Garth Brooks, Connie Smith, and keyboardist Hargus “Pig” Robbins will join the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
Brooks is the top-selling country music artist in history. At fifty, he is one of the youngest living inductees ever.
Smith is the fifth female artist to be inducted since 2008, when Emmylou Harris ended a nine year drought for female inductees.
Since playing on the George Jones classic “White Lightning” in 1957, Robbins has recorded with countless legends of country and rock music, including Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Alan Jackson, and Bob Dylan.
What’s your take on the 2012 inductees? More importantly, who deserves to join them in 2013?
We’ll run a list of our picks for the next round. Share your suggestions in the comments!
The Class of 1989 permanently changed the face of country music. Clint Black was its valedictorian.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Texas, Black’s vocal talent was evident at an early age. He played in a band with his older brothers, and taking a gamble, he dropped out of high school and pursued a solo career.
The new traditionalist movement of the early eighties inspired him to commit himself to the country music genre. As he honed his craft throughout the eighties, he met songwriter and guitarist Hayden Nicholas, who would become an instrumental component of Black’s success.
Signing with RCA, he recorded his debut album with his road band. Black wrote or co-wrote every track on Killin’ Time, and the 1989 release had a seismic impact on country music. Black became the first country artist in history to have his first four singles reach #1, and the album quickly reached multi-platinum status. Beyond its sales and radio impact, Killin’ Time was widely hailed by critics and genre enthusiasts as a masterpiece.
The impact of Black opened the doors for fellow artists like Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and Alan Jackson to find similar massive success with their debut albums. Together, they rejuvenated the country music market, putting it on the even playing field with pop, rock, and R&B that it still enjoys today. Black won several major industry awards, and then had another multi-platinum album with his sophomore set, Put Yourself in My Shoes.
Throughout the nineties, Black continued to write and record radio hits. Even as his album sales cooled to platinum and then gold, he still maintained a streak of top ten hits. It wasn’t until his 29th solo single, “Loosen Up My Strings” in 1998, that he missed the top ten. To a certain extent, Black’s profile was reduced because of the very door that he opened. The flood of talent that followed in his wake included major talents who soon overshadowed him.
The tail end of his run with RCA found him recording with wife Lisa Hartman Black, and they enjoyed a big hit with their duet, “When I Said I Do.” Collaborations with Wynonna, Steve Wariner, Roy Rogers and Martina McBride also gained positive attention. In the new century, Black took the bold step of launching his own label, Equity Records, resulting in two studio albums that achieved moderate success. One of them, 2004′s Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic, was his most critically acclaimed set in years.
His most recent release is 2007′s Love Songs, which featured re-recordings of some of his hit ballads from the nineties. He’s kept his profile alive with various film and television appearances, and he does some light touring, preferring at this stage to spend as much time as possible with his family.
A throwaway track that ended up being a pretty big hit.
The song had been recorded several times over the years, by everyone from Steve Miller Band to Meat Loaf. But Jackson had the biggest hit with it, with its driving beat capitalizing on the success of “Chattahoochee.”
In retrospect, it might be the least essential Jackson hit of its era. Fun to listen to, but not worth making extra effort to seek out.
This timeless classic won CMA trophies for both Single and Song of the year, and was Jackson’s signature song for the rest of the nineties.
Why did it work so well?
Perhaps because it looked back on the innocence of adolescence with bemusement and fondness for that transitional period of life.
Or perhaps because it rhymed Chattahoochee with “hoochie coochie.”
Regardless, with so many of our male stars today in a permanent state of adolescence, “Chattahoochee” is a refreshing reminder that your late teens should shape who you are today, not who you wish you could still be.
Oh, and if you came to country music in the current century, this is the song that “Red Dirt Road” ripped off.
There really isn’t anything much more sad or upsetting in a relationship than cold, awkward silence. Things left unsaid or the silence after things that shouldn’t have been said can create what seems like an impenetrable, cold wall.
In his twelfth single, Alan Jackson expertly captures the forlornness of being in just such a situation. With crying steel and mournful vocals, “Tonight I Climbed the Wall” sounds like a perfect country song. Except, there’s a happy ending where, in the end, humility saves the day and the wall of silence is climbed. Ultimately, a song that manages to be both mournful and hopeful makes for an even more perfect country song.
Peaking at #4, “Tonight I Climbed the Wall” may not be one of Jackson’s signature hits, but its quality makes it one of his best.
