Tag Archives: Alison Krauss & Union Station

Hall Worthy: 2014 Edition

halloffamelogoEight years ago, we posted our second edition of Hall Worthy, a list of significant country music figures who we felt were most deserving of being in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Since then, a lot has changed.  First and foremost, more than half of the list is now in the Hall of Fame (or, at least, headed there later this year.)  An additional entry, Wanda Jackson, is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

A bigger change came in 2009, when new categories were introduced to ensure that two artist inductees would be represented from different eras:  The Modern Era (20-44 years of national prominence), and the Veterans Era (45+ years of national prominence.)  There are also three more categories that rotate, meaning one from each category gets in every third year:  Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician.

Finally, since that list was published, our readership has grown tremendously and is incredibly well-versed on country music, past and present.  So in this new and now annual edition of Hall Worthy, we are going to run down the list of the most successful artists that are eligible but have yet to make it into the Hall of Fame, in the order of  “Hall Worthiness.”

The Modern Era:

alan-jackson

Alan Jackson

Scoring his first hit in 1990 with “Here in the Real World”, Alan Jackson is the most successful country artist that isn’t currently in the Hall of Fame.  His storied career has included 25 #1 hits and 49 visits to the top ten.  He’s won a slew of awards over the years, including many for his songwriting.  He is the most traditionalist of all of the nineties superstars, but has managed to stay relevant regardless of how pop the genre went over the past quarter century, selling more than forty million albums in the U.S. alone.   He should be the next inductee for the Modern Era.

Randy Travis

Randy Travis

The poster child for the new traditionalist movement was also the first true country music superstar to sell millions of records without any crossover airplay or rock press appeal.  Travis is the primary reason that Nashville turned away from pursuing pop airplay for more than a decade, realizing that there was more than enough money to be made by growing (and eventually saturating) the country market.  His debut album, Storms of Life, remains one of the greatest country albums of all-time, and songs like “Forever and Ever, Amen”, “On the Other Hand”, and “Three Wooden Crosses” were award-winning classics.

Judds02.jpg

The Judds

Put aside all of the tabloid drama and focus just on the music.  Those heavenly harmonies were reminiscent of the Carter Family, while Wynonna’s breathtaking vocals added a contemporary breadth and soulful twist to their pure country sound.  They were so commercially successful and critically acclaimed that the CMA had to change the rules of the Vocal Duo category so someone else could win Vocal Group.   Wynonna’s solo career following Naomi Judd’s retirement only further extended the legacy of this essential duo.

rickyskaggs

Ricky Skaggs

He’s often overlooked these days, as he’s made bluegrass his primary home.  But when he was a contemporary country star, he found a way to make bluegrass be contemporary country.  He was a central figure in making bluegrass music mainstream, making possible the future success of everyone from Alison Krauss & Union Station to the Dixie Chicks.   He’s managed to be both a pioneer of bluegrass music while also being a steadfast advocate for the bluegrass of old, and still scored eleven #1 country hits along the way and the CMA for Entertainer of the Year.  The Hall shouldn’t wait until he’s old enough for the Veterans Era.

patty_loveless

Patty Loveless

One of the few artists to successfully navigate both the eighties and the nineties on country radio, Patty Loveless is the most significant female artist of the Modern Era who is not yet inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Her acclaimed work for both MCA and Epic saw her develop from a singles artist with the good taste to cover Lucinda Williams, into an album artist that made critically acclaimed and surprisingly progressive traditional music.  Since fading from radio, she’s remained relevant with widely appreciated sets that delve deep into her mountain heritage, with her most recent set earning her a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album.

Dwight Yoakam

Dwight Yoakam

Extraordinarily talented and unfailingly artistic, Dwight Yoakam remains one of the most significant country artists from the new traditionalist movement, though his traditionalism has always had a West Coast flair that was more Owens than Haggard.   Never that much of a radio favorite, Yoakam still managed to sell millions of records, being one of the few legitimate album artists of his time.   His most recent work, 3 Pears, made more year-end critics lists than any other country album in 2012.

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Trisha Yearwood

The only artist on this list who could never be described as a traditionalist, Trisha Yearwood has earned her place in the Hall of Fame through making more consistently excellent music over a longer period of time than any of her contemporaries.   She’s sold a ton of records and had more than her fair share of radio hits and industry awards, but her ultimate legacy will be having the best set of pipes and the best taste in songs, a combination that many artists – female and male – have never managed to pull off nearly as well as Yearwood has over the years.  That’s what having the voice of a Ronstadt and the song sense of a Harris will do for you.

The Veterans Era:

Hank Williams Jr

Hank Williams, Jr.

By a wide margin, Hank Jr. is the most commercially successful artist of the Veterans Era who is not yet in the Hall of Fame.  His noxious public statements in recent years have reinforced a notion that he’s little more than a Southern rock caricature, but his legacy is greater than Monday Night Football and regional xenophobia. At his peak, he made some of the most significant country rock that’s ever been made, crafting himself a distinguished place in country music history that is wholly separate from his legendary father.  In fact, there’s a better chance right now that a bar in America is singing along with “Family Tradition” than anything from his daddy’s catalog.

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Charlie Rich

An artist who was always years ahead of his time, he had a remarkable run of commercial success in the seventies, a period where the times finally caught up to him for a brief spell.  His bluesy style was embraced by the pop scene for a time, with his hit “The Most Beautiful Girl” being one of those rare country hits that also topped the Hot 100.   A veteran of the Sun Records label that produced Hall of Famers like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, Rich made the transition to Nashville while always keeping one foot grounded back in Memphis.

Jerry Reed

Jerry Reed

He was one of the most iconic stars of his time, thanks to his witty novelty records, stunning guitar prowess, and extensive appearances on film.  His songwriting success arrived earlier than his recording stardom, but once he got rolling, he was scoring million-selling hits that ran up the country and the pop charts.  He’s one of the few legends left that were truly unique and distinctive personalities who haven’t yet been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

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Tanya Tucker

She’s still three years away from eligibility in this category, with 2017 being the first year she can claim 45 years on the scene.  But while the competition is fierce for those Modern Era slots, Tucker should be voted in the first year she’s eligible as a veteran.  Her haunting, gothic early records are still revelatory, and in the years that followed, her gravely voice brought grit and soul to a long string of country hits.  She was able to remain a force to be reckoned with in the first half of the nineties, a remarkable holdover from the early seventies in an era that had wiped away even the stars of the late eighties to make room for the next big things.

