Rosanne Cash previews her collection of classic popular songs with a spin on the Don Gibson classic “Sea of Heartbreak.” The impact of Cash’s music usually depends on her incisive songwriting, but she’s had success in the past with well-chosen covers.
Her take on “Sea of Heartbreak” works because of her restrained delivery, with the light and floaty arrangement suggesting that these are calm waters. The undercurrent of grief reveals itself through the guest appearance of Bruce Springsteen. His ragged vocal provides a strong contrast to Cash’s sweet delivery.
The resulting record turns a song that all of us have heard countless times before into something new. That’s always the challenge that needs to be met when covering a standard, so this is a promising preview of Cash’s upcoming set.
Albums you hate by artists you love. Okay, so those are some strong words. But, as recently evidenced by the comments given in response to Kevin’s review of Martina McBride’s new album, Shine, even our favorite artists put out occasional stinkers. Those so-called stinkers may be universally acknowledged as such or just a reflection of our personal tastes, but, regardless of how they got there, they are most notable for the dust they acquire on our back shelves or their unapologetic dumping from our iPods.
Here at Country Universe, we try to be honest about the material, even if the artist involved is one of our favorites. It is definitely more painful to write a bad review about an artist you love, but unearned praise is the worst kind.
Therefore, I have no compunction about stating that despite the praise George Strait’s recent album, Troubadour, has received, it’s no longer on my iPod. And while generally I’m a Toby Keith fan, I felt Honkytonk University was a waste of money. Similarly, although Bruce Springsteen is one of my favorite artists ever and has put out two of my favorite albums of all time (Nebraska and Live in Dublin, both of which give me permission to write about him on a country music blog), I’m not afraid to admit that his recent Working on a Dream is a complete stinker, and Magic not among his best.
Now it’s your turn.
What are some albums you hate by artists you love?
A couple of summers ago, I picked up the 3-disc The Essential Bruce Springsteen album in an El Corte Ingles in Granada, Spain. I was road-tripping it around the country and needed some good tunes. But somehow, the third disc completely escaped my notice until a few weeks ago. It turned out to be comprised of a number of previously unreleased songs recorded over a long and fruitful career. After popping it in, I gleefully discovered a couple of new fantastic, classic Boss songs.
I experienced the same excitement earlier this week when I picked up Springsteen’s 18 Tracks while browsing in Barnes & Noble. That album similarly includes rarities, B-tracks and outtakes. (How did I ever miss “The Promise,” which is apparently a continuation of “Thunder Road”?) I felt like a kid who had just gotten herself locked overnight in a candy store.
Although few artists are as prolific as Springsteen, many artists have a lot of work floating around out there that has not made it onto a studio album. Much of that work is either pre-fame or covers, found on random bootlegs or videos, but every once in awhile you can find a previously unheard original that simply never made it onto a studio album. The best part, for fans, is that these tracks come with zero expectations and a big payoff. It’s simply an opportunity to acquire a more all-encompassing view of a favorite and to achieve new insight into them as artists.
What are your favorite non-(studio) album tracks by your favorite artists?
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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?
I caught this Kid Rock quote in the current Entertainment Weekly:
Like the Beatles, AC/DC, and Garth Brooks, Rock eschews today’s most popular digital-music portal, though he happily admits to owning major stock in Apple itself. ”I just don’t like being told what to do,” he explains. ”I don’t have a beef with Apple, or iTunes, or any of them. I do have a beef with that it seems kind of socialist of them to charge the same price for every song. What if every car cost $4,000, you know what I mean? A song from my neighbor’s garage band is not the same value as Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run.’ I just want to decide how my product gets sold with the people who sell it.”’
What do you think about music pricing? Is the 99 cent song/$9.99 album model of iTunes too inflexible? Would you pay more for your favorite artists, or buy more music if it was priced less? Discuss.