Tag Archives: Alan Jackson

Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "Tall, Tall Trees"

1995 | Peak:#1

Leave it to Alan

Jackson to find a #1 single on a Roger Miller box set.

Miller co-wrote “Tall, Tall Trees” with George Jones.  Jones recorded it first.  Miller recorded it a few years later.

With Miller being the king of comedic country and Jones of honky-tonk drawl, Jackson managed an awesome feat with his version.  He sounds more comfortable with the rapid wordplay and hillbilly humor than either of the two guys who wrote it.

Jackson’s cover isn’t just the most commercially successful of the three.  It’s also the best.

Written by George Jones and Roger Miller

Grade: A

Next: I’ll Try

Previous: I Don’t Even Know Your Name

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "I Don't Even Know Your Name"

1995 | Peak: #1

With all the righteous indignation regarding the lackluster performance of “So You Don’t Have to

Love Me Anymore” at radio, it’s easy to forget that country radio once played the bad Alan Jackson singles just as much as the great ones.

Case in point: “I Don’t Even Know Your Name” was a #1 single.

Perhaps that’s a little unfair.   The song is somewhat clever, and it was apparently memorable enough that Carrie Underwood rewrote it a decade later.   I think I’d like it a lot more if it was missing the final verse, much like the waitress was missing her front tooth.

But it’s that kind of forced humor that makes me wince every time Brad Paisley tries to be funny.  Jackson pulls it off better than most, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Love the instrumentation, though.

Written by Alan Jackson, Ron Jackson, and Andy Lofton

Grade: C

Next: Tall, Tall Trees

Previous: Song for the Life

httpv:www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aNjYlgwBN0

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Single Review: Alan Jackson, “You Go Your Way”

You know the country music market is in sore straits when a career-best effort from Alan Jackson dies outside the Top 20 on the charts.  It’s easy to wonder if, after more than two decades of populating country airwaves with quality material well-sung and tastefully produced, the hits may finally be drying up for Alan Jackson.  That would be a huge shame, because finely polished country tunes like current single “You Go Your Way” are becoming increasingly rare on country radio, with Jackson having been one of the last nineties veterans standing who was still able to sneak such efforts into the playlists.

In structure and theme, “You Go Your Way” bears a moderate resemblance to George Strait’s classic 1993 hit “Easy Come, Easy Go,” but with a deeper shade of heartache.  Though Jackson’s narrator at first seems to profess the same casual indifference as Strait does when watching his lover leave, he soon reveals that he’s not taking it all in stride – a fact made unmistakable by the hook “You go your way… and I’ll go crazy.”  Clever little couplets like “I poured some bourbon in a coffee cup/ It’s been too long since I drank too much”  add interest and first-person detail to the scenario without distracting from it.  He’s not so much wallowing in his sorrow as accepting it with passive resignation.

The lyric is framed in a quietly infectious melody as well as a fiddle and steel-drenched Keith Stegall arrangement that sounds absolutely fantastic.  Though we would generally expect nothing less from Alan Jackson, such work seems almost revolutionary in comparison to the warmed-over sounds that have all but taken over country radio.

Whether “You Go Your Way” will re-ignite Jackson’s radio success remains to be seen, but if not, it won’t be for lack of quality.  Though its artistry doesn’t stand quite as tall in Jackson’s catalog as “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore,” “You Go Your Way” is an all-around solid record that would make a most refreshing presence on the airwaves should it find a home on country radio.

Written by Troy Jones, Tony Lane, and David Lee

Grade:  A-

Listen:  You Go Your Way

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iPod Check: Most Played Song by Twenty Country Artists

Since bringing back Recommend a Track proved so popular, I’m resurrecting another CU oldie but goodie: the iPod check.

I’ve only recently discovered the Most Played feature on iTunes, since it never had any relevance until iPods were large enough in memory to sync all of my music.   So going back to early 2011, I have a lengthy list of the songs I’ve played the most.