Jim Ed Brown

Jim Ed Brown

Another legend that remained relevant over many different eras of country music, Jim Ed Brown’s immortality on record had already been guaranteed in 1959, when his family group the Browns recorded “The Three Bells.”  That classic hit topped the country and pop charts for many weeks, and the Browns kept going through most of the sixties, joining the cast of the Grand Ole Opry a few years before disbanding.  Brown went on to a successful solo career with classics like “Pop a Top” and “Morning” reaching the top five.  Then he teamed with Helen Cornelius and had his biggest hits since his days with the Browns, most notably “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You.”  At age eighty, he remains a force on the Opry and as a radio host, making him one of the longest-running personalities that the genre has ever seen.

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Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Shania Twain

It’s about time somebody did a Favorite Songs feature on Shania, isn’t it?  I was going to save this article for after we finished covering Shania in our Retro Single Review series, but I decided I just couldn’t wait that long.

Her astounding commercial success speaks for itself, as does her heavy impact on popular music, but I remain of the opinion that Shania Twain doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the artist she was – as a songwriter, or as a vocalist.  Her songs were clever, sassy, fun, and often tapped into deep wells of substance underneath all the catchiness.  Her distinct perspective was revolutionary for her time.  As an interpretive singer, she had a strong knack for finishing off her lyrical creations through her nuanced, dynamically layered performances.  Twain's remarkable talent combined with Mutt Lange's musical vision made her one of the biggest record sellers in history.  Ever since her heyday, countless young female stars have attempted to emulate her, but the magic Twain herself created with her delicious pop-country confections remains unreplicated.

I tend to become obsessed with one favorite Shania Twain song, and then move rapidly to another, so it’s not easy to assess which songs are my all-time favorites.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll be doing a lot of second-guessing after this article runs (though I’m fairly confident that my top three selections are set in stone).  At any rate, it will still be a fun look back on all the memorable tunes Shania gave us over the years, while also shining a spotlight on a few lesser-known tracks that we might have forgotten about.  As always, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section.

#25

“Party for Two” (with Billy Currington)

Greatest Hits – 2004

I have at times referred to this song as a “guilty pleasure,” but then I realized that it’s such a great fun record that I don’t really feel guilty at all about loving it.  Silly “sexy in your socks” line aside, “Party for Two” is fun flirty tune that Twain and Currington sell with charm and enthusiasm.  Though more of a pop song than a country song, “Party for Two” is best heard in its country mix, as the pop version with Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath tries a little too hard to sound pop, demonstrating that Shania often sounded best when still keeping a toe in country territory.  “Party for Two” served as Twain’s last Top 10 country hit to date.

#24

“Blues Eyes Crying In the Rain” (with Willie Nelson)

Willie Nelson & Friends – Live and Kickin’ – 2003

Twain’s pop sensibilities certainly have no ill effect on her ability to tackle a traditional country classic with grace and ease, as evidenced by her beautiful cover of this beloved Willie Nelson hit, accompanied by the man himself.

 

#23

“Ka-Ching!”

Up! – 2002

Though largely known for her lighthearted frivolous side, “Ka-Ching!” – a deft takedown of commercial materialism – shows that Twain was still perfectly capable of addressing relevant social themes.

#22

“It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing”

Up! – 2002

Though known for her positivity, Twain could still be surprisingly effective at conveying heartbreak.  Such is demonstrated by this Top 20 hit in which the protagonist strives to maintain optimism as she moves on after a breakup.  Still, the title hook shows that her heavy emotional pain remains constant.

#21

“Love Gets Me Every Time”

Come On Over – 1997

Hey, if you’re going to write a silly, cheesy song, you might as well do it thoroughly and shamelessly.  “Love Gets Me Every Time” combines a hillbilly catchphrase with an unshakable two-step-friendly musical hook to make a delightful ditty that just never seems to get old.

 

#20

“Coat of Many Colors” (with Alison Krauss & Union Station)

Just Because I’m a Woman:  Songs of Dolly Parton – 2003

It’s easy to see how Twain’s own impoverished upbringing might give her a special connection to this classic song, and to its timeless theme of love and family being worth far more than material possessions.  Indeed, “One is only poor only if they choose to be.”  Twain delivers the revered Dolly Parton lyric with authenticity and deep sincerity, while the unique touch of Alison Krauss’s backing vocal elevates the record further.

#19

“You Win My Love”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Written by Twain’s then-husband/producer Mutt Lange, this is the only song on Twain’s last three studio albums that she didn’t have a hand in writing.  The lyric is full of clever automobile-related metaphors, while the driving arrangement and the “Rev it up, rev it up ‘til your engine blows” hook practically beg to be blasted out one’s car windows.

#18

“That Don’t Impress Me Much”

Come On Over – 1997

The sentiment is clear:  Shania Twain is not impressed by guys who are overly impressed with themselves.  One part sing-along, one part spoken word, with some steel guitar and cowbell hooks thrown in, it all adds up to one heck of a fun record.

#17

“Shoes”

Desperate Housewives soundtrack – 2005

It may have been recorded for a soundtrack, but make no mistake about it:  A song that compares finding the right man to finding the ideal footwear, noting that “Some you can’t afford, some are real cheap, some are good for bummin’ around on the beach” is classic Shania.  A clever song loaded with humorous double entendres, “Shoes” is good for a chuckle any day.

#16

“(If You’re Not In It for Love) I’m Outta Here!”

The Woman In Me 1995

The dance-friendly beat is hooky and infectious, but the content runs deeper.  At the heart of the song is a confident female protagonist who refuses to be taken advantage of.  If the guy’s not in it for love… she’s outta here.  This chart-topping hit established Twain’s distinct songwriting point of view, while helping to power her The Woman In Me album to 12x platinum sales.

#15

“I’m Gonna Getcha Good!”

Up! – 2002

Not really much to say about this one except that, as far as great pop-country hooks go, they don’t come much catchier than this.

#14

“Nah!”

Up! – 2002

A kiss-off tune that’s not nearly as bitter as such songs usually are, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious.  Twain almost seems to casually enjoy the moment of letting her no-good ex know that she’s done being mistreated by him.  She admits “I miss you now and then, but would I do it all again?”  The band abruptly stops playing as if to await her answer:  “Nah!”  Ouch.

#13

“Home Ain’t Where His Heart Is (Anymore)”

The Woman In Me – 1995

It’s a shame this song didn’t make a bigger dent in history.  I’ve always considered it one of Twain’s most subtly moving performance as the female narrator mourns the deteriorating state of her marriage; while the song offers no full resolution of the story, save for Twain hoping “If we could only find that feeling once again… If we could only change the way the story ends.”

#12

“Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)”

Come On Over – 1997

Because it makes me happy.  So there.

#11

“Leaving Is the Only Way Out”

The Woman In Me – 1995

The only song on any of Twain’s albums on which she takes sole writer’s credit, this is one of her best songs, as well as one of her countriest.  The refrain “If cryin’ is the only way into your arms, then leavin’ is the only way out” is nothing short of heartbreaking.

