On behalf of Leeann, Blake and myself, I‘m thrilled to welcome our newest writer, Dan Milliken. For many of you, he will need no introduction, as Squinty Dan’s is a popular blog among our readers.
Dan’s mixture of knowledge, humor and personal reflection, along with his strong writing voice, make him a perfect fit here. I know that all of you will enjoy his contributions as much as we will! – Kevin
Hey there, everybody! My name’s Dan, and I’m pleased to be formally making all of your cyber-acquaintances. I currently live in Nashville, Tennessee, where I’m working toward my Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Music Business, and I like to spend my non-blogging free time working out, vegging with a good video game, or trying not to suck at guitar. Sometimes I go outside, too.
Kevin originally contacted me to design a banner for the newly pimped-out site layout, and at some point in that conversation I rather cleverly bamboozled him into letting me join up as a writer, as well. Poor guy.
But in all seriousness, I’m thrilled to have been offered this opportunity to share my thoughts on what I consider the greatest music on Earth, and humbled to be doing so for this community, which I happen to hold in similarly high regard. Kevin’s incisive work has already taught me more about the breadth and history of country music than I ever knew I wanted to know, and the site has only flourished in depth and personality thanks to the brilliant additions of Leeann and Blake. Throw in the passionate, diverse readership, and it all amounts to a very addictive experience for the burgeoning country fan like myself!
Country Universe is also personally meaningful to me in that its stellar example was part of what inspired me to revive my own blogging habit. My personal site, Squinty Dan’s, is the fruit of that decison, and I’ve loved packing it with country music content from the get-go. Ultimately, though, I felt that the blog needed a bit more topical balance, and was already looking for someplace else to dump my country music spillage when Kevin mentioned the possibility of my contributing here. So the timing of the offer really couldn’t have been better.
But enough about blogplay. This entry is supposed to be about my personal connection to country music, though frankly there are few topics I find harder to discuss. My “thing” with country music is almost too intrinsic for me to really describe it as a “connection,” hokey as that might sound. I don’t appreciate country music from a distance, as some sort of entertainment-hungry spectator looking for some excuse to have an opinion; I appreciate country music from the inside-out, because I see myself in it.
That’s what gives merit to any art form, I think. There’s no difference between the post-grunge fan and me, except that we happen to prefer different mediums, different sonic windows on the world and our places in it. I prefer my window rusty and raw, I prefer it with vocal trimmings that sound dead-tired from heat or heartache, that slur words and speak only in simple poetry because they can’t afford to waste breath on B.S. Because that’s what makes sense to me.
I appreciate country music because it’s terse, witty, honest, all of those other adjectives people throw around all the time. I appreciate country music because, at its best, it reminds me of who I am and who I’d like to be. And most of all, I appreciate country music because it appreciates me back, even when the rest of the world doesn’t.
I’m very excited to introduce Blake, a new writer for Country Universe. He shares our commitment to high-quality writing and informed commentary on country music, and we expect his contributions to be invaluable! – K.
Hello, my name is Blake. I live in Nashville, TN, and work in advertising sales at a major newspaper after graduating with a Master‘s degree in Mass Communications and interning at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Kevin has asked me to contribute to Country Universe, and I am more than honored to be involved. This is my opportunity to provide my own observations about the music, past and present, and hopefully make the readers invest in its future. For this to happen, I hope that you feel the freedom to enter into the discussion and debate that I believe will make our appreciation for country music that much deeper.
First of all, I would like to thank Kevin for inviting me to contribute to this site. In such a short time, he has made Country Universe an important resource for country music fans and those who are just now exploring the genre. Along with Leeann, who I respect so much for her role here and her unique, informative comments and articles, I hope to assist Kevin in presenting the many different facets of the music and enhance the site even further.
When I think about country music and music in general, my thoughts stray to a certain quote by Eliza Tabor I first read a few years ago:
“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.”
To me, country music, or at least great country music, is brimming with this sentiment. Hardship and heartache, hurting and healing, pain and perseverance—the best of country songs are an appreciation of life’s blessings and the trials and tribulations that it takes to reach that point of appreciation. I grew to enjoy the sounds and the stories that make this such a great musical place to be. The ability to tell a tale in just a matter of minutes is amazing, and the great ones do it with such ease.
My musical tastes run rather wide, so I wish that this ever-improving knowledge and love of other styles and acts from all different genres will only help my perspective. Luckily, living in Nashville the last few years has afforded me to see most of the major country acts, along with any number of rising acts and artists from other genres that will surely receive their introduction within my posts. I look forward to this new journey, and thank you all for making Country Universe such a terrific site to visit.
This week’s issue of Country Weekly, dated February 25, has a brief mention of Country Universe on page 60. The clipping mentions last month’s feature, TheFifty Best Debut Singles of All-Time, which you can begin reading here. Personally, I’m most excited to have given them a reason to put Jeannie C. Riley’s picture in the magazine!
Huge thanks to reader Judy, who first e-mailed me about the mention, and then was kind enough to scan it.
Sometime last night, while I slept, Country Universe hit 500,000 in page views, according to the handy little stat box that WordPress provides.
The fact that people read this site at all used to surprise me, but now I’m just appreciative that so many of you keep coming back, even when I’m not consistent on my updates. I’m even more thankful that y’all have made your voices heard in the comments, too: 3,629 to date, not counting spam.
Fifty Best Singles of 2007, Part 3 will be up this afternoon, but this morning, I just had to wallow in some site stat goodness!
I’m just in an unshakably good mood lately! Gotta go run some errands, but I’ll be doing a lot of posting this weekend.