I guess that the best way to remind us that Alan Jackson hasn’t put out a great song in a long time is for him to put out a great song.
A deeply moving spin on the same concept that anchors “Blame it On Me”, “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore” is the story of a man who loves the woman leaving him so much, he’s even willing to say she left him so she can save face.
As with many great country songs, the devil is in the details. All of the direct consequences of a relationship’s end are explored, and as they get more mundane, the song becomes more powerful. In great country music, reality always trumps fantasy.
I fear that Jackson’s remarkable run at radio may have already drawn to a close, but if there’s any justice, this will reignite his presence on the radio dial. His new release ranks among his best work, and given that he’s one of the genre’s all time greats, that’s heady company for it to be in.
If there ever was a song where traditional country perfectly mixes with honky tonk blues, here it is.
This mid-tempo gem, written by Jackson and Randy Travis, showcases production that still sounds vibrant almost twenty years later. With steel guitar and honky tonk piano aplenty, “She’s Got the Rhythm (and I’ve Got the Blues)” is simply a two-and-a-half minute sonic delight.
Furthermore, the song’s concept is accentuated by its clever title and Jackson’s amusingly mournful delivery, including a pitiful “Yee haw” that ends up sounding more funny than sad, which ultimately describes the song as a whole, despite the theme of lost love.
It’s that time of year again! The time when we all dutifully tune in to the CMA Awards show, raise our eyebrows at the “What the heck are they doing here?” award presenters, and afterwards complain about how totally un-country the whole show was. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t wait.
We’re pleased to share the Country Universe staff picks for this year’s CMA Awards, as well as our predictions of who the winners will be. This year we have some highly competitive categories in which predicting the winners is quite difficult, leading to some significantly divergent picks among our writing staff. Agree? Disagree? Join in the discussion in the comment thread below, and let us know.
The CMA Awards telecast will air on Wednesday, November 9, 8pm Eastern on ABC-TV. We will be live blogging the show here at Country Universe, so do be sure to drop by and join in the fun!
Entertainer of the Year
Jason Aldean – Kevin
Taylor Swift - Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Tara
Blake Shelton - Dan, Leeann, Jonathan
Taylor Swift – Ben, Kevin, Tara
Dan: I can imagine anyone but Urban taking it, but I like Jonathan’s logic.
Ben: It’s hard to bet on the Entertainer award going to a female artist, but it seems Swift has undoubtedly had the biggest year of all the nominees. Her album sold like hotcakes, and produced a trio of killer radio singles, while she topped that off with her Speak Now tour. That combination should bag her this year’s top prize.
Leeann: Paisley could take it again, but my money’s on the CMA wanting to give it to fresh blood this year. Taylor Swift is who probably actually deserves it, however.
Jonathan: Paisley is probably the most logical pick, but he didn’t figure as heavily into the nominations this year as he could have, so I’m wondering if the voters have cooled on him as much as the crew here at CU have of late. Swift’s live show should be a factor in this category, but she has a whole lot of gender bias to overcome, and there seems to be at least something of a backlash against her in the country community post-Fearless. Which leaves the ubiquitous Shelton, who has been something of a new “Everywhere Man” for the genre over the past year.
Kevin: I think Swift will win because she had the highest profile year. But I think Aldean defines the genre in 2011, for better or for worse. Mostly worse.
Tara: As I’ve said before, this is the most appropriate way for the voters to reward Swift’s monster success, and for the first time at the CMAs, I truly feel she deserves this award. I’m particularly impressed with the way she continues to cultivate her relationship with her fans. I just hope the voters don’t pair this award with the FVOTY award.
Male Vocalist of the Year
Jason Aldean - Dan, Ben
Keith Urban - Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
Jason Aldean – Dan, Ben
Blake Shelton - Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
Dan: Aldean’s not my thing, but he’s the biggest guy in the field by an unignorable margin. More than anything, I think the indie Broken Bow Records deserves props for building their flagship artist so well.
Ben: I’m largely indifferent to this particular field of nominees (save possibly Keith Urban), but Aldean’s massive success should most likely nab him his first Male Vocalist trophy.
Leeann: Again, I think it’s Shelton’s night to sweep in order to shake things up this year. He and Urban have the strongest voices in the category anyway.