#10

“You’ve Got a Way”

Come On Over – 1997

Though I would recommend steering clear of the hokey Notting Hill pop remix, “You’ve Got a Way” remains one of Twain’s most beautifully understated, sincere performances on record, with the acoustic arrangement allowing her to positively shine.

#9

“Forever and For Always”

Up! – 2002

A gem of a love song with an effortlessly endearing melody and a deeply heartfelt performance on Twain’s part.  Though the song was remixed into an international pop smash, it remains best heard in its country form, in which Twain’s sentiments are driven home by subtle, beautiful strains of banjo and steel.

#8

“Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Right out of the starting gate, Shania’s first major hit, and first Lange-produced single release, delivers a powerful punch of her priceless personality.  With a bouncy fiddle-driven production, silly rhyme schemes involving the names of the cheating lover’s mistresses, and the delightfully cheesy bridge (“So next time you’re lonely/ Don’t call on me/ Try the operator/ Maybe she’ll be free”), “Whose Bed” is both shamelessly campy and tons of fun as a result.

#7

“Is There Life After Love”

The Woman In Me – 1995

A rare thematic venture on Twain’s part to the wrong side of cheating.  She regrets her tryst, but regrets coming forward and confessing it even more, bemoaning “You gave me forgiveness, but you could not forget/ I should never have told you what I’ll live to regret.”

#6

“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

Come On Over – 1997

Well of course!  Who could leave out one of Shania’s most energetic, free-spirited, entertaining performances of her career?

#5

“Dance with the One That Brought You”

Shania Twain – 1993

An early Twain record from the days before she was singing her own self-written material, “Dance with the One That Brought You” marries twain’s beautifully nuanced vocal performance to a charming Gretchen Peters lyric and a gorgeous piano and steel-driven waltz of an arrangement.  It just might be one of Twain’s best moments on record, and yet Mutt Lange had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Who’da guessed?

#4

“You’re Still the One”

Come On Over – 1997

I love this song so, so much.  An unabashedly sincere vocal, shimmering production, and a lyric that encapsulates the firm commitment, pride in having overcome obstacles, and deep, genuine love of a couple that has remained together against all odds and expectations.  While I’ve long believed that commercial success does not equate to quality, I still say that this song was a massive hit because it deserved to be a massive hit.  A timeless, universal sentiment that touched pop fans and country fans alike, “You're Still the One” is pure pop-country perfection.

#3

“No One Needs to Know”

The Woman In Me – 1995

The best country songs are those that rely, not on words themselves, but on the feelings that the words and melodies tap into.  “No One Needs to Know” absolutely radiates with the giddiness and joy of a newfound love that only the narrator herself is to know of (which suggests that Taylor Swift is not kidding when she cites Twain as a major influence).  The infectious, stripped down acoustic arrangement, complete with dobro and steel chords, is a pure and simple delight.

#2

“Up!”

Up! – 2002

Twain has long been known for her incessant positivity – a consistent thread that ran throughout the Come On Over and Up! albums in particular, but was nowhere more concentrated than on the title track of Up!  It comes as a fist-pumping pop-anthem on the red disc; a sprightly banjo rocker on the green disc.  “Up!” is a hugely lovable ball of energy either way.  The production pulses with urgency as it underscores Twain’s spirited performance.  No matter what it is that’s got you down, Twain shouts “Up!  Up!  Up!  There’s no way but up from here!” until she has you believing it too.

#1

“Any Man of Mine”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Is there any other song in her catalog that so thoroughly sums up everything one could love about Shania Twain?  The energy of this performance leaps out your speakers, along with boot-stomping rhythm, the awesome fiddling, and all the signature Twain wit in the humorous lyrics.  I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that the line dance breakdown just might be my favorite part.

It was a bold artistic move and a substantial risk at the time of its release, yet it helped blaze a trail that female country artists are still following today.  But even when bringing it down to a personal, individual level, there are simply few other Shania Twain songs, hits or not, that put a skip in my step like this one does.  Shania's cheeky delivery makes me smile.  The lyrics make me laugh.  The beat makes me want to dance.  Any way you look at it, this song hits me just right.

The critic in me respects it.  The fan in me adores it.  Now if you'll excuse me, I think it's time for some kicking, turning, and stomp-stomping…

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Filed under Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists

Grammy Live-Blog 2012

Winners

Album of the Year: Adele, 21

Record of the Year: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

Song of the Year: Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth, “Rolling in the Deep”

Best New Artist: Bon Iver

“Best” Country Album: Lady Antebellum, Own the Night

Best Pop Vocal Performance: Adele, “Someone Like You”

Best Country Solo Performance: Taylor Swift, “Mean”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance:  The Civil Wars, “Barton Hollow”

Best Country Song: Taylor Swift, “Mean”

Best Americana Album:  Levon Helm, Ramble at the Ryman

Best Bluegrass Album: Alison Krauss & Union Station, Paper Airplane

Best Folk Album:  The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow

- – - – - 

11:33 Ben: I had a blast. Big thanks to Dan for doing a bang-up job leading the live blog, and thanks to everyone who partipated in the comments. See y’all at ACM season!

11:32 Tara: Thanks for hanging out, y’all! Tonight’s show kind of grew on me, with its surprising focus on the music (how quaint). And lest we forget: when Adele wins, we all win.

11:27 Dan: And we close the show with a spirited “Carry that Weight” with Paul McCartney, The Boss, Dave Grohl, and a bunch of guitar dudes I’m ashamed to say I don’t recognize. Slow night, but some really nice moments!

11:24 Dan: “A little bit o’ snot” is literally the best thing I’ve ever heard in an acceptance speech. I don’t know how you could hate Adele.

11:22 Ben: Does Adele need to come up with her own version of the Surprised Face?

11:21 Dan: So many upsets tonight!

Album of the Year: Adele, 21

11:20 Ben: I love the chirpy way Diana Ross talks.

11:13 Ben:  “Still to come:  Will Diana Ross present the Grammy for Album of the Year to Adele…” or to someone who is not Adele.  Gotta love how they at least attempt to build supense.

11:11 Ben: “Thank you so much.  This is ridiculous.”  Oh, how she makes me smile.

Record of the Year: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

11:1o Ben: Go ahead, Lady A.  Remind us of all the undeserved awards you won last year.

11:10 Dan: I wish I had liked that song more on first listen. Nicki’s a great talent, but that felt self-indulgent.

11:10 Ben: It’s…interesting.

11:08 Tara: From a visual standpoint, this is the coolest performance of the night. Jury’s still out on the song. I’m kind of scared?

11:06 Dan: I can’t believe the Grammys let Nicki Minaj get away with this “Roman’s Revenge” “Exorcism” spectacle. God bless ‘em.

10:53 Ben: Oh gosh. Kill the AutoTune. Please.

