“I hear down there, it’s changed, you see. They’re not as backward as they used to be.”
“Gone Country” is a snapshot of country music at the peak of the boom years, when forces within the music industry and larger shifts in the social landscape of America coalesced to launch country music from its long-suffering redheaded stepchild status into a billion dollar business.
Penned by Bob McDill, a pop songwriter who’d gone country himself many years earlier, the song’s sing-along chorus lends itself to “Born in the U.S.A.” syndrome. Many sang along without realizing that it was actually an indictment of musical artists who manipulatively decided to go country, rather than a celebration of the explosive new audience that had embraced the format in the early nineties.
Who but Alan Jackson could have delivered it so masterfully? Even during the hat act years, when every young new buck was falling over himself to declare his affinity for Haggard and Jones, Alan Jackson stood out as the real deal. But despite his staunch traditionalism and reverence for the genre’s greats, he still skillfully incorporated fifties rock, sixties pop and seventies rock into his sound, which is why he could cover “Tequila Sunrise” just as credibly as “A Good Year for the Roses.”
The man singing the song had reached mega-superstardom, selling more copies of one album than many of his heroes had sold of their entire catalog. Even as he played the cocked-eyebrow guardian of the genre, looking at these carpetbaggers with disdain-laced suspicion, he also knew that the gold rush that was calling their names had made him successful beyond his wildest dreams.
So while there’s a whiff of condescension toward the Vegas singer going “back to her roots”, the folkie who thought “some of that stuff don’t sound much different than Dylan”, and the pop executive who was sure he’d “be back in the money in no time at all”, his confident air throughout the song was a reminder that all of their perceptions were based in truth.
Nineties country really did share some roots with the pop and rock music that lounge singers would belt out in Vegas. Mary Chapin Carpenter, a folkie if there ever was one, was selling multi-platinum and dominating the award show circuit. And while pop music was at its lowest nadir, languishing in the shadows of both grunge rock and hip-hop, country radio was the only place on the radio dial where bright production and lyrical emphasis could be found.
It was a golden moment in the genre’s history, the first and last time when country dominated the entire American musical landscape without having to compromise its own identity to capture the interest of the crossover audience. They made smart, contemporary music that acknowledged and built upon the genre’s rich legacy, and the audience came to them.
These days, of course, they’re as backward as they’ve ever been. Hillbilly pride songs compete for airtime with songs so blatantly pop that they don’t even need remixing for pop and AC airplay. But “Gone Country” is a beautiful snapshot of a time when the genre had risen to the top of the music scene, simply on the twin strengths of authenticity and artistry.
A cornerstone of country, southern rock, and gospel music, Charlie Daniels and his fiddle have made an indelible impact on the fabric of American music.
Born and raised in North Carolina, Daniels first achieved notoriety through his astonishing fiddling talent. Since he was also efficient with a guitar, he started off by assembling the instrumental band the Jaguars. They played throughout the late fifties and early sixties, and were signed to Epic Records for a period of time. While the band was slowly fizzling out, Daniels got his first taste of real success as a songwriter and a backing musician. Elvis Presley recorded his composition, “It Hurts Me”, in 1963. By the end of the sixties, Daniels had played on the seminal Bob Dylan album Nashville Skyline, and toured with Leonard Cohen.
His recording career entered full stride in the seventies. After a self-titled solo album in 1970, Daniels expanded his act into the Charlie Daniels Band. In this incarnation, Daniels would enjoy his greatest notoriety as a singer, songwriter, and performer. By deftly tackling societal issues from a fiercely Southern perspective, Daniels added powerful and remarkably effective social commentary to his songs, surrounding his worldview with scorching fiddle.
A series of classic singles like “Uneasy Rider”, “The South’s Gonna Do It”, and “Long Haired Country Boy” firmly established Charlie Daniels and his band as a force to be reckoned with. After a series of critically acclaimed albums that sold well, the band reached its peak of mainstream success in 1979, with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” It became Daniels’ biggest hit on both the country and the pop charts, and powered Million Mile Reflections to sales of over three million in the United States alone.
Daniels and his band coasted on their success throughout the eighties, touring extensively and continuing to score country hits, along with the occasional pop crossover. Some of his most high-profile hits remained political in nature, most notably “Still in Saigon”, his remarkable attempt to shed light on the Vietnam War veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 1989, he had his last major commercial success with the band’s album, Simple Man. Though the title track just missed the country top ten, the vigilante hit received wide media exposure, and pushed sales of the album to platinum status.