Jonathan: Urban’s the only one of the lot who has released even one single I’ve liked in the past year, so he’d get my vote. Aldean has the commercial clout, sure, but quality has to count for something, right? Voters have looked at the word “Vocalist” in the category name and have passed over Chesney for years, and I wonder if they’ll do the same to Aldean here. I’m thinking yes.
Kevin: Urban’s the one who I can stand to listen to. But if Shelton was able to win last year, I don’t see how he loses this year. Not post-Voice and “Honey Bee.”
Tara: It makes me sad that I can’t find a solid reason to support Urban or Paisley, both of whom I used to feel passionately about. And in all honesty, I can’t find a solid reason to support any of these guys, based on their output during the eligibility period. I’m going to blindly back Urban –who, despite being “Urban-lite” these days, is at least consistent– and predict that Shelton’s amped public profile will give him the edge with voters.
Female Vocalist of the Year
Sara Evans – Kevin
Taylor Swift – Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan
Carrie Underwood – Tara
Miranda Lambert – Dan, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
Taylor Swift - Ben
Dan: Come ACM season, I’ll be all for Lambert; Pistol Annies and Four The Record prove she’s using her new commercial powers nobly. But I like Swift’s performances on Speak Now, and that album just applies more to this awards cycle.
Ben: Swift is the overall strongest contender, but I could see voters seizing the opportunity to recognize Evans, who released a new album and had a number one single during the eligibility period. I wouldn’t rule Lambert out either, though she didn’t have as strong a year as she did in 2010. But I doubt this will be Underwood’s year, and McBride’s was essentially a filler nomination, so I’d say it’s down to Swift, Evans, and Lambert. (But, like Dan, I will totally be Team Miranda when the ACMs roll around)
Leeann: I reflexively say Lambert should win, but Swift has had the best year and will likely win as a result. I won’t be heart broken if Lambert takes it though.
Jonathan: There’s a part of me that would vote for Lambert on principle and out of loyalty, but I can’t argue with a simple mathematical inequality: “Back to December,” “Mean,” and “Sparks Fly” > “Only Prettier,” “Heart Like Mine” and “Baggage Claim.” Had her label been campaigning harder that she’s never won this award, Evans could’ve been a bigger threat here, but Lambert’s ongoing momentum should carry her to a repeat win.
Kevin: Can this power couple nonsense be derailed? Probably not, so while I’d rather see Swift get it over Lambert, I’m doubtful it would happen. My real fantasy would be for the only non-winner, Sara Evans, to take it. For prosperity’s sake, and for actually putting out a great single that I failed to realize was great until it was already a hit.
Tara: This is a tough one for me. Lambert’s worked the genre like no other female has this past year and a half, but the singles she’s released in the eligibility period have been so-so. Swift’s put out some solid material, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to support her winning a vocalist award. And then there’s Underwood, who’s been relatively quiet on the radio front, but whose stunning performance of “How Great Thou Art” back in April went viral and serves as a reminder of what I firmly believe is one of the finest voices in the genre. I’m going with my gut and backing Underwood, but I think the voters will reward Lambert again, which is fine with me.
Vocal Duo of the Year
The Civil Wars – Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
The Civil Wars
Sugarland - Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
Dan: Seriously, why not the Civil Wars? They’ve sold about as many albums (200,000-ish) as everyone besides Sugarland without the support of a major label. Not to mention they just made the most interesting music.
Ben: I’m supporting the Civil Wars on principle, but it’s a no-brainer that Sugarland’s hot streak is not over yet.
Leeann: I love The Civil Wars. The end.
Jonathan: Yet more evidence that this category should be merged with Vocal Group of the Year to cut the deadweight. Though the Civil Wars getting in instead of the JaneDear Girls is a nice testament to the fact that the CMAs, every so often, can exercise good taste and discretion.
Kevin: Sugarland’s album was atrocious. The Civil Wars are in the running for my favorite set of the year. Easy call for me.
Tara: Can Sugarland hurry up and release a new, redeeming album, please?
Vocal Group of the Year
The Band Perry
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band – Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
The Band Perry
Lady Antebellum – Tara
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band - Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin
Dan: Lady A were between albums. Some variety this year, please.
Ben: It’ hard to bet against Lady Antebellum, but the Zac Brown band gave us a strong album and two of the year’s most memorable hit singles (“As She’s Walking Away” and “Colder Weather”), and I predict that they will be rewarded justly.