So today’s iP0d check:  List your most-played song from twenty different country artists.

You can access this info by going to your own Most Played list and adjusting the number of songs on it – I use 500 for mine – or you can just go to Music and sort by number of plays.  Or you can just pick twenty artists at random and list your most played song for each.  We’re easy here.  (This would also work in Spotify, from what I hear.)

Here’s my top twenty:

  1. Pam Tillis – Deep Down (89 plays)
  2. Keith Urban – I Told You So (81)
  3. Dixie Chicks – Long Time Gone (71)
  4. Taylor Swift – Mean (68)
  5. Trisha Yearwood – Where Are You Now (63)
  6. Patty Loveless – You Can Feel Bad (59)
  7. Emmylou Harris – Easy From Now On (55)
  8. Carrie Underwood – Undo It (50)
  9. Lori McKenna – Lorraine (50)
  10. Dwight Yoakam – Ain’t That Lonely Yet (46)
  11. Sara Evans – Rocking Horse (45)
  12. Sawyer Brown – Cafe on the Corner (45)
  13. Reba McEntire – The Fear of Being Alone (44)
  14. Shania Twain – Up! (43)
  15. Faith

    Hill – Stealing Kisses (41)

  16. Alan Jackson – So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore (40)
  17. Crystal Gayle – Why Have Your Left the One You Left Me For (39)
  18. George Strait – Meanwhile (39)
  19. Lee Ann Womack – I May Hate Myself in the Morning (39)
  20. Aaron Tippin – Whole Lotta Love on the Line (38)

I’m surprised that some of my most played artists overall, like Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and Tim McGraw, don’t have that one big song that I play excessively.  Also, at least half of the songs above aren’t what I would call my favorite song by the given artist.  How about you?

 

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100 Greatest Men: #43. Roger Miller

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He became widely hailed for his lightning-fast wit and charming novelty songs, but Roger Miller’s talents ran far deeper than just the moments of comedic brilliance that made him a legend.

Miller took a long and winding route to country stardom.  His brother-in-law, Sheb Wooley, encouraged his fiddle playing as a boy, and he sang and played guitar, but he was more interested in working as a ranch hand.  But after a stint in the army led to a chance meeting with industry insiders, he made the jump and moved to Nashville.

An audition for Chet Atkins at RCA went poorly, but Miller persevered, focusing on his songwriting.  He wrote the classic Ray Price hit “Invitation to the Blues”, along with hits for Jim Reeves, Ernest Tubb, and Faron Young.   He also co-wrote with George Jones, and although it wasn’t a hit at the time, their collaboration “Tall, Tall Trees” would become a #1 hit for Alan Jackson three decades later.

Miller’s success as a writer garnered him new attention from Nashville labels, and he had a handful of minor hits on RCA during a short stint on the label.   While he was known as a hardcore country singer up until this point, he tried a new approach, moving to California and appearing on network variety shows as a more comedic country singer.

The new image was a big success, and when he began releasing singles and albums on the Smash Records label, he became a superstar.   Over the course of just three years, he released several major hits, won eleven Grammy awards, and earned several gold albums, along with the million-selling single, “King of the Road.”

After those peak years, he continued to chart, and often brought attention to material from newer songwriters like Bobby Russell (“Little Green Apples”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Me and Bobby McGee”).   His own songwriting led to additional hits for other artists, most notably Eddy Arnold, who had a #2 hit with “The Last Word in Lonesome is Me.”

Miller’s storytelling skills led him to pen several songs for the Disney animated film Robin Hood in 1973, which foreshadowed his next and final major signature success.  In 1985, he became the toast of Broadway for his score to the show Big River, which won him two Tony awards.   Though Miller continued to work after this incredible achievement, he was soon sidelined by throat cancer, which claimed his life in 1991.