10:52 Dan: I have one word to the Grammys for each Chris Brown performance tonight: 1) F*** 2) you.

10:49 Tara: Stunning performance by J Hud. As frustrated as I am with some of the nominations and wins, tonight’s shining moments have come in the form of naked voices – and that’s really refreshing.

10:46 Ben: So genuine.  So sincere. So…wow.

10:44 Ben: Jennifer Hudson is the right person for the job.

10:43 Dan: Jennifer Hudson’s Whitney tribute starting now. Looking and sounding awesome on “I Will Always Love You.”

10:36 Ben: He’s clearly putting on no airs here.  Very down-to-earth.

10:35 Dan: I was rooting for Nicki, but this is well deserved. Justin Vernon is the real deal.

Best New Artist: Bon Iver

10:33 Ben: The first hour was blah, but this show has picked up a heck of a lot of steam.  I am loving this Bennett-Underwood duet.

10:33 Tara: Carrie proving why she won this award five years ago. That voice.

10:31 Dan: Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood on “It Had to Be You” now. Quality, as you’d expect. I have to wonder how these old-guy-young-girl duets usually manage to avoid sounding creepy.

10:26 Ben: The Adele performance and the Glen Campbell tribute are, so far, this year’s “Grammy moments.”

10:23 Tara: Very sincere, sweet tribute. If we ignore the Lady A win, country music is cleaning up tonight.

10:22 Ben: My heart has a happy.

10:22 Dan: Glen sounds lively and buoyant, rephrasing “Rhinestone Cowboy” as a career retrospective and advice to the young ones. And between-line commentary. Just wonderful.

10:21 Dan: Blake Shelton does justice to “Southern Nights.” But here comes the man!

10:20 Ben: I think they’re sounding really great tonight.  Love hearing that mandolin!

10:17 Dan: Thank goodness – they’re sounding nice and string-bandish on “Gentle on My Mind.” I usually find Kimberly’s vocal style a little shouty, so it’s good they’re performing a song with a quick, percussive feel.

10:16 Dan: Glen Campbell time! Don’t blow this, Perrys.

10:10 Ben: THIS IS ADELE’S MOMENT.

10:09 Tara: Adele looking as gorgeous as she sounds. The nuance in her performance is just incredible.

10:09 Ben: Adele is looking great tonight.  That new haircut suits her well.  Oh yeah… sounding great too.

10:08 Ben: At least we can enjoy the long-awaited Adele performance as I’m reeling from the Lady A victory.

10:04 Ben: I already knew that Lady A’s new music was ovverrated as heck, but honestly… This isn’t even funny anymore.

9:59 Tara: I told you guys I had a feeling about this. What a disappointment, and what a waste of sheer talent.

9:59 Kevin: They must own the accounting firm that tabulates the votes.

9:59 Ben: Oh gosh. This is the part where I start throwing things at the TV.

9:59 Dan: AGGGGH

“Best” “Country” Album: Lady Antebellum, Own the Night

9:58 Ben: Country Album now. Let it be anyone but Lady A.

9:57 Tara: Katy Perry reminding me that I’ll take sleepy performances by legends over dynamic performances by substance-less pop stars any day.

9:57 Ben: Still lip-synching, I think.

9:55 Well, this second song maybe sounds a little more raw and pitchy. Maybe it was just on “E.T.”

9:54 And the most obvious lip-synching of the night: Katy Perry.

9:52 Ben: Happy face for Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth!

Song of the Year: Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth, “Rolling in the Deep”

9:37 Ben: I hate how the host network away has to stick the stars of their current programs in random spots just like ABC does with the CMAs.  I know they want to drive ratings, but it seems to take the focus off the music.

9:50 Ben: I must have missed the “OMG!” face.  Either that or I’m so used to it that it goes by without notice.

9:46 The Taylor Swift “OMG!” face returns. It was so ridiculous that you had to laugh.

9:46 Ben: My favorite performance so far by a long shot.  A wonderful and unabashedly fun performance.

9:44 Tara: A lovely 60 seconds of “Barton Hollow” followed by Taylor Swift’s best live performance in a while on one of 2011’s best country singles. Country music victory on the Grammys. Wonder what Lefsetz is thinking right now?

9:42 This is kind of surreal, seeing her perform the song that was probably inspired by the backlash over her last Grammy performance.

9:42 Ben: It’s great to see a Taylor Swift performance that actually feels representative of the country music genre.

9:41 Ben: Yay!  It’s our jam!  “Mean”!

9:40 Ben: I can’t get over how much John Paul White looks like Johnny Depp.

9:38 Ben: Finally!  The Civil Wars are here to restore order.

Best R&B Album: Chris Brown, F.A.M.E.

9:34 Paul McCartney crooning some very Valentine’s-Day-ish song. The Grammys are determined to send us to an early sleep.

From Twitter: Stevie is never allowed to die. @SaraJBenincasa

9:35 Tara: I’m so in, Dan. I can’t even pinpoint why the show is dragging so much – the performances haven’t been awful.

9:31 It’s only an hour and a half in and I think everybody is already super-duper bored. You guys wanna play Never Have I Ever?

9:20 Tara: The Beach Boys make my heart smile. But this is oh so sleepy…

9:20 Foster the People are faring slightly better with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” but…this could be any bar band, really.

9:18 Maroon 5 start off the Beach Boys tribute/reunion with a rather tepid “Surfer Girl.” They need to turn up Adam Levine’s mic, but this just isn’t the right song choice, either.

9:15 Terrific acceptance speech from Krohl about keeping music organic and craft-centered.

Best Rock Performance: Foo Fighters, “Walk”

9:12 However it ends up going, I’m really excited to see the Glen Campbell tribute. Really cool of the Grammys to honor him and his music on the telecast.

9:09 Tara: Y’all, I paid more attention to the countrified Chipotle commercial than anything on the show so far. True story.

From Twitter: Have a Pavlovian response to Coldplay. Gotta go fail to make out with a gay guy in my dorm room. Bye. @JillMorris

9:01 Tara: Chris Brown: 0, Rihanna: 1. No?

8:59 Kevin: Rihanna’s Tina Turner look is a brilliant way to acknowledge Brown’s presence on the show.

8:58 Whatever your feelings about Rihanna’s music, she usually sounds really solid live.

8:52 Wasn’t wild about the audio job on that Foos performance, but it’s great to see they’re still on top of their game. Dave Grohl really is an icon.

8:48 Jack Black introducing the Foo Fighters is just the injection of life this show needs after that sleepy duet.

8:45 Ben: I like “Don’t You Wanna Stay” for what it is, but I don’t like the way it sounds in a live setting.  I have an acoustic version in my iTunes, and I so much prefer listening to it in that form.