Leeann: Zac Brown Band has a good chance with the best music in the category, but Lady A just might not be out yet.
Jonathan: Little Big Town’s brilliant “Little White Church” should’ve put them back in the mix for good, but they really botched the single releases from their album and are right back to being also-rans. The Band Perry will settle for the “New Artist” award as a consolation prize this year, which leaves Lady A and Zac Brown Band to duke it out. In terms of the quality of their output, Zac Brown Band has Lady A dead to rights, but is that enough to stop the trio’s awards-show juggernaut? Let’s hope so.
Kevin: Zac Brown Band is the only option both realistic and palatable.
Tara: This is the first of these categories that I feel strongly about this year. Based on the strength of You Get What You Give, Zac Brown Band deserves to nab this award, hands down. But I’ll go against my co-bloggers here and guess that Lady Antebellum still has the industry wrapped around its finger.
New Artist of the Year
The Band Perry - Ben
Eric Church - Leeann, Jonathan
Chris Young – Dan, Kevin, Tara
The Band Perry – Ben, Jonathan, Tara
Eric Church – Dan, Leeann, Kevin
Dan: Church seems the most likely to have a long, interesting career and probably deserves the win. I just don’t want to encourage “Homeboy,” I guess.
Ben: Thompson Square and The Band Perry are the only two nominees whom I would still consider “new” artists, and I think The Band Perry beats Thompson Square any day. Bryan, however, did reach a new level of stardom over the past year, so he stands a good chance at wining nonetheless.
Leeann: While it’s strange that with three albums Church is still in the New Artist category, it’s probably that same reason that he should win the award, not to mention that he had the strongest album of the nominees in the past year.
Jonathan: Young’s the best singer in the field, but his material is still too inconsistent in quality for me to get on board with him. Church, on the other hand, finally made good on his early promise and his considerable hype with Chief and would be a deserving winner, as would the uneven but still pretty good The Band Perry. As the only nominee with any other nominations, they have to be considered the slight favorites over Crest WhiteStrips.
Kevin: I think Church’s big breakthrough happened close enough to the voting window to give him a slight edge. I’d like to see Chris Young get the boost from a win.
Tara: Of all the nominees, I’m the most excited for Chris Young’s future in country music – his vocal talent is tremendous, and even though it falls right outside of the eligibility period, Neon is one of my favorite releases of this year. Based on their other major nominations, though, I think The Band Perry will take this.
Album of the Year
Blake Shelton, All About Tonight
Jason Aldean, My Kinda Party
Taylor Swift, Speak Now- Ben, Kevin
Brad Paisley, This Is Country Music
Zac Brown Band, You Get What You Give- Dan, Leeann, Jonathan, Tara
Blake Shelton, All About Tonight
Jason Aldean, My Kinda Party – Dan, Leeann, Jonathan, Tara
Taylor Swift, Speak Now – Ben, Kevin
Brad Paisley, This Is Country Music
Zac Brown Band, You Get What You Give
Dan: Here’s a logical place to acknowledge Aldean, though I hope voters think twice about it.
Ben: In my book, Swift and the Zac Brown Band are the only truly worthy winners (and I’m still scratching my head over why a Blake Shelton “Six Pak” was even nominated in the first place). To me, the most intriguing thing about Swift is that she really does seem to get a little better and a little deeper with each album. Speak Now is her crowning achievement to date, and in my opinion, the best album on this ballot.
Leeann: It hurts my heart to think it, but Jason Aldean’s big year will likely earn him the award for best album, even though numbers isn’t how such an award should be selected.
Jonathan: Speak Now is Swift’s strongest album, but, “Mean” notwithstanding, it’s also her most unabashedly pop album. And song-for-song, I still think You Get What You Give is slightly better. But Aldean has been a steady seller, and he’s big enough that he has to win one of the major awards, and this one’s his best bet.
Kevin: “All songs composed by Taylor Swift” impressed the heck out of me, not the least of which because the songs were far better than her earlier work. Zac Brown Band’s a close second for me.
Tara: Speak Now is solid, but You Get What You Give is the better example of how to move this genre forward, with its delicious yet reverent mishmash of influences. But I think this is where the voters will recognize the often overlooked commercial success of Jason Aldean.
