Archive for the ‘Six Pack’ Category

Six Pack: Iris DeMent

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Iris DementEven long-time readers of Country Universe could be forgiven for getting to #2 on our Top Country Albums of 2012 list and wondering, “Who on earth is Iris DeMent?”

Iris DeMent came out of nowhere in 1992 with a stunning debut album, Infamous Angel, that received rapturous critical acclaim.  The general consensus was that it heralded the arrival of a new singer-songwriter for the ages.

Two years later, My Life only strengthened that sentiment, and DeMent was widely seen as a critical voice in what would eventually become known as the Americana music genre.

Then, in 1996, she returned with a slightly more commercial sound with the remarkably political album, The Way I Should.  Reviews were a bit mixed, though in retrospect that may have been more because of its sonic departure from the first two albums than any issues with the topical content.

Then…she kinda disappeared.   Not completely, in the sense that she still surfaced on collaborative efforts, most notably her work in 1999 on John Prine’s album, In Spite of Ourselves.  She even starred in the movie Songcatcher, playing Rose Gentry in that 2000 film.   But after releasing full albums of her own songwriting like clockwork every two years, the clock simply stopped.  In fact, the only album she released at all before 2012 was a collection of gospel covers in 2004.

So the release of Sing the Delta was as much an introduction to Iris DeMent for 21st century fans of country, folk and roots music as it was a long overdue return that was patiently awaited by those of us who loved her the first time around.  Delta is very similar in sound and structure to her first two albums, so those who are digging the new set should check those out first.  They’re both essential listening.

But I’ve decided to be a bit more democratic and showcase exactly two tracks from each of her first three albums.  In truth, if you like any of these selections, you should probably go ahead and just buy all three albums.

 

Iris Dement Infamous Angel

“Let the Mystery Be”  – from the 1992 album Infamous Angel

Listen

The opening track of her debut set establishes her point of view immediately, and feels like the blueprint for all of her most multi-layered songs.  What I love about this song is that she claims to be surrendering to the mystery of religious truth, which suggests a passive approach to matters of faith.

But her keen attention to all of the details found in both God’s creation and different religious beliefs around the world belie that indifference.  Perhaps she doesn’t want to let the mystery be so much as she doesn’t want to lose the thrill of discovery and questioning that is sacrificed when you settle on just one essential truth.

 

Iris Dement Infamous Angel

“Our Town”  – from the 1992 album Infamous Angel

Listen

A moving eulogy to a dying small town.  Her mourning for the little community in which she chose to remain is also a bit of mourning for her own life choices, as she sees every major and quite a few minor life moments have taken place within the borders of one little dot on the map.

 

Iris Dement My Life

“No Time to Cry”  – from the 1994 album My Life

Listen

This masterpiece has been covered by both Merle Haggard and Joe Nichols, but even their fine readings can’t approach the raw power of DeMent’s original.  Even the most sensitive child grows up to be a thick-skinned adult simply because of the mundane daily expectations that life places upon us with such bewildering urgency.  Those feelings remain buried deep below the surface, and as DeMent eloquently demonstrates, it is incredibly dangerous to engage them at all, lest they refuse to return to the distant inner hole to which they’ve been banished with time.

 

Iris Dement My Life

“Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day”  – from the 1994 album My Life

Listen

Budding sociologists looking for pop culture windows into the isolation and frustration of working-class middle Americans in the 1990s should pick up the first few seasons of Roseanne on DVD, then download this Mp3 and listen to it on repeat.   Even when all the rules are followed and all of the basic needs are met, the happiness that comes with full realization of your true worth and talent remains forever elusive.

 

Iris Dement The Way I Should

“Wasteland of the Free”  –

from the 1996 album The Way I Should

Listen

A stunning polemic that is perhaps most notable for being written during a period of relative peace and prosperity.  DeMent noticed the troubles borne of inequity and inequality that were brewing under the surface and have since boiled over in recent years.  She points the finger at all of the right culprits, too.

 

Iris Dement The Way I Should

“The Way I Should”  – from the 1996 album The Way I Should

Listen

A statement of self-worth that perhaps foreshadowed her decision to simply not record another album until she wanted to.   Here, she defeats the voices whispering in her ear to work harder and meet some unreachable standard of success.  She does so by rejecting the very metrics of measurement as completely invalid.

