Tag Archives: Alison Krauss

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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Best of 2011?

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.

What albums are you hoping for in 2011?

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The Best Singles of 2010, Part 4: #10-#1

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

#10

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

#9

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

#8

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

#7

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

#6

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

#5

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

#4

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

#3

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

#2

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

#1

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

Check out the rest of the list:

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Premium Label

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?

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Single Review: Dierks Bentley, “Draw Me a Map”

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.

Written by Dierks Bentley & Jon Randall Stewart

Grade: B

Listen: Draw Me a Map

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #75-#51

As might be expected, the subject matters are getting more intense as we edge closer to the top.  But there’s still room for some carefree moments here, thanks to the Dixie Chicks and Jo Dee Messina.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #75-#51


#75
When You Say Nothing at All
Alison Krauss & Union Station
1995 | Peak: #3

Listen

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


#74
Alibis
Tracy Lawrence
1993 | Peak: #1

Listen

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

#73
Cowboy Take Me Away
Dixie Chicks
1999 | Peak: #1

Listen

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 Continue reading

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Female Vocalist of the Year

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:

2009

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

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

Miranda Lambert

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.

Martina McBride

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.

Reba McEntire

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.

Taylor Swift

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.

Carrie Underwood

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.

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #100-#76

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

#100
The Battle Hymn of Love
Kathy Mattea & Tim O’Brien
1990 | Peak: #9

Listen

Wedding songs are typically made of the same fiber, but this one is a little different: it’s energized by burning conviction and fierce pledges. – Tara Seetharam

#99
Blue
LeAnn Rimes
1996 | Peak: #10

Listen

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 Continue reading

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #175-#151

Proving that the airplay charts don’t tell all of the story, this part of the countdown features several singles by nineties stars that didn’t reach the top but have stood the test of time.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #175-#151

#175
I Wish I Could Have Been There
John Anderson
1994 | Peak: #4

Listen

This is the country equivalent to “Cats in the Cradle”, but more tender and less selfish. – Leeann Ward

#174
Sometimes She Forgets
Travis Tritt
1995 | Peak: #7

Listen

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 Continue reading

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226

A lot of songs from both ends of the charts here, including a husband-and-wife duet that spent six weeks at #1.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226

#250
I Meant Every Word He Said
Ricky Van Shelton
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

At least the third song on this list about a guy mulling over romantic gestures he wishes he’d made to his former love, and the most traditional among those songs. You could easily imagine this one being a minor classic by a 60’s or 70’s legend, so close is its replication of that style. – Dan Milliken

#249
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying
Toby Keith with Sting
1997 | Peak: #2

Listen

My hard-and-fast rule for Toby Keith: The sadder he is, the happier the listening experience tends to be. He’s all kinds of sad in this snapshot of post-divorce melancholia, reflecting on everything from unfair custody protocol to the greater motions of the universe. Even a gratuitous Sting cameo can’t detract from the single’s gloomy grandeur. – DM

#248
You Ain’t Much Fun
Toby Keith
1995 | Peak: #2

Listen

Toby Keith is also funny, though. What’s a man to do? Sobering up ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be from is perspective. Ever since he’s done so, his wife has been taking advantage of his increased functionality by giving him honey-do lists that he wasn’t ably tackling pre-sobriety. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. – Leeann Ward

#247
Tender Moment
Lee Roy Parnell
1993 | Peak: #2

Listen

Actions speak louder than words. – KC

#246
Go Rest High On That Mountain
Vince Gill
1995 | Peak: #14

Listen

Every once and awhile an artist delivers a song so powerful that it seems to shatter all divides in its genre. A tribute to both the late Keith Whitley and Gill’s late brother, “Go Rest High On That Mountain” pairs deeply spiritual lyrics with a tender, emotion-soaked performance. The combination is magic. – TS

#245
Nothing
Dwight Yoakam
1995 | Peak: #20

Listen

Living up to its title, the Yoakam’s barren heart and soul are replicated in the arrangement of the song.  If emptiness has a sound, this is it. – Kevin Coyne

#244
(Who Says) You Can’t Have it All
Alan Jackson
1994 | Peak: #4

Listen

Jackson more than earns his neo-traditional street cred thanks to this song. Just soak up that lonesome steel guitar! – LW

#243
It’s Your Love
Tim McGraw with Faith Hill
1997 | Peak: #1

Listen

A good power ballad shot to greatness by its artists’ striking chemistry – palpable, fiery and so very genuine. More than just a hit single, “It’s Your Love” represents the moment in country music history at which we were introduced to one of its definitive couples. – TS

