Cyrus released “Achy Breaky Heart” when I was seven years old, and I fell for it. The upside? My mom bought me his Some Gave All cassette tape, and I fell in love with “She’s Not Cryin’ Anymore.” It was the first song in my life to grip me with emotion, which would later come to define my bond with music.
I know that it was either this or “Physical”, but I’m pretty sure it was this one because I have foggy memories of this being turned up for my amusement in the car when I was a small child. This is what happens when you’re a child of the eighties.
Dan Milliken: “Keep on Dancing” – The Gentrys
This is just my best guess. My dad used to crank this oldie in our living room and literally swing me and my little sister around in the air to it when we were young. I sometimes wonder if my preference for uptempo material (regardless of actual emotional tone) was established right there.
I don’t have a particular song in mind, but when I think about it, I realize that the first music that I remember really liking was from Raffi, a children’s’ singer. There was a particular cassette that I was obsessed with (recorded by my dad from the TV), which was a recording of a concert that aired on the Disney channel and subsequently released on CD a few years later.
As an adult when I revisited the album, along with Raffi’s Christmas album, I realized that the instrumentation closely resembled the sounds of country music. In fact, the country music community released a tribute to Raffi, which includes adorable recordings by the likes of Keith Urban, Marty Stuart, Kathy Mattea, Lee Roy Parnell, Lari White, Elizabeth Cook, Eric Heatherly, Alison Krauss and Asleep at the Wheel, among others.
My favorite track from the tribute is Raul Malo’s version of “Thanks A Lot” (not the Ernest Tubb song). Although I didn’t fall in love with country until I was a young adolescent, as I see it, loving Raffi music proves that I was wired to naturally love country music, even as a young child.
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.
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?
End-of-year lists abound, and we still have another on the way. But what about the best albums of 2011?
We’re in that super cool period of anticipation, where we wonder what the albums we know about will sound like, and hope that the albums that we don’t know about will be from artists who we can’t get enough of.
Right now, the announced albums that I’m most pumped for are the 2-CD live album from Todd Snider and the new studio album from Alison Krauss, both scheduled for release in early 2011.
Among the unannounced, I’m pining for new studio albums from Dwight Yoakam and Shania Twain. Feels like a lifetime since either had a proper album of new material.
If we’re getting into pipe dreams, I’ll add a new Dixie Chicks set into the mix.
Our look back at the year’s best singles comes to a close, with unprecedented CU consensus at the top of the list. The top two singles of the year were ranked in that order by three of our four writers, and both appeared in the top ten of the fourth writer.
Here’s our ten best of 2010:
The Best Singles of 2010, Part 4: #10-#1
Draw Me a Map Dierks Bentley
Bentley is getting a lot of deserved attention for sonically diverging from the mainstream to create a bluegrass-inspired album. It’s an excellent album, but to his credit, “Draw Me A Map” isn’t so far removed from some of the unreleased songs on his first two mainstream projects; It’s just that he gets to shine a finer focus on it for this album, and therefore, this seemingly subversive song for radio gets to be released. The inspired blend of Bentley’s ragged voice with Alison Krauss’ angelic one takes the song to an even sweeter level. – Leeann Ward
Broken Chely Wright
Robert Louis Stevenson once remarked that “Hope lives on ignorance; open-eyed Faith is built upon a knowledge of our life, of the tyranny of circumstance and the frailty of human resolution.” He was talking, in context, about marriage. The truth is that no one enters a relationship completely free of burden, and only by submitting to the complications of that truth can we avoid being ruled by them. Wright, for her part, manages the task with simple, earnest grace, probably strengthening her relationship through mere acknowledgment of its weaknesses. – Dan Milliken
Drop On By Laura Bell Bundy
Unlike the year’s other booze-induced lover’s call, “Drop On By” isn’t rooted in emotional dependency; it’s fueled by Bundy’s earthy physical longing – and what a longing that is. Proving her masterful interpretative skills, Bundy churns out a slow-burning performance that’s both deftly controlled and achingly sensual, with just a tinge of playful warmth woven through. The song’s kicker, though, is the smoky throwback arrangement – a delicious mix of blues, jazz and country – that not only fits Bundy like a glove, but pushes the boundaries of what constitutes a great country record. – Tara Seetharam
