Category Archives: Uncategorized

CU10 Flashback: Single Review/Shameless Rant: Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”

Miranda Lambert - The House That Built MeI discovered Country Universe in the spring of 2010 and quickly became a regular reader. At the time, Dan’s review of Miranda Lambert’s much-lauded release “The House That Built Me” was a recent post.

Besides making me wish that my own ‘shameless rants’ could come out sounding half as smart and classy as Dan’s, the article raises a series of points that remain valid nearly half a decade later. “The House That Built Me” is a great record, but should it really have stood out so dramatically as such? Dan discussed the single in a way that turned the mirror back on us. Have we developed a tendency to praise or over-praise music, not on its own merits, but in comparison to the weaker material surrounding it?

Perhaps it was my recent participation in Country Universe’s Best of 1994 feature which moved me to revisit this article and topic. I think about the great difficulty I had in narrowing down my personal list of favorite singles from that incredible year, and then I look at the singles I’ve reviewed favorably in the recent past. How many of those singles would have had a prayer of making that list if they had been released in 1994? At a time when great music is becoming harder and harder to find, Dan’s review remains a potent reminder of the need to maintain a wider perspective in evaluating the music of today. – Ben Foster

Single Review/Shameless Rant: Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”
by Dan Milliken
April 1, 2010

Let’s be real: to most core readers of this blog, it’s probably old news that Miranda Lambert is releasing this unusually good song to radio. And it’s probably old opinion for me to proclaim that she’s playing a more sophisticated game than just about any mainstream artist out there. You know: “she’s real, everyone else is a phony!” Is there some amount of truth in that? Sure. But you don’t need another country music Caulfield to tell you. You just have to listen to the song. The difference between this record and most of the others at radio can be felt within seconds.

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CU Archives: Kathy Mattea

For those of you just discovering Country Universe because of Ben Foster’s stellar review of Calling Me Home, here are some other Kathy Mattea features from our archives:

A Conversation with Kathy Mattea

This interview from March 2009 covers Mattea’s musical legacy, with a special focus on her Grammy-nominated Coal.

100 Greatest Women: #27. Kathy Mattea

Mattea’s entry on our 2008 countdown of the genre’s greatest women.

Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Kathy Mattea

Twenty-five of her best, written shortly after the release of Coal.

Classic Country Singles: “Where’ve You Been”

A look back at

the single that earned Mattea her first Grammy award and won its songwriters several major honors as well.





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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

1999 | #4

Of all the crossover mega-hits from Shania Twain’s wildly successful Come On Over album, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” is arguably the most iconic.

The single was an across-the-board international multi-format smash that ensured Come On Over continued selling like hotcakes, and even helped Twain grab the coveted Entertainer of the Year trophy from both the CMA and the ACM.

An insanely catchy, danceable girl power anthem, “Man!” reels the listener in quickly and easily.  The distinct, easily recorgnizable synth hook ensures that the song will stay stuck in your head for days after only a few listens.  It’s the kind of song that you just fall in love with, and then get tired of, only to go right back to loving it in a short while.  The hilarious, eye-popping music video – a gender-flipped parody of Robert Palmer’s classic clip “Addicted to Love,” is every bit as memorable.

But perhaps the biggest reason why the song has held up so well over time is that, of all Shania’s memorably up-tempo romps, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” is one that captures her infectious energy and priceless personality most effectively, right from the opening call of “Let’s go, girls!”  Only “Any Man of Mine” rivals it in that department.

There’s just no other song that defines her like this one does.  “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” is Shania Twain.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  A

Previous:  That Don’t Impress Me Much

Next:  You’ve Got a Way


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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, “My Blue Tears”

1971 | #17

The title track got most of the love, and deservedly so, but the first single from Parton’s Coat of Many Colors album is a strong effort in its own right.  Backed by Appalachian-flavored acoustic instrumentation, Parton mourns her lost love while expressing a desire for nothing more than solitude.

To the bluebird singing a sad song, she says “Spread your blue wings, and I’ll shed my blue tears.”  To the bright sunshine, she says “Waste not your warmth on the coldness in here…. Go light your blue sky, and I’ll shed my blue tears.”  The song’s brisk tempo belies its sad lyrics as Parton sings with an emotive quiver in her voice.

A minor Top 20 hit, “My Blue Tears” doesn’t stand quite as tall in Parton’s catalog as classics like “Jolene” and “Coat of Many Colors,” but its understated emotional qualities make it a gem worth hearing.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade:  B+

Next:  Coat of Many Colors

Previous:  The Right Combination (with Porter Wagoner)


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Single Review: LeAnn Rimes, “Swingin'”

John Anderson’s early 1983 hit, “Swingin’”, is the song that propelled his mainstream country music career. The quirky song that chronicled the mundane details of young infatuation is more loved for its unadulterated cheesiness than for being anything akin to a masterpiece. In fact, it sounds deliciously dated today, which only accentuates its cult appeal.

On her upcoming album that is dedicated to covering love songs, LeAnn Rimes energetically revives the old Anderson classic. Charlotte is replaced by Charlie, the horns and organ are replaced by masterful guitar slinging from producer Vince Gill, and the obnoxious peanut gallery chorus is completely eliminated. As a result, we are treated to a jaunty, open performance that sounds like a skilled jam session rather than a stuffy studio affair.

As the lead single to a covers album of love songs, “Swingin’” proves to be a welcome lead off to an album with an admittedly dubious concept on paper. Then again, Rimes has already assured us that”it’s not just a covers record where I’m covering the songs from front to back where it sounds exactly the same.”

Fortunately, with probably the best single that we’ll hear this summer, that assessment seems to be dead on accurate.

