at Twitter to learn about what

reviews we are writing, find out what grades our latest single or album reviews received, or just to receive links to our latest blog entries.

If you are fans of the Country Universe mini-feature Recommend a Track, stop by for our Twitter specific content, which will include updates of what Country Universe writers are listening to along with track and album recommendations.

https://twitter.com/CountryUniverse

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