I’ll pick different artists this time around:
- Patty Loveless, “Here I am”
- John Anderson, “Straight Tequila Night”
- Carlene Carter, “Come on Back”
- Lee Roy Parnell, “I’m Holdin’ My Own”
- Emerson Drive, “Moments”
I’ll pick different artists this time around:
What are your favorite pre-fame releases? You can pick singles and/or albums. Whatever works for you.
Here’s my Top Five:
2014 was a banner year for country music albums. In addition to the predictably solid entries from the Americana, folk, and bluegrass scenes, some excellent albums also surfaced from the unlikeliest of sources: mainstream, radio-friendly contemporary country artists!
Here are our twenty favorite albums from 2014. Fingers crossed that 2015 is as good or better than this year has been.
KJC #8 | LW #16
A confident, intelligent solo project that washes away all of the bitter taste left by Sugarland’s preceding studio album, The Incredible Machine. Nettles manages to remind us what was so appealing about the trio-turned-duo in the first place, while also staking out her own musical territory that has room for independence anthems alongside wry, humorous commentary on society and, of course, palpably vulnerable heartbreak numbers. – Kevin John Coyne
Recommended Tracks: “Me Without You”, “Know You Wanna Know”, “Jealousy”
This was the dilemma faced by the Country Universe staff as we compiled our Best Singles of 2014 feature. We followed our usual routine. Each writer submitted their list of the twenty best singles of the year, and our numbers guru Jonathan Keefe used his time-test algorithm to produce a collective ranking.
But this year, there was only one single that appeared on four out of five lists. The rest: three or less. Rather than shorten the list to showcase only those songs chosen by multiple writers, we decided to stick to the usual forty slots, and let quite a few songs embraced only by one writer to have their place in the sun.
The result is probably the most diverse singles list we’ve ever published, and provides a great counterpoint to our upcoming albums list, which showed far more consensus than any previous albums list has.
Today, we start with the lower half of our top forty singles. Look for the upper half tomorrow, and our albums list on Wednesday.
“Truck Stop Gospel”
Raspy-voiced newcomer Parker Millsap takes it to church on one of the year’s best-drawn character sketches, adopting the persona of a truck driver whose cab doubles as his pulpit. – Jonathan Keefe
The list continues with big hits from Clay Walker, Neal McCoy, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, along with should’ve been hits from Carlene Carter and Merle Haggard.
“Daddy Never was the Cadillac Kind”
Written by Dave Gibson and Bernie Nelson
KJC #10 | JK #22 | SG #39
Confederate Railroad made it big by balancing party anthems with thoughtful songs about growing up in the south. This was their best “growing up” song, a thoughtful tribute from a son to his late father. As tends to happen, the lessons taught to us in our youth aren’t fully appreciated or understood until it’s too late to truly say “thank you.” – Kevin John Coyne
It’s easy to forget just how talented Carlene Carter is. In the last eighteen years, she’s only given us two albums to remind us. But with a career that stretches back to her 1978 eponymous debut album, all the way through her excellent new release, Carter Girl, she has been a consistently excellent entertainer and songwriter.
In addition to her latest release, her albums Musical Shapes (1980), I Fell in Love (1990), and Little Love Letters (1993) are all among the best country albums of their time. Those three sets factor heavily into this list, but there are plenty of great moments on most of her other studio albums, too. Her first four sets tend to fade in and out of print, but they’re worth snapping up when available.
It’s been more than five years since I’ve done a Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists post. For the uninitiated, my rubric is simple: I just ranked my favorite twenty-five tracks and then counted them down with commentary. No big stab at objective truth here. This is just what I like the most from one of ’em that I like the most. Share your own favorites in the comments, and hopefully discover one or two new ones along the way.
Little Love Letter #1 and Little Love Letter #2
Little Love Letters (1993)
Written by Carlene Carter, Howie Epstein, and Benmont Tench
The first Carlene Carter album I ever bought was Little Love Letters. I was instantly hooked by the clever framing of “Side 1″ and “Side 2″ with these quick vignettes. They’re funny, they’re heartfelt, and I could listen to a whole album full of them.