Written by John Anderson & Lionel Delmore

Grade: A

Listen: LeAnn Rimes, “Swingin”


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Single Review: Jason Aldean, “Crazy Town”

Look, Nashville’s got its issues. And a song that delves into its yin-yang core of image and art could be interesting, if not entirely original. It could be any combination of honest, clever, biting and entertaining. It could make sense.

Or, it could be sung by Jason Aldean, an artist who’s arguably risen to success not in spite of the industry’s flaws, but because of them.  That’s not to say Aldean hasn’t put in the work to become a multi-platinum recording artist; it’s just that claiming to have conquered the evils of Music Row requires a decent amount of artistic credibility, separate and apart from the mass appeal that drives the careers of many Nashville artists. Aldean has shown glimmers of this, but his legacy thus far is a brand of pulsing country-rock that’s heavy on the production and light on the vocal and lyrical substance. Case in point: “Crazy Town.” The song, then, feels more like an ironic autobiography than a commentary.

But put artist context aside, and “Crazy Town” still fails to serve its purpose. A tribute to a love-hate relationship only works if you’re able to show that the love is worth the hate – that there’s a pay-off somewhere amidst the craziness. So what makes the years of free concerts, smoky bars, and “bang, bang, bang”-ing what one can only hope is a guitar worth it? A “honky tonk destiny,” sings Aldean, and we’re left to conjure our own image of the deep fulfillment such a destiny offers. The blanks certainly aren’t filled in by Aldean’s performance, which trades any specific emotion for smothering, empty aggression.

Any way you look at it, “Crazy Town” is an insubstantial miss.

Written by Rodney Clawson & Brett Jones

Grade: D

Listen: Crazy Town




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Bargain Hunter: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

A Grammy and CMA winner for Album of the Year, T-Bone Burnett’s O Brother soundtrack is perhaps the most widely revered country album of the last decade. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you could hardly do better than dropping $2.99 on it on this fine Super Bowl Sunday.

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Billy Currington, “That’s How Country Boys Roll”

BillyCurringtonIt’s always disappointing when a good song is tainted by mundane lyrics, and I fear that’s the case with “That’s How Country Boys Roll.” Like most of Currington’s singles, the song –lyrics aside– is charming and endearing, and the vocal performance rich and distinct.

But we come away from the song learning what, exactly, about country boys? That they like fishing, suped up cars and working real hard? Granted, there are a few deeper messages in the mix, but none are expressive enough to actually paint a picture of a multi-dimensional country boy.

Of course, I’d much rather have Currington tell me how country boys roll than have Jason Aldean preach to me how country girls roll… but then again, I’d much rather hear Alan Jackson’s genuine story of a small town southern man than listen to either. In the pack of “country folks” songs, “That’s How Country Boys Roll” sits somewhere in the middle. It’s inoffensive and unmoving – and that’s disheartening, because with one of the most interesting voices in country music, Currington’s capable of so much more.

Written by Billy Currington, Dallas Davidson & Brett Jones

Grade: C+

Listen: That’s How Country Boys Roll



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Hear Mindy Smith’s New Album

Mindy StupidSinger-songwriter Mindy Smith’s latest offering, Stupid Love, is streaming online at Paste Magazine‘s website. It sounds like a poppier effort than her previous two albums, but reviews are strong, and Smith is a great talent. Check it out!


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The Greencards, <em>Fascination</em>

greencardsThe Greencards

The Greencards are a trio consisting of Australians Carol Young and Kym Warner along with U.K. native Eamon McLoughlin. Up-and-comers with talent to spare and an eclectic range of influences, they have earned spots opening for both Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. They were awarded an Austin Music Award in 2003, an Americana Music Award in 2006, and, in 2008, earned a “Best Country Instrumental Performance” Grammy nomination. Their albums have incorporated blues, world music, and jazz, and have been labeled roots music, modern bluegrass, and Americana.

This brings us to their Sugar Hill debut, and the question, what is Fascination?

Fascination integrates elements of folk, country, modern bluegrass and Americana, and often draws upon elements of blues and world music one would expect only to find on National Public Radio. Yet, apply any of these labels to their latest album and they seem not only to fall short, but to feel completely inaccurate. Some will make comparisons to Nickel Creek or The Duhks, but The Greencards, while also technically breathtaking and acoustically driven, inspire comparison primarily because they have consistently moved towards a sound of their own.

With Fascination, The Greencards are held together by adventurousness and fueled by tight musical arrangements and the brilliant cadence of Carol Young’s vocals. It is also notable that Fascination marks the first time the group has worked with a producer, as it appears Jay Joyce (Patty Griffin, John Hiatt, The Duhks) has helped solidify a sound that has sometimes been muddled in past


The Greencards shine on the instrumental “Little Siam,” deliver up some indie-pop immediacy with acoustic rhythms on “Fascination,” delve into world music with “Chico Calling,” and finally flirt with their modern bluegrass roots on “Outskirts of Blue” and “Rivertown.”

This range is more impressive when one considers all but a single song on the album were written or co-written with a member of the Greencards. “Davey Jones,” a hauntingly sung tale of the dangers of the sea, serves as an excellent example of the strengths of Carol Young’s vocals and is the sole outside creation on the album. “Three Four Time” and “Into the Blue” are the only sleepers, somewhat cerebral and inaccessible at first listen.

With Fascination, The Greencards move away from eclectic sampling and into a sound that is intellectually and emotionally theirs. Fascination is an argument for music without borders; a melding of influences held together by fine lead vocals, ethereal instrumentation, and a sense that musicians don’t have to be anyone but themselves.

I’m not sure what section of the store you will find The Greencards new album (most likely bluegrass, Americana, or perhaps even country), but I am sure you should seek it out all the same.



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