Category Archives: Site News

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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William Ward joins Country Universe

I am proud to announce a new staff member at Country Universe!

William Ward has been a regular contributor to discussions on this site since his wife and CU editor Leeann Ward became a lead writer in early 2008. He is joining Country Universe in a special capacity. As Online Marketing and Publicity Director, he will be primarily responsible for promoting and publicizing Country Universe through various online outlets, including social networking sites.

Please join me in welcoming William Ward to Country Universe. Here is his bio:

William Ward is an Orientation and Mobility Specialist for the Maine Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He has earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in English and a Bachelor’s of Liberal Studies in Cultural Studies from the University of Maine, Presque Isle; he also completed a Master’s of Arts in Orientation and Mobility from Western Michigan University. William became Online Marketing and Publicity Director at Country Universe in March 2009.

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New Site Launching Wednesday, March 18

The good people at Brady Mills Graphics have redesigned Country Universe, and the new site will be launching the morning of Wednesday, March 18.

Things may get a little wonky as the kinks are worked out, so bear with us. The end result will be more than worth it!

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Comment Policy

As of September 8, 2008, we have put an official comment policy into effect.   They are as follows:

1.  Stick to the topic. Discussion on each post should remain relevant to its content.

2.  Speak respectfully. Do not insult, antagonize or otherwise disrespect the authors or other commenters.  Disagreement can be expressed without being disrespectful.

3.  Keep it clean. Any comment that contains profanity or bigotry of any kind will be deleted.

Commenters who violate the first two rules will be warned by a site administrator; future violating comments will be deleted.   Comments violating rule #3 will automatically be deleted.   Repeated violators will be banned from commenting at Country Universe.

These simple guidelines exist to build the Country Universe community and ensure that our readers feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions.    Because of this, we will be strictly enforcing them.

Please also note that our spam filter will automatically submit any comment with two or more links for moderation.   If your comment does not appear immediately and it includes two or more links, it will be cleared for posting by a site administrator.

If there are any questions or concerns regarding this policy, you can e-mail me at kevin@countryuniverse.net or leave a comment below.    You can review the policy at any time by following the link above the banner or on the sidebar.

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Introducing Lynn Douglas

The introduction of our new writers concludes today with the first post of Lynn Douglas.   She has been a regular commenter for a long time, and now she will be contributing her perspectives on country music as a whole, with a focus on Americana music in particular.   With her addition, our staff is now complete.  Please join me in welcoming her! – Kevin

Hello everyone! I have been asked to make contributions to Country Universe, which I find to be such a wonderfully thoughtful and engaging (and female friendly!) site on country music.  I’m incredibly excited by the prospect of introducing you to new songs and artists, as well as helping you discover or re-discover older ones.

I don’t have a formal degree or pedigree in the subject; I simply love and am addicted to music – from the Boss to the Dixie Chicks; from Joni Mitchell to Willie Nelson; from Louis Armstrong to Loretta Lynn; and from The Clancy Brothers to Steve Earle.  I adore lyrics that that read like your favorite book, fast picking that energizes the blood, the perfect steel guitar solo, and the sound of an acoustic guitar being plucked by a master.

I was born and raised in Southern California, and currently call it home, but I have lived all over the U.S. (including Nashville) and spent a number of years living overseas.  Both music and traveling have been my passions for years.  In many ways, for me, each defines the other.  Everywhere I have traveled, I have found my music spot – the cozy cavern in Spain, the friendly pub in Scotland, the smoky bar in Ireland, the dark basement in Prague.

Music has an amazing ability to define the moment and connect you to a new culture.  I fully believe it is that grounding, yet transcendental quality to music that has enabled me to shelter my undying love for Latin, Irish, jazz, blues and folk under the same umbrella as my undying love for country.  Each of those genres has a story to tell – of a people or of a generation.  Hopefully through this site I’ll be able to help you sift through the morass of shallow nothingness that frequents the airwaves and makes the news and find those stories that should come to light!

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Introducing Dan Milliken

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.

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Country Universe featured in new issue of Country Weekly

Country Universe's 100 Greatest Women feature has received a mention in the new issue of Country Weekly:

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You can't ask for anything more than being acknowledged for the work that you're most proud of. I'm humbled.

Thanks to reader Judy for the scan, and Miss Kitty for mentioning it in this past weekend!

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Introducing Blake: A New Name at Country Universe

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.

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Country Universe mentioned in the new issue of Country Weekly

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, The Fifty 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!

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Huge thanks to reader Judy, who first e-mailed me about the mention, and then was kind enough to scan it.

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