Veterans Day Six Pack

Friday, November 11th, 2011

If history had played out the way Woodrow Wilson planned, we’d be celebrating the 92nd Armistice Day today.   When first proclaimed a national holiday, Wilson declared the following:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

If the Great War had been the last war, we wouldn’t be celebrating what is now known as Veterans Day.  We also wouldn’t have an incredible legacy of songs about soldiers in the annals of country music.

Here are five classics that celebrate those who have served our country and the ones who love them, along with one tale that has a returned soldier that’s not being loved quite enough.

“Dear Uncle Sam”  by Loretta Lynn
from the 1966 album I Like ‘Em Country

Lynn was on the cusp of superstardom when she released this top five hit.   Penning a letter to Uncle Sam, she pleads for the safe return of her husband.  She sings, “I really love my country, but I also love my man.”  His return is not to be, as the song closes with a heart-wrenching recitation of the telegram informing her that he won’t be coming home.

“Galveston” by Glen Campbell
from the 1969 album Galveston

Campbell’s finest performance is a homesick ode for the lady and hometown that he left behind.  The sweeping strings and stirring vocal evoke the waves of heartache that are crashing up against his heart, much like the waters of Galveston Bay crash along the shores he once walked with her.

“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”  by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition
from the 1969 album Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town

Mel Tillis penned this massive hit for Rogers and his band, originally recorded by country artist Johnny Darrell, who took it into the top ten in 1967.   The narrator lays in bed, paralyzed from his stint in “that crazy Asian war.”  He is helpless as Ruby gives in to desire and heads into town looking for the love he can no longer provide, and he’s left there wishing she’d only wait until he died for her to step out on him.

“Soldier’s Last Letter” by Merle Haggard
from the 1971 album Hag

The spiritual predecessor of Tim McGraw’s “If You’re Reading This.”   Mama sits at home, reading a letter from her son overseas.  He’s writing from a trenchmouth, hoping his mother won’t scold him for his sloppy handwriting the way she did when he was a kid, tracking mud into the house because he didn’t wipe his feet.   He promises to finish the letter when he returns from his next battle, but the letter that arrives back home is incomplete.

“Travelin’ Soldier” by Dixie Chicks
from the 2002 album Home

The modern benchmark for soldier songs.  Bruce Robison’s original versions are both worth seeking out, and can be found on his self-titled 1996 album and his 1999 set, Long Way Home from Anywhere.   But the acoustic instrumentation that surrounds Natalie Maines’ plaintive delivery makes the Dixie Chicks version the definitive one.

“Welcome Home” by Dolly Parton
from the 2003 album For God and Country

In a brilliant feat of songwriting, Parton weaves together four stories: a soldier returning home, a soldier dying overseas, Christ’s death and resurrection, and Parton’s own hope and longing for eternal salvation.

 

Chely Wright Six Pack

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Chely WrightIt seemed like Chely Wright was on the cusp of stardom for her entire career, releasing several albums in the nineties that garnered enough interest to keep her signed but not quite enough to make her an established star. She finally scored a big hit when “Single White Female” went #1, and the album of the same name would eventually be certified gold.

But she wasn’t able to maintain the momentum with her follow-up project, and that #1 hit remained her only trip to the top ten. In recent years, she released an outstanding EP called Everything and a full-length album called The Metropolitan Hotel which was one of her most consistent efforts.

“The Love That We Lost”
from the 1996 album Right in the Middle Of It

Her biggest pre-MCA hit was remarkably intriguing, especially on the first listen when you’re trying to figure out what she’s looking all over the house for.

“Shut Up and Drive”
from the 1997 album Let Me In

One of the best records to hit the radio in 1997.

“I Already Do”
from the 1997 album Let Me In

Perhaps it was too quiet a declaration of love for country radio, but it’s a beautiful performance.

“Single White Female”
from the 1999 album Single White Female

Her biggest hit also made a name for its co-writer Carolyn Dawn Johnson, who’d go on to have a hit album of her own.

“Jezebel”
from the 2001 album Never Love You Enough

She has a lot of quirky songs in her catalog. If you like this one, make sure you check out “Alligator Purse.”

“Back of the Bottom Drawer”
from the 2004 EP Everything

A clear-eyed look back at good and bad decisions that shape who you become in the end.