Single of the Year
Sara Evans, “A Little Bit Stronger”
Zac Brown Band, “Colder Weather”- Leeann, Tara
Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay”
Blake Shelton, “Honey Bee”
The Band Perry, “If I Die Young” – Dan, Ben, Jonathan, Kevin
Sara Evans, “A Little Bit Stronger”
Zac Brown Band, “Colder Weather”
Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay” - Jonathan, Tara
Blake Shelton, “Honey Bee” - Kevin
The Band Perry, “If I Die Young” - Dan, Ben, Leeann
Dan: It’d be heartening to see The Band Perry’s risky, rootsy release get its due. Plus: the single alone is 3x Platinum, better than any of its competitors can claim.
Ben: “Colder Weather” and “If I Die Young” are the two strongest competitors, but for me, a cool folksy arrangement puts the latter over the edge.
Leeann: This is tough. I can actually see any of these singles winning, but I have a good feeling about “If I Die Young”, though I’d love to see “Colder Weather” prove me wrong.
Jonathan: This one’s actually a tough call, since all five of the singles are big radio hits and everyone here has multiple nominations. “If I Die Young” is the best-produced single of the lot, but I’m predicting that Kelly Clarkson’s endless likability gives the edge to her duet with Aldean.
Kevin: Love the Band Perry record most, followed by Sara Evans. But this is the CMA awards, and Shelton managed to be both completely vanilla and namedrop Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn.
Tara: If I better understood the story in “If I Die Young,” I might be able to get behind it, but I think “Colder Weather” is the more memorable single. It’s my favorite kind of country ballad – killer vocals, gripping melody and palpable emotion. I see the fiery Aldean / Clarkson collaboration taking this one, though. (By the way, dude, “Honey Bee” – really CMA?)
“If I Die Young” – Kimberly Perry - Dan, Ben, Jonathan, Tara
“Mean” – Taylor Swift - Kevin
“You and Tequila” – Matraca Berg & Deana Carter – Leann
Dan: “If I Die Young” is a flawed composition, but it’s still the most striking and strange one here, and that’s worth something.
Ben: I never though I’d see a CMA Song of the Year field in which Matraca Berg and Deana Carter would compete against Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert. I would so love to see Berg and Carter win the award. I might tend to be slightly biased when it comes to Matraca Berg, but I think “Tequila” is a fine composition on its own merits, and a worthy winner indeed. Still, my gut predicion is that Perry will grab the trophy instead.
Leeann: “Mean” is probably my favorite song in terms of production and melody, but “You and Tequila” is the best song of the nominees.
Jonathan: Berg is a treasure and I like Carter well enough, so it’s nice to see their names on the ballot again, but “You and Tequila” isn’t either of their best compositions. Here’s the thing about “Mean”: What doesn’t work about the song has everything to do with the fact that it shows the extent to which Swift still hasn’t fully figured out her artistic persona. But in terms of melody and overall construction as a stand-alone song? It’s the class of the field. As Dan said, “If I Die Young” is flawed, but it also has a lot going for it and will be a fine, worthy winner when it inevitably takes this.
Kevin: I love “You and Tequila”, but it’s an old song. I’m glad Chesney rediscovered it, but I can’t see it as this year’s Song of the Year. I think “Mean” is the best of the bunch, with the music as clever as the lyrics.
Tara: I’m with Jonathan and Leann re: “Mean” in that I agree its melody and overall construction are terrific; unfortunately its flaw –the bridge, which undermines the premise of the song– is too big for me to overlook. And as much as I love it, I don’t feel right backing “Colder Weather,” either, as it’s really Brown’s vocal performance that elevates the composition to a memorable song. So I’ll go with the quirky and unique “If I Die Young” and guess the voters will, too.
Musical Event of the Year
“As She’s Walking Away” – Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson – Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
“Don’t You Wanna Stay” – Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson – Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan
“Old Alabama” – Brad Paisley with Alabama
“You and Tequila” – Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter
Dan: The Single nod for Jason and Kelly suggests they have the edge here. But my heart echoes a resounding “Go on, son.”
Ben: “As She’s Walking Away” is just so effortlessly charming that it would easily be my first pick, but the cross-genre appeal – and bonus Clarkson star power – of “Don’t You Wanna Stay” make it the most likely winner. The fact that “Don’t You Wanna Stay” is also nominated for Single (which “As She’s Walking Away” sadly isn’t) suggests a likely victory in this category.