Essential Singles:

  • Dang Me, 1964
  • Chug-a-Lug, 1964
  • Do-Wacka-Do, 1964
  • King of the Road, 1965
  • England Swings, 1965
  • Husbands and Wives, 1966
  • Little Green Apples, 1968
  • Me and Bobby McGee, 1969

Essential Albums:

  • Roger and Out, 1964
  • The Return of Roger Miller, 1965
  • Third Time Around, 1965
  • Words and Music,  1966
  • Walkin’ in the Sunshine, 1967
  • A Tender Look at Love, 1968

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#42. Porter Wagoner

Previous: #44. Glen Campbell

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, “Song For the Life”

Visit this link n-Jackson-Song-for-the-Life.jpg”>1995 | Peak: #6

The list of distinguished artists who have recorded “Song for the Life” is a long one, but Alan Jackson is the only one who managed to make a hit out of it.

That radio played this pensive and philosophical ballad at all is a testament to Jackson’s incredible popularity at the time.  Its mere presence on the airwaves elevated the genre for the handful of weeks it was in heavy rotation.

When you have some time, check out the other versions of this by the Seldom Scene, Johnny Cash, Jerry Jeff Walker, Alison Krauss, John Denver, Waylon Jennings, Kathy Mattea, and its writer, Rodney Crowell.   It’s one of those songs that reveals quite a bit about where a singer is in their life and how they feel about the meaning of it all.

For my money, Jackson’s reading is the best, though I suspect he’d hit it even further out of the park if he recorded it again today.

Written by Rodney Crowell

Grade: A

Next: I Don’t Even Know Your Name

Previous: A Good Year for the Roses (with George Jones)

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Retro Single Review: George Jones & Alan Jackson, "A Good Year for the Roses"

1994  | Peak: #56

So, Alan Jackson is at the peak of his first wave of popularity, and he partners up with a still-potent George Jones to cover one of the Possum’s greatest singles.

I qualify that statement with “one of”, simply because “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, “The Window Up Above”, and “She Thinks I Still Care” exist, but in my personal opinion, the original recording of “A Good Year for the Roses” really is the best George Jones single.

So the two traditionalists pairing up to resurrect this classic couldn’t possibly go wrong, with Jackson being an heir apparent for Jones, who was creatively resurgent at the time.   But they don’t go quite as right as they could have.  The tempo is a bit too slow, and the dramatic strings are conspicuously missing.

Maybe they didn’t want too much tamoxifen production getting in the way, but for all that Jones is praised for being pure country, what made his best seventies and eighties records soar were those big strings and layers of backing vocalists.  Jones is a big enough singer to maintain a commanding presence amidst all of the bells and whistles.   That approach wouldn’t play to Jackson’s strengths, so maybe that’s why they kept it simple.

But even though both men are in fine form and they perform the song well, it sounds like something is missing.

Written by Jerry Chesnut

Grade: B+

Next:  Song For the Life

Previous: Gone Country

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "Gone Country"

“I hear down there, it’s changed, you see.  They’re not as backward as they used to be.”

“Gone Country” is a snapshot of country music at the peak of the boom years, when forces within the music industry and larger shifts in the social landscape of America coalesced to launch country music from its long-suffering redheaded stepchild status into a billion dollar business.

Penned by Bob McDill, a pop songwriter who’d gone country himself many years earlier, the song’s sing-along chorus lends itself to “Born in the U.S.A.” syndrome.  Many sang along without realizing that it was actually an indictment of musical artists who manipulatively decided to go country, rather than a celebration of the explosive new audience that had embraced the format in the early nineties.

Who but Alan Jackson could have delivered it so masterfully? Even during the hat act years, when every young new buck was falling over himself to declare his affinity for Haggard and Jones, Alan Jackson stood out as the real deal.  But despite his staunch traditionalism and reverence for the genre’s greats, he still skillfully incorporated fifties rock, sixties pop and seventies rock into his sound, which is why he could cover “Tequila Sunrise” just as credibly as “A Good Year for the Roses.”