8:42 Ben: Yeah, leave Kelly’s mic on.  Turn Jason’s off.  Works for me.

8:41 Kevin: For the blog: I think they turned off Jason’s mic.  Thanks for that.

8:41 Tara: “Don’t You Wanna Stay” isn’t an awful representation of country music on the Grammys, I suppose. I just. Don’t. Get. Jason Aldean.

8:39 I like “Don’t You Wanna Stay” but this performance does have a little of that “Ooo is that paint drying over there?” quality.

8:37 Ben: Yay, Reba! Nice little speech about how music brings people together.

8:37 Well okay. Hey, Reba’s here!

Best Rap Performance: Jay-Z & Kanye West, “Otis”

8:30 Tara: Not particularly impressed by this infamous Chris Brown comeback performance. All I know is Ken Ehrlich’s “victim” statement is deplorable.

8:27 Chris Brown performing now. Have y’all read this yet?

8:25 Ben: I love how she thanks her doctors for bringing her voice back.  She’s so adorable.

8:24 Ben: Adele.  Surprised?  No.  Happy?  Yes.

Best Pop Vocal Performance: Adele, “Someone Like You”

8:23 Ben: Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt make a very interesting musical pairing.  I enjoyed that performance.

8:23 Tara: Love the simplicity of this tribute. And damn, Alicia Keys can wail.

8:22 Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt (!) paying awesome tribute to Etta James with “Sunday Kind of Love.” No complaints here!

8:21 Ben: Snippet of “Something to Talk About.”  My toe instantly begins tapping.

8:19 Ben: I’m pumped.  Excited for The Civil Wars, and for Taylor Swift’s “Mean.”  Very well-deserved wins

8:19 Tara: So I’m pretty pumped about the pre-telecast country awards. Y’all?

8:15 Bruno Mars just wrapped up the second performance. Some nice mention of people getting off their “rich asses.” Hey, did you guys see Nicki Minaj and Japanese Taylor Swift?

8:11 Tara: I’m digging this “family of musicians” theme of the night. “Music is universal and healing,” says LL Cool J – absolutely.

8:10 Ben: That was cool how they showed the clip of Whitney singing “I Will Always Love You.”

8:10 “Are we excited to hear Adele’s beautiful voice tonight?!” They’re not even going to pretend this isn’t her show, y’all.

8:06 L.L. Cool J is the first Grammy host in several years, and he’s kicking off the night in beautiful fashion with a prayer in memory of Whitney. “There is no way around this; there’s been a death in the family.”

8:01 Kicking off with Bruce Springsteen is not the worst idea. Sounding lively on “We Take Care of Our Own.” It’s hard for that sentiment to set off some thoughts about last night’s events – I wonder if the whole night will be like this.

7:51 Watching this 60 Minutes on Adele. It’s really cool. I don’t have anything else to say about it, really – I just missed you guys!

7:05  Howdy, guys. Dan here. I’ll be running the blog tonight, though a lot of us CU writers will be chiming in. After last night’s loss, should be an especially dynamic show. It’s a good occasion to remember what a special gift music is. Show starts at 8 PM/7 Central – hope you can join us!

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Single Review: Alison Krauss & Union Station, “My Love Follows You Where You Go”

Whenever we get new music from Alison Krauss & Union Station, there are two things we can generally count on:  stellar musicianship, and pure, naturally beautiful vocals.  Still, one variable is whether or not the music builds on the group’s tried-and-true musical formula of modern-bluegrass-meets-adult-pop, and moves it forward such that the approach does come across as merely business-as-usual.  Last year’s set Paper Airplane contained the usual goods, but suffered to some extent from what one might call the plodding midsection syndrome – a cluster of competent but not particularly memorable tracks bookended by moments of brilliance.

In the context of the album, new single “My Love Follows You Where You Go” comes at a point at which things are just beginning to lose a little shine.  It begins on a pedestrian-sounding note with a repetitive melody, and a first verse composed of a string of vague metaphors.  But then the chorus comes, and the song gradually hits its stride.  The melody rises, and the lyrics take on added specificity.  At this point, we learn that the narrator’s lover is leaving her.  The chorus rings quietly poignant by isolating the climactic moment in which her signficant other faces the outside world, preparing to depart.  Though not attempting to deter him, Krauss’s character expresses grave awareness that her lover will one day “wake up, and the world is cruel and cold,” while simultaneously reaffirming her undying love – both in the titular phrase, and in the resolve of “I won’t pretend that it’s not killing me watching you walk away slow.”

The fourth verse is superfluous, not adding to or detracting from the story in any significant way.  As a whole, the song doesn’t necessarily advance the group’s art, but it is an enjoyable variation on a reliable formula.  Though the lyric could benefit from added straightforwardness, we are nevertheless left with a very good single, if not a great one.

Written by Barry Dean, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose

Grade:  B+

Listen:  My Love Follows You Where You Go

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Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part Three: #20-#11

The countdown continues to continue. Scroll down to the bottom to hear samples of each song and to share your comments!

Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part Three: #20-#11

#20
Headache
Joey + Rory

Individual Rankings: #6 – Sam; #15 – Leeann; #17 – Ben

Joey Feek is not a woman to be trifled with. Blow off a day with her to go fishing with your buddies, and be prepared for a holdout that would make the recent NBA lockout look like a bathroom break. Along with a steel guitar-centric, pure country sound, the song’s humor doesn’t wear thin after repeated listenings. (Are you paying attention, Brad “Camouflage” Paisley?) – Sam Gazdziak

#19
Drink Myself Single
Sunny Sweeney

Individual Rankings: #6 – Ben; #13 – Sam; #18 – Jonathan

Sweeney showed her vulnerable side with “From a Table Away” and “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” but here she reminds us that she still knows how to cut loose and have a good time. With “Drink Myself Single” Sweeney delivers an up-tempo track that’s rowdy and fun, with a jaunty electric-guitar-meets-steel-guitar arrangement.