Deana Carter Six Pack

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Deana CarterDeana Carter was one of the first post-Shania Twain female country stars, and she quickly proved she could sell in big numbers. Thanks to the omnipresent smash “Strawberry Wine”, she soon owned a debut album that went platinum five times over.

Radio and retail weren’t as kind to her follow-up projects, and she’d establish a pattern that would later be repeated by Gretchen Wilson – big hit, big debut, sophomore slump, third-album bomb, go indie. Her more recent albums are worth checking out, but acquaint yourself with these major-label essentials first.

“Strawberry Wine”
from the 1996 album Did I Shave My Legs For This?

In an instant, Carter became a star. She was nominated for five CMA awards on the strength of this hit. She won Single of the Year, and Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison shared Song of the Year.

“We Danced Anyway”
from the 1996 album Did I Shave My Legs For This?

Another Berg song, another #1 single for Carter, though this one was quite a bit more carefree, right down to the “la la la” chorus.

“Count Me In”
from the 1996 album Did I Shave My Legs For This?

A beautiful, sensitive performance that slowly builds confidence as it reaches its conclusion.

“Did I Shave My Legs For This?”
from the 1996 album Did I Shave My Legs For This?

After four straight top five hits, including three #1 singles, radio responded with chilliness to the hilarious title cut of Carter’s quintuple platinum debut.

“Absence of the Heart”
from the 1998 album Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

She received a standing ovation when she debuted this song on the 1998 ACM awards.
“Angels Working Overtime”
from the 1998 album Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

A sentimental tale about a girl named Indiana finally finding where she belongs, thanks to angels working overtime.


BlackHawk Six Pack

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

BlackHawkA group of veteran industry songwriters and performers came together as BlackHawk, and were quickly signed to Arista Nashville, a label that had already had success with Exile and Diamond Rio. Their debut album was a smash, selling double-platinum and spawning five hits.

The band wasn’t able to match that success with future projects, despite scoring a handful of hits from their next three albums. Their sophomore set managed to sell gold on the strength of lead single “I’m Not Strong Enough to Say No”, but future projects would miss that mark. The act also left a bad taste in the mouth among some industry members when they publicly complained that less successful acts were winning Vocal Group over them, a blatant reference to The Mavericks.

Still, they produced some great songs that any casual fan of nineties country will be familiar with.

“Goodbye Says it All”
from the 1994 album BlackHawk

Their debut single demonstrated their ease at crafting hooks tailor-made for country radio.

“Every Once in a While”
from the 1994 album BlackHawk

One of their best sounding records, featuring a particularly effective mandolin-laced intro.

“I Sure Can Smell the Rain”
from the 1994 album BlackHawk

An interesting record that foreshadows the impending doom of a relationship that’s about to end.

“That’s Just About Right”
from the 1994 album BlackHawk

There wasn’t a more quirky or more philosophical song on the radio in the spring of 1995.

“I’m Not Strong Enough To Say No”
from the 1995 album Strong Enough

Robert John “Mutt” Lange co-wrote this catchy plea for temptation not to call.

“Postmarked Birmingham”
from the 1997 album Love & Gravity

Their first stab at a pure story song was a successful one, crafting a mystery that pays off well in the end.

The Mavericks Six Pack

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

The MavericksEven though they never made it into heavy rotation on country radio, The Mavericks were still one of country music’s most lauded bands in the mid-nineties. The CMAs named them Vocal Group in both 1995 and 1996, and they won similar honors from the Grammys and the ACMs.

Despite not reaching the top ten with a single, they enjoyed a platinum-selling and a gold-selling album. In Canada, their albums continued to reach the gold threshold. “Dance the Night Away”, which barely dented the country chart in America, was a sizable hit in the United Kingdom. Lead singer Raul Malo has gone on to record several solo projects, along with producing other acts, including yesterday’s Six Pack featured artist Rick Trevino.

“What a Crying Shame”
from the 1994 album What a Crying Shame

Essentially their breakthrough hit, it found them ditching the political themes of their debut album for Orbison-channeling heartbreak instead.

“O What a Thrill”
from the 1994 album What a Crying Shame

A wonderfully romantic ballad that’s remarkably sophisticated.

“Here Comes the Rain”
from the 1995 album Music For All Occasions

They won a Grammy for this melancholy performance that perfected the formula introduced by “What a Crying Shame.”

“All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down”
from the 1995 album Music For All Occasions

Their first hit single to draw on the Latin influences that the band had in spades.