For now, enjoy the best country guest appearance in the history of The Simpsons – Johnny Cash, helping Homer find his soul mate. And a hearty congrats to Brady Vercher of The 9513, who is marryinghis soul mate this weekend!
I’m feeling a little generous, my friends, and bankrolling a fun little contest here. Over the past few days, I’ve made predictions for eight categories in the upcoming CMA Awards. Do you think you can outguess Country Universe?
Here’s how the contest works. Post your predictions for all eight categories – five per category – in the comments section below. The final nominees will be announced on Thursday, August 30, so the deadline for posting your prediction is Wednesday, August 29, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. I’ll award one point for each correct nominee, for a total possible score of 40. The person with the highest score will win a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate via e-mail. In the event of a tie, the person with the earliest entry will win, so get cracking! Make sure to include a valid e-mail address when posting.
Here are the predictions of Country Universe. Click on the category title for analysis:
It’s been three years since I was bored during a technology workshop, and decided to start a blog. What began as a way to kill time has evolved into a way of life. Throughout all of the personal and professional changes I’ve gone through, Country Universe has remained constant. With so many great country music blogs surfacing since I started doing this, there’s a fantastic community that I’m proud to be a part of.
Before I head out of town for the weekend, I thought it would be nice to indulge in a little nostalgia. Here are some of my favorite posts and features, what I’d personally consider the best of Country Universe. Thanks to all of you for reading and responding!
When I was in ninth grade, I ditched Social Studies class to go get Kathy Mattea’s autograph at the WYNY station office in midtown Manhattan, a good year or two before they switched from country to dance music. Three weeks later, I picked up Country Weekly – you know, back when it was weekly – for some light reading on the train ride back to Queens.
The feature story: “Kathy Mattea Takes Manhattan.” The guy standing to her left as she signs her page on a tacky country music stars anthology book: me.
Thirteen years later, I’m still having those WTF? moments, though nowadays it’s just when I’m smacked with the realization that people are actually reading this blog. Usually we just get comments about how wrong I am about the latest crappy country single being crappy, but today Paul and I have collectively been deemed: The Roger Miller of Country Music Blogs!
Why Miller? For my remarkable wit and musical genius, of course. Oh, and because I cover the Grammys and he won a lot of them. Okay, fine, just for that last reason. I’ll take what I can get!
Thanks for the shoutout, 9513! Now y’all head on over to read the rest of the list. There are some incredible sites out there, some of which I’d never read before but are now on my blogroll. Now excuse me while I go and brag about knowing Dolly Parton back when she was just starting out.
Regular readers of Country Universe and Liberal Country Fan will recognize the name Paul W. Dennis, as he is the reader who most frequently comments on posts. I am happy to announce that Mr. Dennis will be contributing album reviews and possibly more to Country Universe. Here is some background information, in his own words:
I was born in Chicopee Falls, MA , the son of a 30 year career Navy man who started out as a sailor and worked his way up to Commander by the end of his career. Dad loved music and sang and played the guitar for his own amusement. He liked country and folk music, big band, pop standards and classical music. His favorite country singers were Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn and George Hamilton IV.
As a service brat I moved around quite a bit. I attended 17 different schools between starting first grade in Jacksonville, FL and graduating from a Department of Defense school in London, England. We didn’t move quite that often but it was a time of rapid population growth along the eastern seaboard and frequent school redistricting. At one point, while living in Maryland, I was bussed over an hour to a junior high school, with two junior high schools within easy walking distance – this farce in the name of desegregation.
I went to Stetson University in Deland, FL , graduated in six semesters, started law school and then decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
I started purchasing LPs in 1968. Before that I had purchased some 45s (but mostly I didn’t have any money). The first three LPs I purchased were Country Charley Pride, According to My Heart by Jim Reeves and Skip a Rope by Henson Cargill. I don’t know how many LPS and CDs I’ve accumulated – I’d guess that it is around 7500 items. About two thirds of my collection is Country, then 1/6 jazz and 1/6 everything else.
Among the newer artists my favorites are Brad Paisley, Sara Evans, Keith Urban, Toby Keith and Justin Trevino. My absolute favorites are Ernest Tubb, Buck Owens, Connie Smith, Jean Shepard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Webb Pierce and Merle Haggard. Considering all aspects of his career, I regard Merle Haggard as the greatest country artist ever.
I sometimes perform before audiences, always with a live band, never karaoke. I have a repertoire of about 140 songs. Other than “Long Slow Kisses”, the recent Jeff Bates hit, all my songs are from before 1975. I have often been tempted to have the drummer sit out while I sing, but other than on some acoustic or bluegrass songs, I haven’t done it.
I regard melody and harmony as the two essential elements of music. Rhythm should support the melody and harmony (and lyrics, if any). With too much of today’s music, if you eliminated the rhythm tracks, you’d have nothing left. Obviously, REAL country music should feature at least two of the following instruments: fiddle, steel guitar (or dobro), banjo, and mandolin.
My writings will be focused mostly on album or CD reviews, although I will delve into the history of the music from time to time. My first article will be some variations and elaborations of some reviews initially posted elsewhere.
Dennis will bring a new perspective and areas of expertise to this site. Look for his contributions soon. I am also cautiously optimistic that a contributor who is well-versed on the history of Californian country music will begin writing for Country Universe soon.
I’m still looking for new voices for this site, which is still in the developing stages. If you think you would like to contribute to this site as a guest, news editor or regular writer, please contact me at Lysis627@aol.com.