It’s easy to lose sight of Billy Ray Cyrus the “artist” when 90% of his exposure of late has been alongside pop star Miley Cyrus – whose artistic credibility actually, surprisingly, sometimes surpasses his own. But when Cyrus taps into his core, with songs like “A Good Day,” he reminds us that he’s got a substantial amount of talent, particularly a strong, decent voice.
“A Good Day” is more or less an ode to sweet memories and the people in your life who make these memories worth holding onto. Cyrus sings with sincerity, and the sentiment behind the song is charming: “When we’re finished with this ride/And we’re on the other side/Bet we’ll look back on this life and say/Man that was a good day.”
The song’s biggest flaw is that, while it puts Cyrus back in his niche, it doesn’t do much by way of moving him forward, as there’s nothing especially interesting or unique about the performance. But if you can look past that, “A Good Day” fits Cyrus well, and I suspect it’ll fit snugly amongst the radio regulars, which may be exactly what he needs at this point in his career.
“Pride attaches undue importance to the superiority of one’s status in the eyes of others; And shame is fear of humiliation at one’s inferior status in the estimation of others. When one sets his heart on being highly esteemed, and achieves such rating, then he is automatically involved in fear of losing his status.”
– Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher
This week’s iPod challenge requires you to check your shame at the door. Too often, there is embarrassment associated with our favorite music. We worry about the cool factor.
When I started Country Universe, I was determined to write honestly about what I like and dislike, regardless of how it might affect my credibility in the eyes of others. But I often keep mum about the guiltiest of my guilty pleasures.
So with this iPod check, I’m hitting shuffle and listing the first twenty songs that I’d normally be too embarrassed to share. Just to keep it fully honest, I’m using my “Favorites” playlist, the 3,000 or so songs that I truly enjoy, so you know these aren’t songs that I like. They’re songs that I love:
Kellie Pickler, “Best Days of Your Life”
Grease 2, “Back to School Again”
Mr. Mister, “Broken Wings”
Paula Cole, “I Don’t Want to Wait”
Alabama, “Love in the First Degree”
Guns ‘n Roses, “November Rain”
Billy Ray Cyrus, “In the Heart of a Woman”
Neil Diamond, “Yesterday’s Songs”
Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Doug Stone, “Little Houses”
Trick Daddy, “Nann…”
They Might Be Giants, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”
Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Come On Eileen”
TLC, “No Scrubs”
Arrested Development, “Tennessee” (A game of horseshoes!)
Michael Bolton, “How Can We Be Lovers”
Olivia Newton-John, “Have You Never Been Mellow”
Shakespear’s Sister, “I Don’t Care”
Cast off your shame and share your own list in the comments!
Building a music collection used to be a far more difficult thing, a dogged hunt through record stores and mail order catalogs, hoping to find what you were looking for. The advent of the internet made things easier, but it wasn’t until music could be downloaded digitally that a deep music collection could be built with far less effort.
However, all of this available music can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to get a handle on the catalog of an established artist. Country Universe is here to help. Our Buyer’s Guides will walk you through the music that is digitally available for a given artist, starting with the essential purchases for new listeners, and working through the entire digital catalog until even the completist fan will be sated. You can also sample each album in its entirety, and purchase any song or album that you like through Amazon’s MP3 store.
Our first Buyer’s Guide is for our artist of the month, Dolly Parton. Look for many more to come in the new year.
Starting Your Collection
Dolly Parton’s catalog is quite the labyrinth. Thankfully, there are several compilations available that are an excellent value, offering twenty tracks each for less than ten dollars. Casual fans can just pick up the first set, but serious country fans should skip the first and buy the other three.
Ultimate Dolly Parton
This collection is all that the casual fan will ever need, with twenty hits included for just under eight bucks. All of her big crossover hits are here, like “Islands in the Stream”, “9 to 5″ and “Here You Come Again.” Also included are her country classics “Jolene”, “Coat of Many Colors” and the original recording of “I Will Always Love You.” It’s a bit too broad for studious fans of country music, but if you just want the big hits, they’re all here.