Leeann: How can I not pull for the Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson when I have a chance? I’m pretty confident that the drama, cross genre appeal, and, yup, the drama again, make “Don’t You Want to Stay” the sure bet though.
Jonathan: “As She’s Walking Away” is one of the purest and truest duets in years, and it could pull some votes from the more traditionalist voters, but the Aldean and Clarkson single just has too much firepower to lose here.
Kevin: If this doesn’t go to Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson, then I no longer understand how CMA voters think.
Tara: No question here, “As She’s Walking Away” is head and shoulders above the rest of the collaborations in this category, one of the most quietly charming singles we’ve heard on country radio in quite some time. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that voters will have trouble ignoring the warm fuzzies they get when Jackson starts singing.
Music Video of the Year
Blake Shelton, “Honey Bee”
The Band Perry, “If I Die Young” – Dan
Taylor Swift, “Mean” – Ben, Kevin, Tara
Brad Paisley featuring Alabama, “Old Alabama”
Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter, “You and Tequila”
Friday, May 5, 2006 – The Palace of Auburn Hills, Michigan. For Faith Hill, it was just another stop on her Soul2Soul II tour with her superstar husband Tim McGraw. For young 14-year-old Ben Foster, it was my very first live concert experience (or at least the first that did not entail bringing a picnic blanket), and it was one that I never forgot. I still have the ticket stub.
I became a Faith Hill fan at a young age, and I became an even bigger fan as I grew older. As I set about acquiring all six of her Warner Bros. studio albums, my admiration for this talented artist only grew. To one who knows Faith Hill only for crossover pop hits like “Breathe,” “This Kiss,” and “The Way You Love Me,” it might come as a bit of a surprise what a strong album artist she was. Besides that, she possessed genuine country sensibilities in addition to the pop diva persona that she became so well known for.
As I continue to eagerly await Faith Hill’s return with her seventh studio album, I’m thrilled to share my 25 personal favorites out of her eclectic catalog of tunes. Many of these songs were substantial hits, but I’ve also left off a few well-known singles in favor of some lesser-known hidden treasures. As always, please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section.
“The Way You Love Me”
Now, don’t give me that look. We’re all entitled to a little guilty pleasure time, aren’t we? Look, I still don’t know what “If I could grant you one wish, I wish you could see the way you kiss” is supposed to mean, and I’m guessing you don’t either. But what I do know is that Faith Hill somehow managed to craft a ridiculously catchy piece of pop-country nonsense that had me hopelessly hooked ever since I first heard it over a decade ago. I couldn’t not love it if I tried.
Take Me As I Am, 1993
Faith’s 1993 debut single is an enjoyable and fitting introduction to a major talent. The lyrics portray a free-spirited teenage girl who, in addition to having a rebellious streak a mile wide, is a proactive go-getter who takes life as it comes. “Life is hard,” but she says “That’s all right.” It’s an effortlessly charming record, and yet at the same time, it almost seems like an hors d’oeuvre in comparison to the deep and insightful material Faith would tackle in the future.
“Sleeping with the Telephone” (with Reba McEntire)
Reba McEntire – Reba Duets, 2007
With this fantastic collaboration from Reba’s 2007 duets project, Faith and Reba play the parts of two neighbors, each of whom is married to a man who risks his life on a daily basis. Their circumstances are different, with one husband being a soldier and the other being a police officer, but each wife copes with the same troubling feelings of deep worry and anxiety. But honestly, this track is a shoo-in just for the pure pleasure of hearing Hill and McEntire, two of country’s most dynamic vocal powerhouses, paired together – trading verses and blending their voices in harmony on the soaring chorus.
“Let Me Let Go”
A brokenhearted woman tries to move on in the wake of a break-up, but is unable due to the unshakable feeling that they really were meant to be together. (“If this is for the best, why are you still in my heart, are you still in my soul?”)
“Someone Else’s Dream”
It Matters to Me, 1995
The story of a young woman gradually discovering her own distinct identity, and discovering that her parents’ hopes and dreams will never be hers. When the song reaches its final bridge, the young woman has firmly made her decision: “She’s got twenty-seven candles on her cake, and she means to make her life her own before there’s twenty-eight.”
“Love Ain’t Like That”
In a clever composition with some classic Matraca Berg lines, Faith debunks a series of mistaken ideas about what love is really about, while also underscoring the importance of commitment in a lasting relationship. Favorite lines: “You can’t buy it at the store, try it on for size, bring it back if it don’t feel right.… You can’t trade it in like an automobile that’s got too many miles and rust on the wheels.”