The man singing the song had reached mega-superstardom, selling more copies of one album than many of his heroes had sold of their entire catalog.   Even as he played the cocked-eyebrow guardian of the genre, looking at these carpetbaggers with disdain-laced suspicion, he also knew that the gold rush that was calling their names had made him successful beyond his wildest dreams.

So while there’s a whiff of condescension toward the Vegas singer going “back to her roots”, the folkie who thought “some of that stuff don’t sound much different than Dylan”, and the pop executive who was sure he’d  “be back in the money in no time at all”,  his confident air throughout the song was a reminder that all of their perceptions were based in truth.

Nineties country really did share some roots with the pop and rock music that lounge singers would belt out in Vegas.   Mary Chapin Carpenter, a folkie if there ever was one, was selling multi-platinum and dominating the award show circuit.  And while pop music was at its lowest nadir, languishing in the shadows of both grunge rock and hip-hop, country radio was the only place on the radio dial where bright production and lyrical emphasis could be found.

It was a golden moment in the genre’s history, the first and last time when country dominated the entire American musical landscape without having to compromise its own identity to capture the interest of the crossover audience.   They made smart, contemporary music that acknowledged and built upon the genre’s rich legacy, and the audience came to them.

These days, of course, they’re as backward as they’ve ever been.  Hillbilly pride songs compete for airtime with songs so blatantly pop that they don’t even need remixing for pop and AC airplay. But “Gone Country” is a beautiful snapshot of a time when buy generic viagra online the genre had risen to the top of the music scene, simply on the twin strengths of authenticity and artistry.

Written by Bob McDill

Grade: A

Next: A Good Year for the Roses (with George Jones)

Previous: Livin’ on Love

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Album Review: Zac Brown Band, <i>Uncaged</i>

Zac Brown Band
Uncaged

Uncaged  may be the product of studio recording sessions, but it pulses with the energy of a live set.

That much is evident right from the bongo drums and whistle hook that open the album on “Jump Right In.”  Immediately afterward, the title track lays down a heavy arena-rock groove that was obviously made for a live setting.  Needless to say, the band’s eclectic musical stylings will not suit every listener’s personal taste, while traditionalist country music fans will find relatively little to celebrate on this record.   Regardless, it remains obvious that, of all the bands currently in heavy rotation on country radio, few are as fully developed as an actual band as Brown and his cohorts.

Yet Uncaged would not be the success that it is if not for the high quality of Brown’s songwriting, consistently characterized by unaffected sincerity, straightforwardness, and naturalness of flow.  “Goodbye In Her Eyes” begins with the line “I could tell that it was over when her lips met mine/ It was an emptiness in her voice, hesitation when she smiled” and heads from there to “She’d found what she’d been looking for, and I knew it wasn’t me,” while the backing instruments swell with a rising sense of urgency, making the track a clear standout in lyrical construction as well as overall song structure.

The weakest track on the album is called – wait for it – “Island Song,” and sounds like just about every other “island song” pervading country music.  It generally brings nothing new to the tiki bar, save for a painfully affected fake Jamaican accent on Brown’s part, while the aforementioned “Jump Right In” draws on similar reggae influences, but does so with a greater level of personality.  Likewise, “Sweet Annie” is a solid song on its own merits, but one that sounds a little too much like a retread of last year’s hit “Colder Weather,” both lyrically and melodically.

Lead single and current Top 20 hit “The Wind” is easily one of the best and coolest-sounding singles to make it to radio airwaves this year.  It’s one of the few tracks on the album that scans unmistakably as country music, but one that nods to genre conventions without compromising the band’s distinct sense of identity.  The band taps into a smooth jazz vibe with the Trombone Shorty collaboration “Overnight” – a sultry come-on lyric that could have scanned as embarrassingly campy if delivered through a lesser performance, but one that Brown manages to sell with infectious gusto.