For the past two decades, Daniels has remained a widely popular draw on the road, and a widely respected media star, appearing regularly on political talk shows to share his views on issues of the day. Always a fan of gospel music, he’s released several spiritual sets in recent years. Songs from the Longleaf Pines, a bluegrass gospel collection from 2005, was released to overwhelming praise. In 2007, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Always a patriot, his latest release is 2010′s Land That I Love, which features a handful of new songs alongside his many America-themed songs from the past.
Garth Brooks, Connie Smith, and keyboardist Hargus “Pig” Robbins will join the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
Brooks is the top-selling country music artist in history. At fifty, he is one of the youngest living inductees ever.
Smith is the fifth female artist to be inducted since 2008, when Emmylou Harris ended a nine year drought for female inductees.
Since playing on the George Jones classic “White Lightning” in 1957, Robbins has recorded with countless legends of country and rock music, including Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Alan Jackson, and Bob Dylan.
What’s your take on the 2012 inductees? More importantly, who deserves to join them in 2013?
We’ll run a list of our picks for the next round. Share your suggestions in the comments!
As I’m sure the rest of you do, I make playlists all the time. Many of them are lists of individual artists, but some of them have a concept.
My latest playlist is of covers. First, I have the original version (or the one that’s famous for being the original) followed by my favorite cover of it. My only rule is that I have to like both versions. So, songs where I like the cover but not the original won’t make the list.
I’ll share a sampling of what I have so far, as long as you share your latest or greatest concept playlist in the comments:
1. Buddy Miller, “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go” (Miranda Lambert)
2. Hank Williams, “Hey, Good Lookin’” (The Mavericks)
3. Elvis Presley, “Suspicious Minds (Dwight Yoakam)
4. Dolly Parton, “Coat of Many Colors (Shania Twain/Alison Krauss)
5. Waylon Jennings, “Dreaming My Dreams with You” (Alison Krauss and Union Station)
6. Johnny Cash, “Understand Your Man” (Dwight Yoakam)
7. Merle Haggard, “The Way I Am” (Alan Jackson)
8. John Prine, “That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round” (Miranda Lambert)
9. John Anderson, “Swingin’” (LeAnn Rimes)
10. Buddy Miller, “Don’t Tell Me” (Alicia Nugent)
11. Kasey Chambers, “Pony” (Ashley Monroe)
12. Tammy Wynette, “Stand by Your Man” (Dixie Chicks)
13. Bill Monroe, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (John Fogerty)
14. Conway Twitty, “Goodbye Time” (Blake Shelton)
15. Hank Williams, “I Saw the Light” (Blind Boys of Alabama/ Hank Williams Jr.)
16. Bob Dylan, “Shelter from the Storm” (Rodney Crowell/Emmylou Harris)
17. Merle Haggard, “Today I Started Loving You Again” (Buddy Jewell/Miranda Lambert)
18. Nitty Gritty Dirtband, “Fishing in the Dark” (Garth Brooks)
19. The White Stripes, “Dead Leaves in the Dirty Ground” (Chris Thile)
20. Al Green, “Lets Stay Together” (John Berry)
21. David Allan Coe, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” (Doug Supernaw)
22. The Decemberists, “Shankill Butchers” (Sarah Jarosz
23. Steve Earle, “My Old Friend the Blues” (Patty Loveless)
24. Eric Clapton, “Lay Down Sally” (Delbert McClinton)
25. Fred Eaglesmith, “Time to Get a Gun” (Miranda Lambert)
26. Dolly Parton, “Jolene” (The White Stripes)
27. Johnny Cash, “I Still Miss Someone” (Suzy Bogguss)
28. Pearl Jam, “Better Man” (Sugarland)
29. Kris Kristofferson, “From the Bottle to the Bottom” (Dierks Bentley/Kris Kristofferson)
30. Don Williams, “Lord, I hope this Day is Good” (Lee Ann Womack)
31. Bob Dylan, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s all right” (Randy Travis)
Even in Grammy’s darkest hours, CU brings its picking powers!
- Superhero television show about our blog from the 50′s.