“Let’s Go to Vegas”
It Matters to Me, 1995
The unshakable joyfulness of “Suds In the Bucket” meets the wide-eyed charm and innocence of “She’s In Love with the Boy.” From the light airy arrangement to Faith’s enthusiastic performance, “Let’s Go to Vegas” embodies all of the youthful romantic excitement found in that one little moment of “Hey, I just had a crazy thought…”
The Hits, 2007
This one might have come across as an attempt to re-visit the power ballad euphoria of “Breathe,” which it might have been, but it carries an extra air of mystery that gives it a distinct identity separate from its predecessor, while the melody and performance make the song captivating on its own merits alone.
“What’s In It for Me”
On the kickoff track of Faith’s runaway success of an album, her performance sounds like the release of an eternity’s worth of pent-up fury. The aggressive country-rock production, combining awesome guitar work with some mighty fierce fiddling, added up to a record that sounded truly ferocious.
“The Secret of Life”
In this philosophical number written by the ever-excellent Gretchen Peters, several men drinking in a bar ponder over the fabled “Secret of Life,” eventually concluding that “The Secret of Life is nothing at all.” Faith’s half-sung, half-spoken performance brought the conversational tone to life, taking a song that was hardly radio-friendly, and turning it into a Top 5 hit.
A full-on pop power ballad in which Faith strikes the delicate balance of exercising her powerful pipes in a fiery delivery, while still retaining the emotional connectivity of a great country record. Her formidable vocal prowess is on full display, but even the biggest power notes are still colored with a deep emotional quiver.
Faith Hill took the pop-country power ballad to new heights with this cross-genre career-defining hit.
Regardless of how overexposed the song might have been, it’s a memorable record for the way it combines physical attraction with the warmth and comfort found in true love, while also displaying the increased power and fullness that Faith’s voice had acquired over the years.
“I Can’t Do That Anymore”
It Matters to Me, 1995
This Alan Jackson-penned ballad puts into song the frustration, exhaustion, and hurt of a sunken housewife worn down from constantly striving to please her unappreciative husband
“I Need You” (with Tim McGraw)
Tim McGraw – Let It Go, 2007
Of all Faith’s collaborations with her famous husband, this is one of the best. This was only their second full-fledged duet single (with their first being “Let’s Make Love”). The restrained arrangement lends a deeply intimate romantic feel to the record, while both vocalists give killer performances. Tim McGraw digs deep into his lower register, while Faith’s soaring performance elevates the record to greatness. Never before or since had their chemistry been captured as effectively as it is here.
This track served as one of the lighter moments on the mature and compelling collection of songs found on Faith’s Fireflies album. The plucked-out, nearly-hillbillyish country-bluegrass arrangement sounds worlds removed from polished crossover number like “Breathe.” In a song ripe with clever and silly lines, Faith steps into the minister’s shoes at a backwoods white trash wedding. The flirt of a bride is three months late, and the groom is “checkin’ out the bridesmaids, thinkin’ that he might take the maid of honor’s honor.” Fittingly, Faith ices the cake with a closing line of “Y’all come back now, ya hear?”
“A Man’s Home Is His Castle”
It Matters to Me, 1995
Listening to this song is like peeking in the windows of a home torn apart by domestic violence. “Castle” takes on an added level of realism in that it gives a voice to the battered woman, and even gives the couple names (Linda and Jim). The victimized woman is hurt, angry, and desperate, and every tortured emotion is conveyed in the lyrics, which make no attempt to tamper the song’s impact with a manufactured happy ending.
“Take Me As I Am”
Take Me As I Am, 1993
Could it be? A love song that brings maturity and self-realization to the table without sacrificing the joy and
giddiness of newfound romance? Faith delivers exactly that with the title track to her debut album, which includes standout lines like “I’d trade a million pretty words for one touch that is real,” as well as romantic lines like “Baby, don’t turn out the light… I wanna see you look at me.”
“Like We Never Loved At All”
A delicate piano intro with strains of steel set the tone for a beautiful ballad of a woman who struggles to move on after a breakup, while her pain in increased by the realization of how easily her former flame seems to have moved on. The song is bolstered by Tim McGraw’s harmony vocal, while memorable visual images (“There… walking with your friend, laughing at the moon… I swear you looked right through me”) bring the narrator’s pain down to a strikingly relatable level.