#242
Grandpa Told Me So
Kenny Chesney
1995 | Peak: #23

Listen

Amidst a collection of country life lessons passed down from two generations back is one to live by: “There’ll be times that you want to hold on but you’ve got to let go.” – KC

#241
Thank God For You
Sawyer Brown
1993 | Peak: #1

Listen

This man has a lot to thank God for, including stereotypical parental figures, but he’s most thankful for his girl. – LW

#240
I Never Knew Love
Doug Stone
1993 | Peak: #2

Listen

An earnest, soulful confession of love. It’s hard to ignore the fact that it leans more in the adult-contemporary direction than that of anything else, but when a song is this moving, it’s also hard to care. – TS

#239
What She’s Doing Now
Garth Brooks
1992 | Peak: #1

Listen

In an unusual tact for Mr. Brooks, he forgoes melodrama in order to allow the natural drama of pining for a lost love to speak for itself. The dialed down performance works in the service of the song, as the sadness appropriately penetrates through. – LW

#238
Find My Way Back to My Heart
Alison Krauss & Union Station
1997 | Peak: #73

Listen

Some of the best songs from AKUS play on the home life that’s sacrificed by following the musical dream. Krauss remembers how she used to laugh at songs about the lonely traveling life, but she’s not laughing now. – KC

#237
I Know
Kim Richey
1997 | Peak: #72

Listen

It takes more than self-awareness to mend a broken heart. – KC

#236
Leave Him Out of This
Steve Wariner
1991 | Peak: #6

Listen

A man makes a soaring yet understated plea for his lover to let go of her past love. The song is made sadder by the touch of resignation in Wariner’s performance, which suggests the man knows he’s making his plea in vain. – TS

#235
Just My Luck
Kim Richey
1995 | Peak: #47

Listen

Roba Stanley once sang about the joys of the single life and its simplicities.  Richey is about to leave it behind, and wonders just how lucky that makes her. – KC

#234
What if I Do
Mindy McCready
1997 | Peak: #26

Listen

A whole song about deciding whether or not to go all the way with one’s movie date. McCready gives a fantastically entertaining performance, speak-singing her lines with a a bold campiness that most other gals wouldn’t dare. – DM

#233
Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow
Alan Jackson
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

Stories of would-be stars trying to make it big in Nashville are nothing too novel, but Jackson’s plucky earnestness gives this one an accessibility many of the others lack. – DM

#232
Now That’s All Right With Me
Mandy Barnett
1996 | Peak: #43

Listen

The other great Barnett single of the era, fusing Patsy Cline-style vocal class, Pam Tillis-style production and Gloriana-style youthful exuberance. – DM

#231
With You
Lila McCann
1999 | Peak: #9

Listen

Ten years before “You Belong With Me” made its splash, McCann set her sights on the same demographic with a song just as relatable, vibrant and passionate. That the song lacks Taylor Swift’s sharp perspective is perhaps what makes it such a great record: there’s something so pure about McCann’s fully unapologetic, headfirst fall into love. – TS

#230
My Maria
Brooks & Dunn
1996 | Peak: #1

Listen

The rare country cover of a pop song that improves on the original. No offense, B.W. Stephenson. – DM

#229
Boom! It Was Over
Robert Ellis Orrall
1992 | Peak: #19

Listen

How far can an amazing song title carry you? All the way to #229, that’s how far! – DM

#228
Somewhere in My Broken Heart
Billy Dean
1991 | Peak: #3

Listen

So simple and plain in its heartbreak, and so understated and quiet in its delivery.  – KC

#227
I Just Wanted You to Know
Mark Chesnutt
1993 | Peak: #1

Listen

Chesnutt makes a phone call to an old love that could be construed as creepy, pathetic or terribly sad – take your pick. I’m going with a mixture of all three, with a pinch of selfishness thrown in. Either way, “I Just Wanted You to Know” is a memorable slice of the-one-that-got-away reality.- TS

#226
I’m Gonna Be Somebody
Travis Tritt
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

In the twenty years that passed since the release of this song, the path to success in the music industry has morphed into something that looks very different than it used to. Unlike that of Bobby in the song, these days an artist’s journey can come in all shapes and forms, sometimes abrupt and sometimes completely unprecedented.

Think what you want about this paradigm shift, but here’s what I believe: regardless of how you shoot to the top, the only way you’ll achieve longevity and, most importantly, respect in country music is if you share the fire in Bobby’s eyes. This soul-stirring hunger and unshakable passion is the heart of “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” and the reason it remains a timeless classic. Here’s to hoping – and I’m optimistic – our modern artists are made of the same stuff. – TS

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