Better yet, she does it without sacrificing lyrical intelligence, and even gets through the whole thing without having to resort to the crutch of citing ‘Ol’ Hank.’ With a seething undercurrent of hurt and anger echoing George Jones’ “Why Baby Why,” “Single” shows an artist with one foot grounded in country music’s storied past, but also with an eye toward the future. – Ben Foster

#18
Mary Was the Marrying Kind
Kip Moore

Individual Rankings: #4 – Kevin; #9 – Dan

A song that manages to characterize eight different girls more believably than a lot of songs characterize one. As the narrator runs through his rocky dating history, you get why he wasn’t conditioned to appreciate Mary when they met, and you mourn with him now that he’s learned to too late. – Dan Milliken

#17
Paper Airplane
Alison Krauss & Union Station

Individual Rankings: #2 – Dan; #10 – Ben

 The quiet melancholy of Krauss and Robert Lee Castleman’s previous collaborations seems to come to a crescendo. “Here all alone and still wondering why,” Krauss sings in the soaring chorus, with yet another relationship crumbling around her. She’s resigned to a cycle of build-up and letdown, as lovers’ feelings and her own toss senselessly about. – Dan Milliken

#16
Teenage Daughters
Martina McBride

Individual Rankings: #4 – Leeann; #7 – Ben; #19 – Tara

The sassy “Teenage Daughters” was a refreshing departure from the inspirational songs and rangy vocal performances that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Martina McBride by now. Instead, with restrained vocals rife with personality, McBride slyly offers a realistic take on the frustrations of raising teenage daughters with honesty and without sap. More of that please, Martina! – Leeann Ward

#15
Home
Dierks Bentley

Individual Rankings: #2 – Sam; #5 – Leeann

“Home” sounds like a pretty love song. And it is. it’s an emotional love song to America from a respectful Dierks Bentley. As the best love songs tend to go, it realistically acknowledges ups and downs while ultimately declaring the strength of the ties that bind. Best of all, not only is it a love song to America, it manages to be patriotic without the jingoism or chest thumping that has all too often pervades patriotic songs in the last decade. – Leeann Ward

#14
Another Like You
Hayes Carll with Bonnie Whitmore

Individual Rankings: #1- Sam; #6 – Leeann

A heated political discussion between a diehard conservative and a bleeding-heart liberal turns into a drunken makeout session in an elevator. If more political discussions in this country ended that way, there would be a heck of a lot more being accomplished in Washington. – Sam Gazdziak

#13
Staying’s Worse Than Leaving
Sunny Sweeney

Individual Rankings: #8 – Ben; #10 – Jonathan; #13 – Leeann; #14 – Dan

Sunny Sweeney just gets the economy of the best country songwriting: There’s nothing flashy about the opening lines of “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” but the weariness in her delivery of a simple aside (“Trust me, it’s really bad”) tells her character’s back-story in just a scant few words and gives her on-the-verge narrative real emotional heft. – Jonathan Keefe

#12
A Little Bit Stronger
Sara Evans

Individual Rankings: #2 – Kevin; #6 – Ben; #10 – Dan

As a portrait of the post-breakup healing process, Evans’ surprise comeback hit is striking in its simplicity, but nonetheless disarmingly effective. Simple vignettes of going through your daily routines with a smile on your face, changing the station when a song reminds you of your ex, coupled with the refrain of “I got a little bit stronger… just a little bit stronger” beautifully capture the progressive nature of the narrator’s healing journey.

Fittingly, Evans’ vocal begins on a hushed, tired-sounding note, building to a dramatic crescendo as the song progresses – a dynamic, layered performance from one of the finest interpretive singers of her generation. – Ben Foster

#11
Little Bird
Kasey Chambers

Individual Rankings: #6 – Kevin; #11 – Leeann; #12 – Ben; #16 – Tara; #16 – Jonathan; #20 – Dan

She’s heard through the grapevine what she needs to do to get her man back, a laundry list of every compromise under the sun.  No wonder she reaches the conclusion that she just doesn’t need him that bad. – Kevin John Coyne

Next: Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part Four: #10-#1

Previous: Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part Two: #30-#21

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Top Twenty Albums of 2011, Part One: #20-#11

The country music umbrella stretched wider than ever this year, regardless of the fact that radio playlists seem shorter than ever.

Of course, it’s not just the Americana acts that can’t get radio play these days. Even top-selling albums by Scotty McCreery and Alison Krauss & Union Station weren’t embraced.

Country Universe editors and contributors each submitted a list of their ten favorite albums of 2011.  31 different albums were included on our lists, and over the next two days, we’ll share with you our collective top twenty.

Top Twenty Albums of 2011, Part One: #20-#11

#20
Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail
Noam Pikelny

His tenure with the Punch Brothers and his winning of the first annual “Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass” in 2010 both earned Noam Pikelny the clout to release Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail, his second solo album and first since 2004. Joined by an all-star roster of fellow pickers, Pikelny’s mostly instrumental set is a showcase both for its lead artist’s extraordinary technical skills and for the banjo’s wide-ranging potential. – Jonathan Keefe

Individual Rankings:  Jonathan – #4

Recommended Tracks: “Fish and Bird” featuring Aoife O’Donovan, “Boathouse on the Lullwater,” “My Mother Thinks I’m a Lawyer”

#19
The King is Dead
The Decemberists

The indie favorites take their hyper-literate brand of folk-rock for a rustic spin, achieving new concision in the process. Colin Meloy’s wild narratives and wilder lexical choices sound right at home in these short-and-sweet song designs, and the Americana field is richer for having them. – Dan Milliken

Individual Rankings: Dan – #4

Recommended Tracks: “Don’t Carry It All,” “June Hymn”

#18
Concrete
Sunny Sweeney

That solo women disappeared from country radio was one of 2011′s major talking points within the genre, but Sunny Sweeney’s Concrete provided some of the most compelling evidence that it wasn’t a lack of strong material that kept female artists off radio playlists. Balancing a keen traditionalist bent with a thoroughly modern point-of-view, Sweeney’s fully-drawn characters and clever spins on familiar country tropes proved that an album that sounds “radio friendly” doesn’t have to be light on actual substance or craft. – Jonathan Keefe

Individual Rankings: Ben – #3

Recommended Tracks: “Amy,” “From a Table Away,” “Fall for Me”

#17
It’s Already Tomorrow
Foster and Lloyd

Their first time around, Foster and Lloyd were one of the coolest country acts going, blending in a love of traditional country music with some ’60s post-British Invasion rock vibes. It’s Already Tomorrow, their first album in 20 years, shows an impressive return to form. Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd have released some terrific solo albums, but there is a definite magic that happens when they record as a duo. – Sam Gazdziak

Individual Rankings: Sam – #2

Recommended Tracks: “Picasso’s Mandolin,” “That’s What She Said,” “Can’t Make Love Make Sense”

#16
This is My Blood
The Dirt Drifters

As mainstream country music becomes increasingly slick and polished, it’s a refreshing change to hear something gritty and rough around the edges. The Dirt Drifters’ debut on Warner Bros. certainly qualifies. If you’re looking for country-rock that takes its cue from run-down country roadhouses instead of ’80s arena rock, this album is for you. – Sam Gazdziak

Individual Rankings: Sam – #3; Dan – #10

Recommended Tracks: “Always a Reason,” “Married Men and Motel Rooms,” “Hurt Somebody”