The Essential Dolly Parton, Volume Two
RCA has yet to issue a definitive box set for Parton, but their three Essential releases in the nineties are collectively effective in covering her tenure with the label. This is the strongest of the three sets, focusing on her sixties and seventies material. In addition to the big hits, including the original recording of “I Will Always Love You”, you also get lesser-known greats like “Touch Your Woman”, “Mule Skinner Blues” and “The Seeker.” Her transformation from mountain singer to pop sensation is captured here, as the set includes the first wave of her pop hits, too.
The Essential Dolly Parton One: I Will Always Love You
Even though it was released first, this set focuses on the latter years of Parton’s tenure, with nearly all of the cuts being released in the eighties. The rest of the big pop hits are here, like “9 to 5″ and “Islands in the Stream”, along with some forgotten gems, most notably “Single Women”, “God Won’t Get You” and “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Also of note is her recording of “To Daddy”, which she chose not to release when Emmylou Harris expressed interest in recording it instead.
The Essential Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton
Although they both are Hall of Famers, you can’t effectively tell the story of either Porter Wagoner or Dolly Parton without discussing their work together. They are the most successful collaborators in country music history, and nearly all of their hits are collected here. Classics like “Making Plans” and “Just Someone I Used To Know” are essential, as are “Burning the Midnight Oil” and “The Last Thing on My Mind.”
Building Your Collection
For all three women involved – Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris – this was a career landmark, which brought them wide critical acclaim and huge commercial success. The harmonies are exquisite throughout, but the best moments are “The Pain of Loving You”, “Wildflowers” and “Telling Me Lies.”
If labels were as creative and resourceful in marketing the music of their artists before they left the roster as they are once they’re gone, maybe some big names would stick around a little longer. Both Billy Ray Cyrus and Trisha Yearwood have been the subjects of several compilations since leaving their first labels, and it’s no surprise to see two more come along this year, with both artists getting their own entries in the Love Songs series.
Billy Ray Cyrus is mostly remembered for “Achy Breaky Heart” these days, but the rest of his admittedly modest string of hits were anything but novelties. He was quite the heartbreak king back in the day, playing the role of the fool left behind who is coming to terms with the mistakes that led to his loss.
His Love Songs set opens with two of the best such songs in his catalog, “In the Heart of a Woman” and “Somebody New.” There may be quite a bit of New Jersey arena rock in the mix, but at the core is hillbilly heartache. It’s the songs of loss that make the Cyrus set shine, and there’s a thrill of rediscovery hearing the forgotten hit “Somebody New”, which is brilliant in its passive-aggressiveness. Also worthy of note are lesser-known tracks like “It Won’t Be the Last” and “I am Here Now”, both of which are just waiting to be covered by a resourceful country star looking for a hit.
Last night, the CMA stamped its approval on the leading contemporary country stars of today. Congratulations to Kevin for commandeering the most popular live blog in Country Universe history. Here is a series of highlights (according to me) from an otherwise staid ceremony:
Best performance: “More Like Her,” Miranda Lambert; “Just a Dream,” Carrie Underwood. With understated brilliance, Lambert shifted gears by offering her Texas twang on the stripped-down ballad, while Underwood hit all the glory notes on her dramatic tearjerker with style and grace. Often pitted as rivals and polar opposites, the two proved that country music holds plenty of room for these two prodigious talents. Although Underwood ended Lambert’s faint hopes of claiming the Female Vocalist prize, bet on Lambert winning her fair share of CMAs in the near future.
Sound off: Repeatedly an issue, the Sommet Center’s sound system had problems again this year. Also, Nashville is a town of songwriters, but L.A. is a town of scriptwriters, and some intelligent, humorous ones would be welcome at next year’s ceremony.
Nashville’s full of musicians, too: Let’s tip our hats to first-time CMA award winner, Musician of the Year, Mac McAnally.
#8: Faith Hill & Carrie Underwood
Female Vocalist of the Year
The CMAs experienced an unwanted (and many would argue, unwarranted) amount of attention in 2006, when an intended joke by Faith Hill cast a pall on the honoring of Carrie Underwood with the Female Vocalist of the Year trophy.