Giddy On Up Laura Bell Bundy
The most interesting and surprising debut single that I can remember. So many creative and unexpected choices are made, but it is Bundy’s forceful personality that pulls it all together into something cohesive. In an era of country music that is little more than dull shades of gray, “Giddy On Up” is a Technicolor marvel. – Kevin Coyne
As She’s Walking Away Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson
A young man just about chickens out of approaching the radiant girl across the bar, panicking that “my heart won’t tell my mind to tell my mouth what it should say.” Luckily, Wise Older Man At Bar can see exactly what’s going on and nudges Junior into action. A bit silly, but the single radiates such warmth that you gobble it up. And if there was a more motivational moment in 2010 than Alan Jackson’s spoken “Go on, son,” well, I didn’t hear it. – DM
Smoke a Little Smoke Eric Church
Church finally puts his music where his mouth is, delivering an unapologetic, roguish (for country radio, anyway) ode to escapism by intoxication. The erratic musical flow evokes the very physical sensations the song celebrates, and Church’s swagger makes bumming sound almost appealing. Turns out that if you stop talking about being a badass for long enough, you may just manage to kinda be one. – DM
If I Die Young The Band Perry
“If I Die Young” arrives like a gift from an alternate universe, one where the public’s embrace of Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, and O Brother was treated as a road map for the genre’s future, not just a passing interest that needn’t be cultivated. – KC
Stuck Like Glue Sugarland
Every once and awhile, a piece of ear candy comes along that defies the term “ear candy.” That’s what “Stuck Like Glue” is, to be sure: an infectious acoustic-pop morsel, invigorated by Nettles’ insanely joyful performance and a genre-busting breakdown. But there’s something about the song that puts it on another plane. Maybe it’s the organic energy, or maybe it’s the lack of artistic inhibition. Or maybe it’s the simple fact that “Stuck Like Glue” doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not. It just is. And as a result, it’s that rare breed of song that taps into your spirit – that demands you to stop thinking, start feeling and have a damn good time. – TS
Little White Church Little Big Town
It probably owes some theme to “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” but Little Big Town’s swampy sleeper hit is the coolest-sounding country single of the year all on its own. From handclaps to snarling electric licks, creepy whispers to gospel-esque call-and-response choruses, “Little White Church” is a potent reminder of all the creativity still bubbling under in Music City. – DM
The House That Built Me Miranda Lambert
Miranda Lambert’s career defining song is also our song of the year. Not much can be said about this gorgeous ode to childhood memories that hasn’t already been said better by countless writers before me, including our very own Dan Milliken, which helps make the case for what’s inevitably the song of the year on many 2010 countdowns.
Its all-acoustic, understated arrangement underscores the story of a woman who tries to find solace in the memories buried in a structure that was more than a house. Its descriptive lyrics move us as they detail memories from turning blueprints into the family dream home to the heartbreak of losing the family dog.
As it is always is with the best songs, “The House that Built Me” does not hit us over the head with its emotional resonance. It’s strong, it’s palpable, but it’s all done with gentleness, which is the most effective way to tug at the heartstrings. – LW
September has a lot of album releases that I’m really enjoying or looking forward to. In fact, it’s the most lucrative month for music for my taste in quite some time.
Last Tuesday (September 7), Rounder Records released The SteelDrivers’ second album, Reckless (which is pretty spectacular, by the way) and this week, they will be releasing Robert Plant’s follow up to his 2007 collaborative album with Alison Krauss, also on Rounder. From the streaming preview that can be heard on NPR’s website until release day, the album is a wonderfully rootsy project helmed by Plant and Buddy Miller and includes guitar work from Darrell Scott. October will also finally see the release of Joe Diffie’s bluegrass album on the label.
