Starter Kits

Reba McEntire Starter Kit

April 20, 2009 // 26 Comments

Reba McEntire already has 56 top ten hits to her credit, and her new single, “Strange”, just entered the chart at #39, a career-high entry for the legendary singer. She’s been a presence on the country charts for 23 years, has more gold and platinum albums than any female country artist, and she’s a multimedia star, finding great success on Broadway and in television and film.

But for those who know her best as a sitcom star or Kelly Clarkson’s and Kenny Chesney’s duet partner, trying to tackle her catalog is a daunting task. This Starter Kit will get you going, as it includes ten of her most essential tracks. Those of you looking to learn more about McEntire are highly recommended to check out the excellent My Kind of Country blog, which gives frequent and always high-quality coverage of McEntire’s music, past and present.

“Somebody Should Leave” from the 1984 album My Kind of Country

Even though she was won her first CMA award for Female Vocalist before this album was released, My Kind of Country is widely credited as being the first truly great Reba McEntire album. She exerted creative control for the first time, and instantly became one of the genre’s most significant new traditionalists.

This Harlan Howard classic is achingly, heartbreakingly beautiful, a description that fits most of McEntire’s best work. Here, a couple is aware that it’s time to part ways, but aren’t sure how to go about it, so worried are they for their children: “If it was only you and me, goodbye might come more easily. But what about those babies down the hall?”

John Anderson Starter Kit

April 9, 2009 // 16 Comments

Among the greatest new traditionalists of the eighties, John Anderson is one of the best. That he managed to resurrect his career during the nineties boom, while most of his peers from a decade earlier were shown the door, is a testament to his talent and the timeless quality of his music.

His distinctive voice made him one of the last great stylists of country music, a singer you could identify after hearing him sing the first line. I recommend delving deep into his catalog, and here are the ten tracks that you should start with.

“She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs” from the 1980 album John Anderson

One of Anderson’s breakthrough songs finds him concerned over his lover’s new fondness for cheating songs. “I’m not sure if it’s the cheatin’ she likes, or just the melody,” he worries.

“I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday” from the 1981 album John Anderson 2

A classic song celebrating untapped potential, courtesy of songwriting legend Billy Joe Shaver.

“I Just Came Home to Count the Memories” from the 1981 album I Just Came Home to Count the Memories

This haunting ballad of a broken home evokes memories of George Jones classics like “The Grand Tour,” complete with melancholy strings.

Randy Travis Starter Kit

March 28, 2009 // 6 Comments

As his recent stint as an American Idol mentor proves, Randy Travis is one of the most widely recognized and respected traditional country artists of the past three decades. After selling millions of albums in the eighties, Travis remained a force on the country charts throughout the nineties. This decade, he has won several Grammy awards for his Christian albums, and even returned to the top of the country charts with “Three Wooden Crosses”, a selection from one of those albums.

A Starter Kit for an artist like Randy Travis can only skim the surface. Those looking to dig deeper should check out Leeann’s Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Randy Travis feature, along with his recent collaboration with Carrie Underwood on “I Told You So”, which resulted in his first-ever top ten pop hit, a full thirty years after he made his first appearance on the country charts with “She’s My Woman” under his real name, Randy Traywick.

“On the Other Hand” from the 1986 album Storms of Life

His first hit single was an instant classic about the consequences of infidelity.

“Diggin’ Up Bones” from the 1986 album Storms of Life

He’ll forever have coolness for scoring a #1 hit with “exhuming” in the chorus.

“Forever and Ever, Amen” from the 1987 album Always & Forever

This instant wedding classic powered his second album to quintuple platinum status.

“I Told You So” from the 1987 album Always & Forever

The original version is mandatory listening for fans of Carrie Underwood and contemporary country music.

“Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” from the 1989 album No Holdin’ Back

The production was startlingly innovative for the time, and Travis deserves kudos for convincing listeners that it’s the woman who was cheated on who is being unreasonable.

Aaron Tippin Starter Kit

March 21, 2009 // 11 Comments

Starter Kits are Country Universe’s way of introducing country music fans to an artist that they might not be fully aware of. This Starter Kit features Aaron Tippin, who will soon enter his third decade as a country recording artist.

Tippin was a hit from the beginning, launching his career with a gold-selling debut album. Over the course of the nineties and early 2000s, he would reach that sales level multiple times, racking up several top ten hits along the way. He recently released In Overdrive, a solid collection of truck driving anthems.

The Starter Kit includes one track from this recent release, along with nine others from throughout Tippin’s career that are required listening. As always, let me know what was missed in the comments.

“You’ve Got to Stand For Something” from the 1991 album You’ve Got to Stand For Something

Tippin established his artistic identity immediately with his debut single. Pride in family, pride in country, and pride in your beliefs are themes that Tippin would revisit frequently over the years, making much of his best music in the process.

“There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With the Radio” from the 1992 album Read Between the Lines

Tippin scored a huge hit with this ode to his car radio, the only part of his vehicle that isn’t falling apart.

“I Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way” from the 1992 album Read Between the Lines

One of his many hits to champion the underdog, the accompanying video clip has him playing a factory worker who rallies for better working conditions.

Conway Twitty Starter Kit

March 15, 2009 // 17 Comments

Starter Kits are Country Universe’s way of introducing country music fans to an artist that they might not be fully aware of. Our first Starter Kit features Conway Twitty, the legendary Hall of Famer with forty number one singles to his credit. After having major success on the pop charts in the fifties, Twitty crossed over to country, where he was a regular presence in the top ten from the late sixties until the early nineties. No country music fan should be without some Conway Twitty in their collection. Here are ten tracks to start off with. “It’s Only Make Believe” from the 1958 album Conway Twitty Sings Twitty’s clearly influenced by Elvis Presley as a vocalist on this #1 pop hit. He’d later develop a country style but never fully lose the soul sound found on his first hit. “Hello Darlin’” from the 1970 album Hello Darlin’ Still his Read More

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