“It Matters to Me”
It Matters to Me, 1995
An expression of hurt feelings that is all the more effective for its simplicity and straightforwardness: “When we don’t talk, when we don’t touch, when it doesn’t feel like we’re even in love… It matters to me.” How much more direct can you get?
“When the Lights Go Down”
Faith’s 2002 set Cry was criticized by some for going in a straight-up adult pop direction. But the detractors often missed the fact that Cry is a fantastic pop album, which includes some of the best songs Faith Hill has ever recorded. Exhibit A is “When the Lights Go Down” – a stunning musical testament to the clarity and inescapability of ultimate truth, elevated by Faith’s showstopping vocal performance. The song takes on a tone of positivity as it highlights the fact that life’s most turbulent experiences afford us the opporunity to discover our own inner strength. Easily one of the finest tracks on the Cry album, it’s a shame it wasn’t fully embraced by radio.
“You’re Still Here”
It’s hard to go wrong with a Matraca Berg/ Aimee Mayo song. In a similar vein to Trisha Yearwood’s “On a Bus to St. Cloud,” “You’re Still Here” is a tale of the love that’s long gone, most likely in death, but whom the narrator still sees in her dreams, in her baby’s eyes, and everywhere else. At one point she even says “I heard you in a stranger’s laugh, and I hung around to hear him laugh again, just once again.” It’s an achingly beautiful lyric, delivered in one of Faith’s finest and most emotionally-resonant performances on record, while the soft touches of oboe in the arrangement add layer of mystery to the track.
“Wish for You”
A mother’s expression of all that she wishes for her child. It’s made even more touching by the fact that she never once makes the wish that everything in life will go perfectly for her child. Instead, she simply wishes that, when things do go wrong, her child will pick herself back up, move on, and be a better person because of it. That keeps the song from coming across as cheesy, instead deepening its emotional impact, and keeping it firmly grounded in real life.
“If My Heart Had Wings”
Sometimes it irritates me when certain female artists constantly feel the need to belt out their songs at the top of their lungs. In the case of “If My Heart Had Wings,” however, I can’t imagine the song being sung any other way. Begging to be blared at high volume in one’s car with the windows rolled, “If My Heart Had Wings” is three and a half minutes of pure pop-country euphoria.
Does this song even need a caption? Probably not, but here it goes anyway. “This Kiss” is a perfect sonic encapsulation of all the joy and romantic giddiness of a newfound love (and yet it came out when Taylor Swift was still in grade school). There are few pop-country tunes that are able to achieve such high levels of catchiness, or to give the replay button a workout like this song does.
Mature, intelligent, and insightful – exactly the kind of material country radio is perpetually in need of, and yet all too often shies away from. “Stealing Kisses” plays like a sequel to the innocent youthful “Love Story”-esque material of artists such as Taylor Swift. As a young woman, the narrator is “stealing kisses from a boy” only to find herself a housewife “begging affection from a man” with the passage of time.
Lori McKenna writes a beautiful song, and Faith Hill beautifully sings it. The song was released as the fifth and final single from Fireflies, and though it only scraped the bottom of the Top 40, it offered one of those rare and special moments when the voice of the adult woman was heard on country radio. Faith Hill and her label are to be commended for having the guts to send it to radio in the first place. A definite career highlight, “Stealing Kisses” aptly demonstrates that, at her best, Faith Hill is just as capable of delivering deep, substantial material as she is capable of serving up a tasty morsel of ear candy.
“My hands are sweaty and my knees are weak/ I can’t eat, and I can’t sleep/ It’s turning me every way but loose…”
Diagnosis: “Sounds like love’s got a hold on you.”
Alan Jackson’s fifth number-one single is, for the most part, pure novelty. It’s the kind of campy little tune that could either go very right or horribly wrong. Fortunately, Jackson’s recording never sounds like it’s taking itself too seriously. The light jaunty arrangement creates just the right mood for the silly lyrics, while Jackson’s laid-back delivery fits the song like a glove. The result is that Jackson creates an infectious singalong-friendly earworm out of a song that could have been a grating annoyance in the wrong hands.
It might not be one of Jackson’s most essential efforts, but “Love’s Got a Hold On You” makes for a fun and enjoyable detour in his storied hit catalog.