#15
Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town
Hank III

Hank III’s entire artistic persona is built on indulging in every type of excess he can think of, so it was hardly a shock when, for his first recordings after a less-than-amicable departure from Curb Records, he dropped four full-length albums of new material on the same day. While not all of his ideas are good ones– the less said about Cattle Callin’, the better– the double-album Ghost to a Ghost / Gutter Town proves that Hank III is driven to his spectacular highs not just by the various recreational drugs circulating through his bloodstream but also by a real fearlessness and creativity and a sense of respect for his bloodline. – Jonathan Keefe

Individual Rankings: Jonathan – #1

Recommended Tracks: “Don’t Ya Wanna,” “Musha’s,” “Dyin’ Day”

#14
Ghost on the Canvas
Glen Campbell

A late-in-life swan song by an icon acutely aware of their own mortality. That’s a fitting description of so many of the best country albums in recent years. This is the best of that subgenre since Porter Wagoner’s Wagonmaster. – Kevin John Coyne

Individual Rankings: Kevin – #5; Dan – #6

Recommended Tracks: “There’s No Me…Without You”, “Ghost on the Canvas”

#13
Chief
Eric Church

On the heels of an album that was largely a hit or miss affair, Church delivers a surprisingly electric third album, marked by its edgy sonic splash. But while its spin on country rock is undeniably enticing –a funky mix of swampy, trippy and punchy—the album’s soul is Church himself, a more believable artist this time around than most of his contemporaries. Because for all its hard ass sentiment, Chief actually walks the walk, as authentic as it is audacious. Outlaw in the making? Probably, but don’t tell Church I said so. – Tara Seetharam

Individual Rankings: Tara – #4; Sam – #6; Leeann – #10; Jonathan – #10

Recommended Tracks: “Hungover & Hard Up,” “Keep On,” “Creepin’”

#12
Long Line of Heartaches
Connie Smith

What more can you ask for? Purely straightforward and unadulterated country songs delivered by the finest vocalist the genre has ever been privileged to call its own. Smith’s own co-writes with husband and producer Marty Stuart (The title track, “I’m Not Blue,” “Pain of a Broken Heart”) sit comfortably alongside top-notch cover material penned by Harlan Howard, Johnny Russell, and Dallas Frazier, all backed by the sweet sounds of fiddle and steel aplenty. Long Line of Heartaches is a beautiful reminder of what country music once was, and could be again. – Ben Foster

Individual Rankings: Ben – #2; Jonathan – #5

Recommended Tracks: “Long Line of Heartaches,” “I’m Not Blue,” “Ain’t You Even Gonna Cry”

#11
Your Money and My Good Looks
Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent

There was no chance that this collaboration of straight up country songs between Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent was going to garner any attention from mainstream country music outlets. However, thanks to memorable songs, pure country production and Watson and Vincent reverently following the spirit of classic country duet albums of the past, this project was surely one of the stand out albums of the year. – Leeann Ward

Individual Rankings: Leeann – #2; Ben – #5

Recommended Tracks: “You Could Know as Much from a Stranger,” “My Sweet Love Ain’t Around”

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Pop Goes Country – A Cover Song Report Card

Cover songs can be a hot topic at just about any given time.  We recently got to hear a somewhat underwhelming OneRepublic cover by Faith Hill, which Kevin recently reviewed.  Other recent attempts include Sara Evans’ pop-country reworking of Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” as well as last year’s polarizing Beyoncé cover by Reba McEntire.

Since cover songs are so much fun to talk about, I thought I’d weigh in on a few well-known cover songs from the past few years – the good ones, as well as a few that we would rather forget.  My criteria is simple:  A good cover song should bring something new to the table, and the song should be treated in a way that is well-suited to the artist as well as the genre.  This list focuses specifically on country covers of non-country songs.

 

Click the original artists’ names in parentheses to hear the original versions.

 

Rosanne Cash, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” (The Beatles)
1989 | #1

Where it goes right:  Rosanne’s last career hit was a cover from a Beatles tribute album, and it didn’t sound quite like one might expect.  Though rarely one to use overt country instrumentation throughout most of her career, she delivers a brisk, upbeat take that’s layered in fiddling.  I’ll take it!

Grade:  B+

Mark Chesnutt, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith)
1998 | #1

Where it goes wrong:  It’s hard to imagine a worse pairing between song and performer.  Mark Chesnutt, the revered neotraditionalist behind “Too Cold at Home” and “Going Through the Big D” covering a rock power ballad?  It’s true – complete with apologetic steel guitar fills and a vocal smothered in autotune.  The end result is so cheesy that you might as well slap it between two crackers.  The fact that this is the top Mark Chesnutt iTunes download is very very sad.

Grade:  D

 

Dixie Chicks, “Landslide” (Fleetwood Mac)
2002 | #2

Where it goes right:  The Chicks give a well-known Fleetwood Mac favorite a stripped-down bluegrass treatment, which is a great fit for the nature-related imagery in the song’s lyrics.  The Chicks elevate the song further with their gorgeous harmonies.  As much as I love Fleetwood Mac, I have to say that this version tops the original.  It’s one of the best cover songs I’ve ever heard, and one of the Dixie Chicks’ personal best moments, of which there have been many.

Grade:  A

 

Sara Evans, “I Could Not Ask for More” (Edwin McCain)
2001 | #2

Where it goes right:  Evans delivers a stunning and powerful vocal performance that holds nothing back whatsoever.

Where it goes wrong:  The arrangement is a bit syrupy, and it’s essentially a pop cover of a pop song.  Is a little fiddle or steel too much to ask for?

Grade:  B

 

Faith Hill, “Piece of My Heart” (Erma Franklin, Janis Joplin)
1994 | #1
faith hill piece of my heart video Pictures, Images and Photos
(Watch the video)

Where it goes right:  The fact that Hill was unfamiliar with the Franklin and Joplin versions is telling.  You can easily tell that she is making no attempt to emulate the style of another artist, instead giving a performance totally her own, while the songs’s melody fits well with the countrified arrangement.

Where it goes wrong:  Again, the fact that Hill was unfamiliar with the previous versions is telling.  Her performance lacks the fire and fury of Joplin’s version, which makes it easy to see why one might consider Hill’s performance to be a bit too sugary.

Grade:  B-

 

Alison Krauss, “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” (The Foundations)
1995 | #49

Where it goes right:  Krauss takes a forgettable Motown tune, and delivers a slowed-down mid-tempo version that much more deeply accentuates the emotions conveyed in the lyrics.  In contrast, the original sounded like one big party, which is an ill-fitting treatment of a song about trying to stop one’s lover from leaving.  The track is made all the more sweeter by Kruass’ angelic vocals, and by the expert instrumental backup of Union Station.  The song went on to win Krauss a well-deserved Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

Grade:  A

 

Reba McEntire, “Cathy’s Clown” (Everly Brothers)
1989 | #1

Where it goes right:  It’s extremely effective as a reinterpretation, as McEntire slows the song down to an emotional ballad, and tweaks the lyrics to fit her feminine perspective.  Did I mention that she also gives a mighty fine vocal performance?