When one learns that an album will be released through Rounder Records (which has recently been sold to Concord Music Group), it’s pretty much automatically expected that the project will be quality. Whether it’s The SteelDrivers, Robert Plant, Joe Diffie, John Mellancamp, Alison Krauss or Willie Nelson, it’s reasonable to assume certain aspects of a Rounder release, including that the album may even stray from a typical artist release to be more rootsy in approach, as is the case with the recent Willie Nelson and John Mellancamp albums, along with the upcoming Diffie project. More often than not, I can count on Rounder Records to please my musical sensibilities, even with unexpected artists, since I never expected that Robert Plant would be recording some of my favorite roots music.
As much as I love and count on Rounder Records to produce great music, my absolute favorite record company is Sugar Hill Records (owned by Vanguard Records). Incidentally, Joey+Rory will be releasing their anticipated second album through Sugar Hill on Tuesday (September 14). Additionally, Marty Stuart’s recent release, the excellent Ghost Train, was released through them as well. Other artist who have been associated with Sugar Hill include, but are not limited to: Nickel Creek, Ricky Skaggs, Guy Clark, Dolly Parton, Darrell Scott, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, The Duhks, Sarah Jarosz, and the list goes on. As with Rounder Records, many artists seem to release albums with Sugar Hill as a deviation from the music for which they are most popularly associated, as is the case with Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, and even Rodney Crowell, who released his venerable The Houston Kid on the label.
Right now, it seems that my favorite record labels aren’t in the business of releasing music that we hear on mainstream country radio, though Joey+Rory are attempting to crack through. While I don’t have the inside knowledge to say that it doesn’t exist, we don’t hear about the red tape and politics that is ever present with major companies like, lets say, the infamous Curb Records, which has produced some rather publicly disgruntled artists, most notably Tim McGraw and the two Living Hank Williamses.
But when I was a kid, MCA Records was the label that seemed like the powerhouse record company for country music to me. Some of my favorite artists were on that label, including Trisha Yearwood, George Strait, Reba McEntire and, of course, Vince Gill. I admired the country roster of Arista as well, which included Alan Jackson, Diamond Rio, Radney Foster, and Blackhawk.
Along with reminding you about some good releases that have recently been released and will soon be available, this is the very long and self-indulgent way of getting to the question of:
What is the record label that you most admire and can count on to release your favorite music?
This single review is written by Guest Contributor Jennifer Bernard.
“Draw Me a Map,”the second single from Up on the Ridge, contains lyrics which are cleverly evocative and packed with passion. The acoustic arrangement combined with the vocals of Dierks Bentley and Alison Krauss make for a soothing delivery of words that definitely dive below the surface. Specifically with lines such as “I’d beg forgiveness but I don’t know where to start” and “I’ve never been so at loss, I’m at a canyon I can’t get around or cross,” you can truly feel the anxiety and hopelessness that Bentley illustrates.
What strikes me while listening to this song is the vulnerability of the man in this situation. It is obvious that he regrets letting her go and now understands that she and him are meant to be (“You’re my destiny and destination”). It’s always refreshing to put pride aside and express how one feels on a deeper level which the ballad so strongly conveys. Krauss doesn’t have a major presence in this song which is both dulcet as it is symbolic. We understand that this song is about the man’s apology and the woman’s forgiveness. Furthermore, with Krauss in the background we are comforted knowing that she is there listening and possibly yearning for their relationship, too.
I’m a huge fan of metaphors, so there’s no mistaking that I appreciate this song’s metaphorical lyrics. No, he’s not asking her to physically draw him a map to help him find her. Rather, he’s desperate for her to tell him how he can come back in her life. It’s a song about a tender subject, so the simple vocals and music execute a harmonious match. Although the tune may not have an outstanding presence or be as memorable as its country ballad predecessors, all in all, this collaboration provides a unique touch to the album and is a nice addition to Bentley’s musical résumé.
