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100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 3: #80-#71

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 3

80 Martina

#80
Martina McBride, Timeless

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”

79 Felice

#79
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”

78 Big

#78
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”

77 Dierks

#77
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”

76 Josh

#76
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”

75 Reckless

#75
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”

74 Chick

#74
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”

73 Otto

#73
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”

72 Jon

#72
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”

71 Crooked

#71
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”

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Create A Super Group

highwaymenIn 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.

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Concert Season: Who Are You Going to See?

taylor-swiftI 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?

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Iconic Songs of the Last Decade

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:

  • Van Morrison
  • Bob Dylan
  • The Black Crowes
  • Little Feat
  • Grateful Dead
  • Travis
  • Old Crow Medicine Show
  • Gillian Welch
  • The Staple Singers
  • Joan Osborne
  • John Denver
  • Deana Carter
  • Weezer
  • 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
  • Aaron Pritchett

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?

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Themed Albums

kathy-mattea-coalKathy 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?

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Lynn’s Favorite Songs of 2008

Country Universe has presented you with its top 40 singles of 2008, but as you know, singles rarely scratch the surface of a great album. Over the course of the past year, while listening to various albums, I made note of songs that stuck out for one reason or another. Although this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, here are some of my favorite songs of 2008:

hayes-carll

#1 “She Left Me For Jesus” (Hayes Carll, Trouble in Mind)

Honestly, when is the last time you heard a song this slyly clever? This laugh-out-loud engaging? But not just anyone could pull off this song. Carll’s slow laughing drawl is absolutely perfect and he nails every punch line. He not only gets the joke, he assumes you do as well. Carll readily acknowledges that this song isn’t for everyone, but in my book, it’s an instant classic.

#2 “Red River Shore” (Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8)

Bob Dylan, that enigmatic icon, continues to raise the bar for singer-songwriters. It’s nearly ridiculous at this point. This year, Dylan treated us to a grand smorgasbord of songs with the latest in his bootleg series. “Red River Shore” was one of the few previously unreleased songs on the set, and it’s perhaps the best on the album. I could spend hours ruminating over what Dylan intended with his lyrics about star-crossed lovers, but instead I’ll leave you with his opening lines: “Some of us turn off the lights and we live / In the moonlight shooting by / Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark / To be where the angels fly.” This is, as the album booklet suggests, an elegant summation of Dylan’s artistic credo. If only others took note.

#3 “I’ve Done Everything I Can” (Rodney Crowell, Sex and Gasoline)

On “I’ve Done Everything I Can,” Crowell acknowledges that incredibly delicate interplay between father and daughter; that difficult line a father must walk between wanting to protect his little girl, and preparing her for the real world. He sings: “The sun comes up tomorrow / But there are no guarantees / It can rock you like a baby / It can knock you to your knees / The path that lies between us / Is a rough and rocky rue / I’ve done everything I can / There’s nothing I can do.” This song reminds me rather poignantly of my own father, who occasionally walked that fine line with grace, but usually just blundered over it with good intentions.

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DVD Review: Johnny Cash’s America

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash’s America

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In a time when the United States is at its most divided, the release of the new documentary Johnny Cash’s America explores the transcendent country singer and his influence on an increasingly alienated nation.

As the voice for the underprivileged and an advocate for the underrepresented, Cash continued to cross boundaries of social status up until his death in 2003. During his lifetime, Cash gained the respect of every sitting President, and he was a frequent visitor at the White House, proving his ability to be a bipartisan champion for people’s rights. His unlikely leadership among the marginalized fringes of society was a testament to his humble, honest spirit and his comprehension of human suffering. Johnny Cash’s America perfectly depicts how the man was far greater than the music he created through its stunning visual images and countless interviews with colleagues on both sides of the political aisle.

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Inside Johnny Cash’s America: A Conversation with Morgan Neville

There are artists, and then there are people who use their particular craft to speak directly to the core of the human condition, who buck what is familiar and comfortable in pursuit of what is true. If you don’t yet happen to think Johnny Cash falls into the latter category, or have trouble understanding the worldwide veneration of the Man in Black, congratulations; there’s no better time to start your education. Tonight at 9 pm Eastern Standard Time (10 pm Pacific), The Bio Channel will air a two-hour documentary special entitled Johnny Cash’s America – and I’m here to tell you, it’s pretty sweet. Don’t believe me? Well, how about this to whet your appetite:

The documentary explores the prominent themes of Cash’s life including love of the land, freedom, justice, family, faith and redemption through exclusive interviews, photos and unreleased music and footage. Interviews include Cash’s sister Joanne, son John Carter Cash and daughters Cindy Cash and Rosanne Cash, childhood friends and fellow band mates as well as Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, Sheryl Crow, Al Gore, Tim Robbins, Loretta Lynn, Snoop Dogg, Vince Gill, Ozzy Osborne, Steve Earle, Merle Haggard and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) all of whom are connected to Cash in surprising ways.

And that’s all to say nothing of the snappy, colorful direction, courtesy of Award-winning filmmaking duo Morgan Neville (Hank Williams: Honky Tonk Blues) and Robert Gordon (Muddy Waters Can’t Be Satisfied, alongside Neville). Between the two, there’s quite a pedigree of music history, with Neville alone having also directed pieces on Sam Phillips, Ray Charles, and The Highwaymen, among others – so it’s no surprise that Johnny Cash’s America lands a cut above your average biographical documentary. With the film’s primetime debut inching ever closer, Neville waxes philosophical with Country Universe about Johnny Cash’s far-reaching impact, unique views, and the example his life provides for the very nation he loved so dearly.

If I may start a bit personally, how did you first become interested in Johnny Cash, and what compelled you to tell his story in this form?

I mean, I’ve always been a Johnny Cash fan, like I feel like…everybody’s always been a Johnny Cash fan (laughs). He’s just been around my whole life. And I’ve always liked him, and I’ve done a bunch of documentaries related to him, but I’d never done anything specifically about him.

Then at the beginning of this year, Robert Gordon and I were having some beers and a philosophical conversation about Johnny Cash (laughs), and talking about this political season, and just saying, you know, we can’t agree about much as Americans, but we can agree about Johnny Cash, and – why is that? I mean, that sounds like just a trite statement, but it’s really true; it’s really profound, the more you look into it. How is it that we can agree about these fundamental principles that Cash stood for? And in a way, Cash becomes something to remind us as Americans what we have in common. And that became sort of the mission statement for this documentary.

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