We won’t be live-blogging this time around, but will be reacting to the show in a full post tomorrow, and welcome your reactions in comments on this post. The awards telecast starts at 8 pm Eastern, and I imagine there will be some red carpet action in the hour prior.
Record of the Year
Beyonce, “Halo” – Kevin
Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”
Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” - Tara
Lady GaGa, “Poker Face” - Dan
Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me”
Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”
Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” – Kevin, Dan, Tara
Lady GaGa, “Poker Face”
Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me”
Kevin: Am I wrong for preferring Eric Cartman’s rendition of “Poker Face” over the original? This is a pretty lightweight slate of contenders. I really like “Halo”, but I suspect Kings of Leon will win, simply because it’s the only rock song in a lineup of pop hits.
Dan: “Poker Face” just feels very representative of popular music in 2009. I wouldn’t whine if it got passed over so that “Bad Romance” could take this award next year, though.
Tara: I would’ve pulled for “Single Ladies” in a heartbeat had it been submitted, but “Use Somebody” is just as deserving of this award. It’s a fantastic song even outside the context of its moment in pop culture, and it’s the kind of larger-than-life song that the voters have picked to win in the past.
Album of the Year
Beyonce, I Am…Sasha Fierce
Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D.
Lady GaGa, The Fame – Kevin, Tara
Dave Matthews Band, Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King
Taylor Swift, Fearless - Dan
Beyonce, I Am…Sasha Fierce
Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D.
Lady GaGa, The Fame
Dave Matthews Band, Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King - Kevin
Taylor Swift, Fearless - Dan, Tara
Kevin: I’d like to see dance music get some respect in the big category, even if there are a half-dozen Madonna albums at this point that would’ve been worthier winners than The Fame. Again, I think the Top 40 votes are going to be split, leaving Dave Matthews Band the winners.
Dan: In little over a year, Fearless has grown from success story to cultural artifact. It’s that rare pop album that seems to have a personality all its own, like Jagged Little Pill in a yellow sundress (and sung about as well). I could see anyone but the Peas taking this, but I think Swift’s support in both Nashville and the Top 40 crowd will take her to the top.
Tara: I have to say I was fairly shocked to see Swift’s truckload of Grammy nominations, so I’m having a little trouble wrapping my mind around the Academy’s thought process – but, I suppose a Swift win in this category is inevitable. However, I fully back Lady GaGa, who is the perfect storm of creativity, vision, swagger and raw vocal talent (remember that, pop world?). (more…)
McBride has a voice that would have been as relevant in country music fifty years ago as it is today, and her album of cover songs exemplifies this. She doesn’t attempt to move any of the songs to a different level, but instead inhabits the artists’ original style with precision and spirit. The result is a pure, respectful homage to the country greats. – Tara Seetharam
Recommended Tracks: “Make The World Go Away”, “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”
Felice Brothers, Yonder is the Clock
The Felice Brothers are the least-known among the members of ‘The Big Surprise Tour’ headlined by Old Crow Medicine Show and featuring Dave Rawlings Machine with Gillian Welch, and Justin Townes Earle. Melding country-rock and folk-rock, they are roots-influenced and made their start playing in the subway. While it may take an extremely big tent to call them “country,” consistent Dylan comparisons make Yonder is the Clock hard to ignore. – William Ward
Recommended Tracks: “Run, Chicken, Run”, “The Big Surprise”
Big & Rich, Horse of a Different Color
Big Kenny’s and John Rich’s voices and creativity blend to form a richly textured harmony that is only fully realized when they work together, as is most evident on their debut album that took country music by storm in a huge way. While their subsequent projects haven’t even come close to matching the potential of their first, Horse of A Different Coloris an album of refreshing risks and creativity that has been both embraced and criticized as a result of unique production and odd lyrical twists. Songs ranging from ridiculous to philosophical and all points inbetween make this album one of the most memorable, if not controversial, mainstream albums of the decade. – Leeann Ward
Recommended Tracks: “Holy Water”, “Live This Life”
Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
Bentley takes his road theme all the way, crafting a concept album that both celebrates the loneliness of the road and mourns the resting places left behind by those who choose to stay on it. – Kevin Coyne
Recommended Tracks: “Long Trip Alone”, “The Heaven I’m Headed To”
Josh Turner, Everything is Fine
Turner’s third album is an outstanding example of a style that is deeply traditional yet still current, assured yet still vulnerable. His distinctive voice is paired with a well-crafted and charming set of songs on this album, which further solidified him as one of the genre’s leading traditionalists. – TS