Too Bad About Sandy
Musical Shapes (1980)
Written by Carlene Carter
When I was younger, I just got a kick out of how dark and seedy this track seemed, with its celebration of the sweet low life and cold hard cash. But now, I keep going back to the wisdom in the advice she gives her love-struck younger sister: “Honey, can’t be love if you’ve gotta ask twice.”
Two Sides to Every Woman (1979)
Written by Carlene Carter
On the surface, it’s a bawdy number about free love. Underneath the surface, it’s a wicked satire of the artifice that is American suburbia. Plus she growls a lot, and it sounds cool.
There have been a lot of new releases in the past few weeks. What tracks are resonating with you the most?
Here are three of my current favorites, all of which have been recorded before:
Carlene Carter, “Me and the Wildwood Rose”
from the album Carter Girl
“Me and the Wildwood Rose” was always one of my favorite Carlene Carter tracks. Back when the original recording was released in 1990, it had a wistful nostalgia for the grandmother that she had lost. In 2014, all of the other folks mentioned in the song, including her little sister “the Wildwood Rose”, have also passed on. The new version is so heavy with grief, it is only Carter’s effervescent spirit that keeps it from being too heavy.
Rodney Crowell, “God I’m Missing You”
from the album Tarpaper Sky
Speaking of grief, Rodney Crowell’s “God I’m Missing You” is a gut-wrencher. Widows don’t often get the chance to speak in pure poetry: “Time stretches to shape you right out of thin air. But it can’t hold the image. If I blink, you’re not there. God I’m missing you.” For me, it’s the highlight of an excellent album, with his best songwriting since The Outsider. Lucinda Williams recorded it before him, and she does it well.
Dolly Parton, “Banks of the Ohio”
from the album Blue Smoke
Parton’s latest set is a welcome return to form, and it features compelling covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi. But the highlight for me is “Banks of the Ohio”, an oft-recorded standard that she breathes new life into by framing it with a narrative device that has her retelling the story being told to her. This allows for Parton to speak in the male voice of the murderer, and still infuse the song with her trademark empathy. (She’s never shied away from a suicide number, but homicide really isn’t her style.)
So we still have to wait from some country lady besides Olivia Newton-John to fully embrace the murderess within her, but until then, the stunning harmonies and heartfelt vocal of Parton has newly minted this treasured classic.
That’s what I’m listening to. What are you listening to?
One of the most successful country stars of the 1950’s, Carl Smith is as well known today for his famous relatives as for his legendary music.
Born and raised in the same Tennessee town as his childhood idol Roy Acuff, Smith taught himself guitar as a teenager. He performed on local shows and in local bands as a teen, including the Cas Walker radio show that would later showcase a young Dolly Parton. After a stint in the army, he did some backing musicianship until landing his own contract with Columbia Records in the late forties.
Thus began a remarkable string of commercial success. Smith was one of the most dominant artists of the fifties, scoring a stunning 31 top ten hits during that decade. His smooth vocal style made for a powerful contrast to the honky-tonk and rockabilly sounds of his records. He scored signature hits with “Loose Talk” and “Are You Teasing Me”, among many others. He became a television personality as well, often guest hosting the ABC hit, Jubilee USA.
He was also widely known for being one-half of a country superstar marriage with June Carter. Though their marriage didn’t last too long, it did produce another future country star in daughter Carlene Carter. After their divorce, Smith married another country star, Goldie Hill. By the late fifties, he was also appearing in Western films.
As dominant sounds of the genre changed, Smith’s chart success dwindled a bit, but he remained a presence on the country hit parade throughout the sixties and seventies. He continued to both sing and act on a variety of network television shows, and wise investments allowed him to retire from the music business, though he still made some independent recordings that emphasized Western swing.
He spent the remainder of his life showing horses with Hill, until illness claimed her life in 2005. Smith passed away five years later, leaving behind a remarkable legacy of classic country music.
Next: #57. Kenny Chesney
Previous: #59. John Anderson
It bugs me when I do something that I really think is great and they don’t acknowledge it at all. It’s kind of weird for me, but I don’t slit my wrists. What would kill me is if I did something that I didn’t believe in at all, that I hated, just because they said you’ll have a hit, and then it wasn’t a hit. That, to me, would be death.
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
The Battle Hymn of Love
Kathy Mattea & Tim O’Brien
1990 | Peak: #9
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
1996 | Peak: #10
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