This Keith Whitley classic was recorded as part of a tribute album to the late country star. It became a hit all over again, perhaps because Krauss performed it in a near-whisper. The quiet arrangement matches the sentiment beautifully. – Kevin Coyne
Lawrence dishes on his ex’s cheating ways to her new potential lover. How did she get that way? He reveals that he’s the one who taught her everything she knows from the cheater’s playbook. Moreover, he seems regretful of her corruption. – Leeann Ward
Cowboy Take Me Away Dixie Chicks
1999 | Peak: #1
In a modern world where life can so easily feel cold and mechanical, love remains earthy and exciting and mysterious. It’s a window into a different world, one where we’re not defined by the predictables of our routine – the same stresses, the same cars and buildings – but by our core nature as people, our place in the greater fabric of Earth and, perhaps, heaven. On the surface, “Cowboy Take Me Away” sounds like just a sugar-sweet love song – I’ve even heard it called “pre-feminist” – but there’s something else going on here: a plea for life to have meaning again. – Dan Milliken (more…)
In the Entertainer and Male Vocalist races, I’ve been making the case for fresh blood. In those categories, the routine nominees are mostly past their peaks, and there’s room to let some rising stars in on the action.
Oh, to be able to make the same case for the Female Vocalist race. Let’s take a look at last year’s nominees:
For the first time in this category’s history, I believe voters are facing a dilemma that plagued the Vocal Duo category for most of the nineties: there just aren’t enough worthy nominees to finish out the category.
Even earlier in this decade, when radio was barely playing any women at all, there were women like Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, and Patty Loveless who earned nominations for their critically acclaimed roots records. Krauss was even a regular in this category for a good chunk of the decade, and despite being largely absent from radio, she sold more records than some of her fellow nominees.
This year, there isn’t even a woman who could step forward and claim that mantle. So my picks don’t bring anything new to the table. Maybe some of you can make the case that I’m unable to, and suggest new blood in the comments.
Picks for Female Vocalist
She deserves her fourth consecutive nomination, and on the strength of Revolution and its hit single “The House That Built Me”, I think that she deserves the win this year.
In any other year, this would be the slot that should be up for grabs. McBride didn’t release a new album, and while she had some success at radio with “Wrong Baby Wrong”, it didn’t crack the top ten or reignite album sales. Still, who is standing in her way? Kellie Pickler? Gretchen Wilson? Laura Bell Bundy? I fully expect her to earn her thirteenth consecutive nomination, matching Reba McEntire’s record run from 1983-1995.
Speaking of McEntire, she’s been popping up in this category again in recent years. After those thirteen consecutive nominations ended in 1995, the race was far too competitive for a good while. She’s earned three nominations since then, in 2004, 2006, and 2009. Her massive hit “Consider Me Gone” and surprisingly strong record sales mean that this won’t be a filler nomination. She’s earned it.
Yes, I know the idea of her winning vocalist awards makes many wince, but c’mon now. There’s no denying she’s one of the top female artists today. Until Eminem’s recent comeback, she was the biggest star in all of music, period. And she’s got a shot at reclaiming that title with her third album, if initial reaction to “Mine” is any indication.
The three-time winner is radio’s favorite artist and her album sales have remained strong. If Lambert hadn’t surged with “The House That Built Me”, I think that Underwood would be ahead in the race this year. If she makes the final ballot for Entertainer, I suspect that voters will reward her in that category and give Female Vocalist to Lambert. There’s good precedent for this, as Dolly Parton (1978), Barbara Mandrell (1980), and Shania Twain (1999) won Entertainer without winning Female Vocalist that night. It’s happened even more in the Entertainer/Male races, given that the big prize has gone to men far more frequently.
Many a star was launched in the nineties, a few of them right out of the gate. This section includes the debut singles from Toby Keith, Jo Dee Messina, LeAnn Rimes, and Doug Stone, along with Grammy-winning hits by Alison Krauss and Dwight Yoakam.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #100-#76
The Battle Hymn of Love Kathy Mattea & Tim O’Brien
1990 | Peak: #9
Sure, the novelty of thirteen year-old Rimes’ prodigious Patsy imitation helped things along. But that unshakable yodeled hook would have made “Blue” a classic in any era of country music. – Dan Milliken (more…)
Tritt gives a surprisingly but fittingly subdued performance on this cover of a Steve Earle song, telling the story of a woman who sometimes forgets that she’s sworn off men. I can never get enough of the incredibly cool arrangement. – Tara Seetharam (more…)