“Dance the Night Away”
from the 1998 album Trampoline

A big hit in Canada and an even bigger one in the United Kingdom, it’s one of those songs that too many Americans didn’t have a chance to hear.

“Hot Burrito #1”
from the 1999 album Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons

The band absolutely nails their entry in the multi-artist tribute to Gram Parsons.


Wade Hayes Six Pack

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Wade HayesHe could’ve been – heck, still could be – one of the genre’s great traditional vocalists. The depth of his baritone was matched by its nuance, making Josh Turner sound like an amateur in comparison. Here’s hoping he’ll resurface sometime soon, since he could blow most of today’s young guys out of the water.

“Old Enough to Know Better”
from the 1995 album Old Enough to Know Better

A twenty-something anthem that exudes youthful energy.

“I’m Still Dancin’ With You”
from the 1995 album Old Enough to Know Better

It doesn’t have quite the elegance of “In Between Dances”, but his spin on dance floor loneliness is still effective.

“Don’t Stop”
from the 1995 album Old Enough to Know Better

This is the blueprint for all those country romance numbers that Dierks Bentley and Billy Currington are known for today.

“What I Meant To Say”
from the 1995 album Old Enough to Know Better

Hindsight’s 20/20 as Hayes looks back alone.

“The Room”
from the 1996 album On a Good Night

The single biggest mistake that Sony made with Hayes was releasing “Where Do I Go to Start All Over” instead of “The Room” as the second single off of his sophomore album.  This song practically completes the trilogy begun by George Jones with “The Grand Tour” and “The Door.”

“The Day That She Left Tulsa (In a Chevy)”
from the 1997 album When the Wrong One Loves You Right

Hayes’ last big hit was also his best, as he gropes with realizing that his lover has left him because she’s pregnant with someone else’s child. (“I guess she though the truth would end up driving me away. She was wrong, but I never got the chance to say.”


Rick Trevino Six Pack

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Rick TrevinoThe nineties brought some artists who never became full-fledged stars, but were a heck of a lot more than one-hit wonders, either. One of those was Rick Trevino, who showed great promise with a solid gold-selling debut album. Though he strayed too far down the radio fodder road with his next two projects, that approach still produced a #1 hit in “Running Out of Reasons to Run.”

As is often the case with the young stars of the nineties, his more recent work has been strikingly compelling, even though radio hasn’t played it. Here’s a good sampling of underrated artist Rick Trevino.

“Just Enough Rope (Bilingual Version)”
from the 1994 album Rick Trevino

Trevino’s debut single is best heard in both of his native tongues.

“She Can’t Say I Didn’t Cry”
from the 1994 album Rick Trevino

His breakthrough hit has him sounding wiser than his years.

“Doctor Time”
from the 1994 album Rick Trevino

A barroom anthem worthy of Chesnutt, if not Jones.

“Looking For the Light”
from the 1995 album Looking For the Light

The male version of “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye.”

“Bobbie Ann Mason”
from the 1995 album Looking For the Light

Trevino’s grades suffer due to too much female distraction.

“Separate Ways”
a 2007 single release

One of country music’s finest divorce songs, sung from the perspective of an adult child worried about repeating his parents’ fate.


Six Pack: K.T. Oslin, Part Two

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

The following is a continuation of a guest contribution from Country Universe reader Cory DeStein, who wrote Part One. You can read that entry here.

kt-oslinThere have only been a handful of exceptionally literate female singer-songwriters that have become successful country music stars. K.T. Oslin was the second in a trio of such women, following Rosanne Cash and preceding Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Cory did a wonderful job with the first Six Pack, noting six of Oslin’s most impressive compositions and performances.  My Six Pack is not a counterpoint to his, but rather a continuation of it. He already named many of my favorite Oslin songs, most notably “Hold Me” and “New Way Home.”  Thankfully, her catalog is more than deep enough for me to contribute six more to the conversation. I highly recommend seeking out all of her studio albums, but the twelve tracks listed by Cory and myself should tide you over for now.