Recommended Tracks: “Another Try”, “Nowhere Fast”
Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof
Country and power-pop collide in one of Texas’ most memorable albums in years. If Bulletproof has a weakness, it’s that its love songs and road anthems are all so damn hooky that the deeper material has to fight to steal your attention away. – Dan Milliken
Recommended Tracks: “American Blood”, “Mirage”
Chick Corea & Béla Fleck, The Enchantment
The Enchantment is a collaboration between jazz pianist Chick Corea and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck. Full of soaring energy and technical prowess, The Enchantment blends the influences of both Corea and Fleck resulting in jazz compositions infused with bluegrass overtones.- WW
Recommended Tracks: “Mountain”, “Sunset Road”
James Otto, Sunset Man
On his breakthrough sophomore album, Otto’s voice is commanding and rich with soul, proving he has one of the most interesting male voices to come out of country music in the past few years. Sunset Man is a solid contemporary country album that has his voice melting just as effectively with bluesy, mid-tempo numbers as it does with muscular power ballads. – TS
Recommended Tracks: “For You”, “These Are The Good Ole Days”
Jon Randall, Walking Among the Living
Thanks to his very lucrative songwriting collaboration with Bill Anderson that resulted in a smash hit for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss with “Whiskey Lullaby”, Jon Randall received a major label deal with Sony. Unfortunately, Randall’s only album with them was not even a blip on most people’s radars, though not due to lack of quality. Randall’s gorgeous tenor, most closely comparable to Vince Gill’s,tastefully blends with rootsy instrumentation and solid compositions to create a humble work of art. – LW
Recommended Tracks: “I Shouldn’t Do This”, “Lonely for Awhile”
Crooked Still, Shaken By a Low Sound
Crooked Still is an alternate bluegrass group led by vocalist Aoife O’Donovan. With haunting vocals and technical prowess Crooked Still pushes acoustic music in a manner similar to Nickel Creek but with a slightly more recognizable traditional bend. – WW
Recommended Tracks: “Wind and Rain”, “Little Sadie”
In 1985, four country music rebels/icons came together to form a larger-than-life group that people wouldn’t have even dared dream about before their actual union. Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson formed the country super group, The Highwaymen. The four highly revered friends recorded three albums worth of material, much to the delight of the astonished public. While all of the members were extremely successful in their own rights, their potential egos were set aside to make music as a cohesive unit. They sounded like a polished group, not just some people thrown together as a marketing gimmick.
Then, in 1988, the rock world hit the jackpot when superstars George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne formed The Traveling Wilburys. Again, these immensely famous, talented and respected people formed a super group that still seems too good to be true to this day. Their unbelievable union created two albums that were repackaged in 2007 with bonus material, which sold surprisingly well for a reissue. Like The Highwaymen, their voices blended amazingly well together as if they were meant to be a group.
Dolly Parton has been a part of two dynamic trios: one with Linda Rhonstadt and Emmylou Harris and the other with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Both trios consisted of women equally as talented as the super groups previously discussed, which also provided us with excellent albums as a result.
And of course, anyone who has read anything that I’ve written in the past year or so should instinctively know that my pet super group is The Notorious Cherry Bombs, which was comprised of Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Tony Brown, Hank Devito, Richard Bennett, Michael Rhodes, John Hobbs and Eddie Bayers.
As I think of the competitive climate of the music industry today, I’m discouraged to think that such super groups would be next to impossible to unite anymore. Record label disputes prevented Tracy Lawrence’s collaboration with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw to be officially released to radio. Likewise, Reba McEntire had to replace Kenny Chesney’s vocals with lesser known artist, Skip Ewing, in order to release “Every Other Weekend” to radio. And these were only disputes over single songs, not even an entire album.
In true essay style form: Without considering record company politics, if you were able to create your own super group who could make at least one album, who would be the members? What would you name the group? Explain.
I blame Adam Lambert for what I am about to reveal to you all: I’m headed to a Taylor Swift concert tonight. That’s right, Taylor Swift. Insidious curiosity got the better of me.
But why do I blame Lambert, you ask? Because I haven’t been listening to a whole lot of country music recently. Instead, thanks to my new, bizarre obsession with Lambert, in the past month I’ve pulled out old Queen, Bowie, Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin. And I’ve listened to more My Chemical Romance, Pink and even Def Leppard than anything resembling country. So, of course I thought of Swift. Because, when you think of hard rock, isn’t Swift the first person who comes to mind?