While the band’s influences run the gamut from Alan Jackson to the Eagles to Jimmy Buffett to Bob Marley – and this album alone includes collaborations with Amos Leigh, Sonia Leigh, and Jason Mraz - Uncaged still manages to sound first and foremost like a Zac Brown Band album.  The effortless charm of Brown’s singing and songwriting, not to mention the energy of the band’s musicianship, creates a common unifying thread that runs throughout all the genre styles experimented with through the course of the set.

It’s consistently clear How do u buy propecia in canada that, according to the Zac Brown Band’s musical approach, it’s not about genres.  It’s not about radio formats.  It’s not about pleasing one’s chosen demographic.  It’s about music, plain and simple.  As a result, Uncaged is an unshakably confident, ambitious-sounding record that refuses to condescend to its listeners, and it thus may be just the thing to impart a shot of authenticity to mainstream country music.

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Album Review: Alan Jackson, <i>Thirty Miles West</i>

Alan Jackson
Thirty Miles West

Jackson does so many basic things right on his new album that it's tempting to award him five stars right off the bat.

The production is clean, his singing doesn't get in the way of the songs, and those songs have complete ideas and actual structure.   It's the first mainstream country album in a long time that isn't overrun with production tricks, or kicking up the loudness to eleven, or playing an exaggerated personality type that's condescending to its audience.

In short, it's what we used to expect most country albums to be, but in today's climate, it sounds almost revelatory upon first listen.    Truth is, it's just a solid Alan Jackson album, and when put in the context of his own body of work, away from the comparisons to today's substandard standard-bearers, it demonstrates his usual consistency but perhaps not the creativity that has fueled his best work.

Jackson co-wrote about half the album, and he revisits some of the themes that have resulted in his greatest performances, but the latest variants are not as distinctive and memorable.   “Dixie Highway” captures his love for his upbringing and his roots, but despite charming support from Zac Brown, it's just not specific and urgent enough to meet the bar he set with “Home”, “Chattahoochee”, “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, and “Small Town Southern Man.”

“Everything But the Wings” is a beautiful love song with some poetic turns of phrase, but it doesn't have the seductive romance of “I'll Go On Loving You” or the personal poignancy of “Remember When.”  Similarly, there are some brilliant lines scattered throughout the solemn closing track, “When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey)”, but the rambling narrative lacks the potent simplicity of “Sissy's Song” and “Monday Morning Church.”

The latter of those two classics was penned by outside writers, and interestingly, it is the outside material that shines brightest on Thirty Miles West.   “You Go Your Way” is a goodbye song in the same vein as the George Strait classic “Easy Come, Easy Go”, but it's not so easy for the protagonist of this one.   It has one of those great couplets that only sounds right in a real country song, soaked in fiddles and steel guitar:  “I poured some bourbon in a coffee cup.  It's been too long since I drank too much.”

Only a man who could sing that line convincingly could also get away with the opener, “Gonna Come Back as a Country Song”, which finds him promising his wife that she needn't grieve once he's gone, providing reincarnation is real.   He'll be back as a country song, living in eternal paradise “between the fiddle and the steel guitar.”

Two breakup songs are even better.   “She Don't Get High” has something of a misleading title, with its lament being that he “don't make her fly anymore…Hard as I try, I'm not the sky she's looking for.”   Even better is the current single, “So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore”, which isn't just the best song Alan Jackson has recorded in the past few years.  It's better than nearly everyone else's best, too.

But my personal favorite moment comes from Jackson's own pen: “Her Life's a Song.”  It tells the story of a woman who loves every type of music and associates all of the big and little moments of her life with it.   He creates a totally believable character, and does so without succumbing to a single female stereotype or disparaging other genres and styles for the sake of putting country on a pedestal.    In a weird way, it's like the music lover's counterpart to the universality of “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”,  celebrating everyone's experience with music as valid and worth singing about.

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