80s-ladies“I’ll Always Come Back”

80’s Ladies

The love song of a nomadic soul. Oslin promises she’ll “never get too lost that I can’t be found,” and that she’ll always come back to the person they left behind.  On the record, it sounds like she’s singing to her man, but the touching video transforms it into a lullaby for a son who lives with his father and only sees his mother occasionally.

this-woman“Didn’t Expect it To Go Down This Way”

This Woman

This past weekend, I saw the musical Avenue Q. It’s all about the disillusionment that sets in when you realize that the reality of your adult life bears no resemblance to the dreams that you held in your youth. Here, Oslin is overworked and overweight. “I knew life would be hard, but I didn’t know how hard. I thought by now I’d be happy.”  She’s left wondering, “How in the world did I end up lonely?”

(more…)

Six Pack: K.T. Oslin, Part One

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

The following is a guest contribution from Country Universe reader Cory DeSteinAn additional Six Pack written by Kevin J. Coyne will follow later this week.

oslinK.T. Oslin appears to most often enter a conversation with the line, “Older woman who broke into the music business.” A better introduction would be genius songwriter. She was the first woman to win the CMA award for Song of the Year. Her first two albums sold platinum and in three short years, she was awarded three Grammys, four ACM Awards, and two CMA Awards. With theatrical videos such as “80’s Ladies,” “Come Next Monday” and “Mary and Willie,” along with her masterful songwriting skills, her work has a timeless quality, with the themes she addressed back then still being relevant and fresh today.

I first knew of K.T. Oslin through the video “Come Next Monday” when I was just a child in 1990, and Love in a Small Town became the very first album I ever owned. After hearing “Hold Me” on satellite radio in 2006, I quickly caught myself up on her catalog and was very pleased that I did. She may not be an elite vocalist like Trisha Yearwood or Carrie Underwood, but her refreshing tack on songwriting will please any discerning listener.

80s-ladies“80’s Ladies”

80’s Ladies

The song that broke down the barriers on Music Row and forever changed the rules of what could be written about in country music. Her feminist anthem for the middle-aged woman only peaked at No. 7 on the charts, but it went on to win Oslin her first Grammy and the CMA award for Song of the Year. Oslin has said of “80’s Ladies” that she wanted it to be something people would remember her by. She certainly succeeded on that front.

this-woman“Hold Me”

This Woman

On a trip to North Carolina to visit friends in 2005, a song came on my satellite radio. The spoken verses described a husband detailing to his wife how he had planned to leave her that very morning. I found the lyrics quite harsh and brutally honest in his intentions. “When I left here this morning I was bound and determined I was never going to come back…” Never before had I heard a song take this approach. As the wife explained she too had left that very morning with no plan on returning. Oslin speaks the verses, but when the couple reconciles, she sings with gusto: “Don’t kiss me like we’re married. Kiss me like we’re lovers.”

this-woman“Hey Bobby”

This Woman

Oslin moved from the busy streets of New York City to mild side streets of Nashville, Tennessee in the eighties. Shortly after her arrival, she was invited to Catfish Fry – not something that you would find in NYC. The event inspired her to write “Hey Bobby.” The lyrics almost seem to be from a man’s point of view, but instead it’s just K.T. breaking down yet another barrier, as she plays the seductress tempting her lover with the a tryst out in the countryside.

love-in-a-small-town“Come Next Monday”

Love In a Small Town

On the last of her four No. 1 singles,  Oslin sings half-hearted promises of losing weight, going to bed early, and dropping a lover who is no good for her. Oslin’s wit and personality shine through, as the listener knows she truly will be sorry come Tuesday when it all starts over again. The song shot to the top of the charts with the help with the Bride of Frankenstein themed music video.

greatest-hits“New Way Home”

Greatest Hits: Songs from an Aging Sex Bomb

I usually feel less is more in the production arena but in this tale of woman preserving her heart by finding a new way home, Ballard’s larger production works moer effectively. Oslin sings of finding a new way home to protect her heart from all that it has already had to go through.  She “can’t be driving by your house no more” because “someday I’ll see something I don’t wanna see, and it will only break my heart all over again.”

live-close-by“Maybe We Should Learn To Tango”

Live Close By, Visit Often

“Tango” could possibly be the sequel to Oslin’s 1988 “Hold Me,” with the married couple still working on ways to keep the flame alive. When we first met the two in the late eighties, they each made it to the edge of town, but turned the car around and headed back to each other’s arms. Now they consider taking tango lessons as a way to reconnect, hoping the physical closeness can help to close the growing emotional distance between them.

If you are interested in writing a guest post for Country Universe, send an e-mail to kevin@countryuniverse.net

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