(Save your ears, don’t listen)
I’ve also been tuning into rock radio, a rarity for me, to see what’s popular these days. Lo and behold, wouldn’t you know, Taylor Swift is also a rock artist (in addition to being a country, pop and heavy metal artist). She’s regularly squeezed in between All American Rejects and Green Day on my local station. And let me tell you, nothing sounds more rock than a re-mix of Love Story. Don’t you agree?
But you have to give credit where credit is due. This girl has everyone fooled. Re-mix, re-package, throw in a few guest appearances with John Mayer and Def Leppard, form a friendship with Miley Cyrus, and suddenly, wow, you appeal to every demographic (under the age of 20). I gotta admit, I’m impressed. I’m also curious how a tall, gangly misfit, with a precocious attitude, who can’t sing, has made it work. So, I’m headed to a concert tonight and will report back here because I actually know that many of you consider Swift a guilty pleasure. Wish me luck.
But no worries. I also have a number of saner concerts scheduled later this summer. I’ve already got tickets to see Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith and Buddy Miller; as well as tickets to see Gary Allan and LeAnn Rimes (if she doesn’t cancel, which she’s done on me twice). I’m also still holding out for Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson tickets, but I’m sure that one is going to work out.
Summer concert season is around the corner.
Who are you planning on seeing in concert this summer?
I was listening to The Band’s album Music From Big Pink earlier this week, and something struck me about the song “The Weight.” Trust me, you know the song. It goes a little like this: “I pulled into Nazareth / Was feelin’ about half past dead / I just need some place / where I can lay my head.” Ring a bell yet? No? Try this:
In the song, The Band, originally consisting of Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Levon Helm, draws from a familiar cast of characters and American mythology to tell a universal story set in the town of Nazareth, PA. First released in 1968, “The Weight” only reached #63 on the U.S. charts, but has since achieved iconic status. It has become an American standard in a way few songs have accomplished. Indeed, Rolling Stone lists it as the 41st greatest song of all time.
Further cementing its iconic status, check out a very small sample of the artists – across genres, of all ages – who have covered the song:
The Black Crowes
Old Crow Medicine Show
The Staple Singers
Lee Ann Womack
Cross Canadian Ragweed
Diana Ross, the Temptations and the Supremes
The Allman Brothers Band
The Marshall Tucker Band
Panic at the Disco
Songs with enduring power like “The Weight” are few and far between, and seem to be even more so nowadays. So tonight’s discussion asks:
What songs of the past decade have enduring power? What songs will we be listening to and hear covers of in the next 50 years?
Kathy Mattea’s brilliant album released last year, Coal, reminded me of how much I love themed albums. There is something unique and special about an album that addresses a single topic from varied angles or transports the listener on a purposeful ride. It’s not just a random collection of singles with little to coalesce them together. Rather, like great movies, themed albums demand that you listen from the first note to the last, lest you miss something important in between.
Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger is one of the most famous themed albums in country music history. The entire album is based on the conceptual story of a preacher who shoots his cheating wife and her lover before going on the run. However, the theme doesn’t have to be as concrete as the one in Red Headed Stranger or as narrow as the one in Coal, which endeavors to shine a light on the coal-mining industry, to be included in this category. It can be as amorphous as “love” or “heartache.”
Just for fun, I culled through my musical catalog (and all 5 million or so country songs about love, heartache and partying on Friday night) and put together my own themed album very loosely titled: America 2009:
Filthy Rich (Big Kenny, John Rich, Bill McDavid, Freddy Powers, Sonny Thockmorton)
Workingman’s Blues #2 (Bob Dylan)
If We Make It Through December (Merle Haggard)
Dirt (Chris Knight)
What’s A Simple Man To Do? (Steve Earle)
The Ballad of Salvador & Isabelle (Dave Quanbury)
If You Don’t Love Jesus (Billy Joe Shaver)
Ellis Unit One (Steve Earle)
Dress Blues (Jason Isbell)
It’s a Different World Now (Rodney Crowell)
Everybody Knows (Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison)
Up to the Mountain (Patty Griffin)
Reason to Believe (Bruce Springsteen)
If you were to create your own themed album, what would it look like?