Where it goes wrong:  The production is a bit watered-down, which was not unusual for Reba’s late eighties and early nineties output.

Grade:  B+

 

Pam Tillis, “When You Walk In the Room” (Jackie DeShannon)
1994 | #2

Where it goes right:  Tillis could hardly have chosen a better song to countrify, as the lyric about a nervous encounter with an old flame fits right in with classic country music.  She even tweaked the instrumental opening so as to be better suited for the steel guitar, which demonstrates her strong commitment to the country genre.

Grade:  A

 

Travis Tritt, “Take It Easy” (The Eagles)
1994 | #21

Where it goes right:  The Eagles were about the countriest rock band you’d ever meet, and did a great deal to influence the evolution of country sounds and styles, so they were a fitting candidate for an all-country tribute album.  The centerpiece of the collection was honky-tonker Travis Tritt’s version of “Take It Easy” – an energetic performance that had even more body than the original, but that still felt reverent toward the legendary group’s classic version.

Grade:  A

 

Conway Twitty, “The Rose” (Bette Midler)
1983 | #1

Where it goes right:  Nowhere.

Where it goes wrong:  Everywhere. (Can you say bad karaoke?)

Grade:  D

 

Jimmy Wayne, “Sara Smile” (Hall and Oates)
2009 | #31

Where it goes wrong:  To put it simply… reinterpreting a song does not mean simply “adding a banjo line.”  The fact that Hall and Oates even sing background vocals on this track only adds to the overall feeling of pointlessness.

Grade:  D+

 

Mark Wills, “Back at One” (Brian McKnight)
1999 | #2

Where it goes wrong:  If it made for an awfully cheesy pop song in the hands of Brian McKnight, it made a flat-out terrible country song when Mark Wills covered it a mere two months after the release of the McKnight version.  It’s a record characterized by superfluous genre-pandering steel guitar fills, and a lead vocal that sounds more occupied with grooving to the beat than making any sort of emotional connection.  The song peaked at #2, and then Wills tackled a Brandy song immediately afterwards.  Seriously, dude?

Grade:  C-

 

Dwight Yoakam, “Suspicious Minds” (Elvis Presley)
1992 | #35

Where it goes right:  Covering an Elvis song is a tall order, to say the least.  The fact that Yoakam’s version rivals the original, with its contemporized arrangement and knockout lead vocal, is hardly a small feat.

Grade:  A

 

What’s your take on these tunes?  What are your favorite cover songs?  What are your least favorite cover songs?

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Someone Like You

I didn’t expect much.

I’ve had the Adele album for a good bit now, and “Someone Like You” is my favorite track on it.  I’d already heard how the song shot to #1 in the U.K. after she performed it on the Brit Awards.

I checked out that performance, and thought it was good. Not great, but good.

So when I heard all the buzz about her performance of the song on Sunday’s MTV Awards, I didn’t rush to check it out, and ended up just watching it last night out of boredom.

I can’t tell if it’s because she was a bit hoarse, or if she was trying to hold back her tears. Either way, it was so stunningly powerful that I was even a bit shaken up by the whole thing.

I know that there’s going to be the inevitable claims of authenticity and real talent and such, which makes sense given the pop landscape that she’s performing in.  But honestly, it’s been a really long time since anything has happened on a country music stage that’s even come close to what Adele pulled off that night.

It reminded me of Reba McEntire’s performance of “For My Broken Heart” on the 1991 CMA Awards.  She’s a seasoned pro who rarely misses a note, but she tears up so much in the final chorus that she can’t get the notes out, and imperfection that makes the performance timelessly perfect:

I can’t find the clip online, but it also reminded me of Vince Gill singing “The Key to Life” on the 1998 show, also breaking down in the final few lines of the song.  I miss moments like this in country music.

No wonder I’m so awfully disinterested in country this year.  Besides the usual mainstream drivel, I’ve also been disappointed by new albums from usually reliable folks like Dolly Parton, Todd Snider, Alison Krauss & Union Station, and even Emmylou Harris.   I’ve taken to pretending that The Civil Wars are somehow country so that I don’t write the genre off completely this year.

The only thing I’ve really loved so far?  Matraca Berg’s The Dreaming Fields.  It’s got that same rawness that must be speaking to me for some reason these days.  There’s no chance of Berg making it back on the radio in 2011, but with all the shameless format-hopping that’s been allowed by country programmers in recent years, maybe we can get them to give a few spins to Adele.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 28

Today’s category is…

A Song From Your Favorite Songwriter.

Here are the staff picks:

Leeann Ward: “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” – Darrell Scott

A modern masterpiece.

Dan Milliken: “Restless” – Robert Lee Castleman  (performed by Alison Krauss & Union Station)

No one writes individualist cud-chew better than Castleman, and no one sings it better than Krauss. Each new pairing of theirs is a gift to all over-thinkers with secret over-feeling streaks, those who revel in connection but resent constraint, who ask only for honesty because that’s all they themselves can promise sometimes.

Tara Seetharam: “Cowboy Take Me Away” – Marcus Hummon and Martie Seidel (performed by Dixie Chicks)

I don’t really have a favorite songwriter, but I guess Marcus Hummon is the closest thing. I won’t even try to speak more poignantly about this song than Dan did back when we counted down the greatest singles of the 90s; he nails its transcendental sparkle that makes it more than just another love song.

Kevin Coyne: “Don’t Let it Trouble Your Mind” – Dolly Parton

Writing great songs for more than forty years.  What’s amazing  isn’t so much how great she still is, but how great she’s been all along, as this early track demonstrates.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 10

Today’s category is…

A Relaxing Song.

Here are the staff picks:

Dan Milliken: “Can’t Go Back Now” – The Weepies

This husband-wife duo’s sound is mega-soothing, the perfect match for a song which gently nudges the listener to persevere through reality’s burdens and chores. When I need relaxation, it’s usually because I’ve stopped feeling like I can. This one helps me realign.

Tara Seetharam: “The Best Keeps Getting Better” – Alan Jackson

As melodramatic as it sounds, no song is truly “relaxing” for me because I have a hard time separating my emotion from music. The best I can come up with is a song that’s “comforting” – and what’s more comforting than signature Alan Jackson?

Kevin Coyne: “Coming Around Again” – Carly Simon

The hook is great, but there’s something so soothing about the instrumentation and her vocal delivery.  It’s actually a pretty sad song, but somehow sounds calming and even a little uplifting.

Leeann Ward: “If I Didn’t Know Any Better” – Alison Krauss & Union Station

There’s just something so soothing about the mix of this song’s melody, Krauss’s angelic voice and Jerry Douglas’ haunting dobro that always relaxes me.

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