As the title suggests, Clay Walker’s latest single plays out like the alternate ending to Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s fiery “Like We Never Loved At All.” Whereas the latter finds the woman agonizing over her ex moving on, “Like We Never Said Goodbye” tackles a smaller, more predictable range of emotions as its characters rekindle their relationship over wine. On paper, it’s the less interesting road taken.
But it’s not the story that carries this song – it’s the storytelling, done expertly by both Walker himself and the lovely, fitting arrangement. From the first line, Walker is endearingly earnest, using an imperfect vocal to draw out his character’s equal parts eagerness and vulnerability. He glides through the story with playful ease, delivering its simple details with just enough purpose to make them pop. Only a veteran storyteller like Walker could breathe new life into otherwise colorless lyrics –“How you been? / Been awhile / Tell me how’s your mama?”— with nakedly sincere phrasing.
No matter how sweet the delivery, though, this story wouldn’t shine without its subtly compelling arrangement. Long before the lure of Billy Currington, Chris Young and Josh Turner, Walker was making music soaked in a different brand of sensuality, out in full rhythmic swing on “Like We Never Said Goodbye.” As with the best Walker singles, there’s an intangible sparkle somewhere within its melody, pulse and sparse piano lines – evocative enough to match the magnitude of rediscovered love, but gentle enough to remind us that country music is about finding the magic in the simplest of stories.
Texas Songbook is the latest album from country/blues singer/songwriter Gary Nicholson, a recent inductee into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame. Nicholson is best known for writing familiar radio hits such as”The Trouble With the Truth” (Patty Loveless), “One More Last Chance” (Vince Gill), “Squeeze Me In” (Garth Brooks/Trisha Yearwood), and “She Couldn’t Change Me” (Montgomery Gentry), among many others.
Although he left Texas for Nashville over 30 years ago, Nicholson remains a Texan at heart, and all 13 songs on Texas Songbook have a Texas connection.
Produced by Gary and recorded in Austin at Asleep at the Wheel’s Bismeaux Records, the album features Texas musicians and co-writers, the latter group including the likes of Lee Roy Parnell, Delbert McClinton, Guy Clark and Allen Shamblin among others. There’s plenty of fiddle and steel guitar as well as effective use of the harmonica and accordion in this collection of swinging and two-stepping, dance hall and honky-tonk style music.
Many country music fans may already be familiar with some of the songs on this album: “Fallin’ & Flyin’ “, written with the late Stephen Bruton and performed by Jeff Bridges, was featured in the movie “Crazy Heart.” The island flavored “Live, Laugh, Love” was written with Allen Shamblin and previously recorded by Clay Walker on his 1999 album of the same title. It’s a “seize the moment” song.
Previously recorded by George Strait, Delbert McClinton and Del McCoury, “Same Kind of Crazy” written with Delbert McClinton, gets things rocking. McClinton plays harmonica with backing vocals by Randy Rogers. The man is smitten because his new girl is the same kind of crazy as he is. The third verse begins, “It’s getting hard to use a ladder ’cause I keep climbing down just to kiss her” and concludes with the best line of the song, “she talks in her sleep but she always gets my name right.”
My favorite track on the album is “Talkin’ Texan”, which was written with Jon Randall Stewart. I especially love the chorus: “there’s nothin’ he ain’t seen or done,/ he’s always got the biggest one/ he ain’t lyin’, he’s just talkin’ Texan”
Another co-write with Jon Randall, along with Guy Clark, is “Some Days You Write the Song”, which was the title song of Clark’s 2009 Grammy nominated record, Some Days the Song Writes You. Musing on the mystery of the song writing process, Nicholson sings, “Somedays you write the song, some days the song writes you.”
The cool sounding “Messin’ with My Woman”, written with John Hadley and Seth Walker, is a swinging tune with attitude. “Don’t be messin’ with my woman, when I’m out on the road, let my song be your warning, you can’t say you ain’t been told.” If the guy does mess with his woman, he’s “gonna take a whole lot of doctors to put you back the way you were”, with background singers Ray Benson and Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel chiming in “they’d never get it right, they’d never get it right”.
The well executed fiddle and steel guitar filled “Texas Weather”, written with Lee Roy Parnell, opens the album by comparing the singer’s relationship with his woman to the volatile weather of his home state. He contrasts “angry voices, bitter cold and tender words that warm the soul”. “We know if we only wait a while we’ll see that rainbow smile”. The theme is a bit predictable. It reminds me of the saying, “If you don’t like the weather in (fill in the blank), wait 5 minutes.”
With a swinging melody that I love, “She Feels Like Texas” was written with Kimmie Rhodes. The girl’s “in a lone star state of mind, everywhere she goes.” Whenever she sees a foreign tourist attraction, she compares it to something from Texas, including calling the Eiffel Tower “the biggest oil rig I believe I’ve ever seen”.
“A Woman in Texas, A Woman in Tennessee” is a solo writing effort by Gary that he calls “a true story I made up”. Both women wondered where he was half the time. The situation gets more complicated as the song progresses: children with both, an accidental meeting of the families and the revelation of another family in Louisiana.
“Listen to Willie” is a tribute to the Redheaded Stranger written with Kevin Welch. Except for the chorus, the lyrics consist essentially of Willie Nelson song titles: “You’ve always been a ‘good hearted woman’, and I’d hate to see your ‘blue eyes cryin’ in the rain’. Other titles cleverly connected to compose the verses include “funny how time slips away”, “you were always on my mind”, “night life”, “on the road again”, “crazy” and about a half dozen others. Add a star if you’re a Willie fan. It is clever but after a few listens, I got tired of it
“Bless ‘em All”, written solely by Gary, bless him, features the gospel singing McCrary Sisters. Bless them too. The song mentions about a dozen religions, bless ‘em all, and concludes that “we got to all come together and find a better way to live”.
“Texas Ruby”, written with Jim Croce’s son AJ, features Marcia Ball on piano and Jim Hoke on saxophone. It tells of a stripper who gets on a street car in New Orleans on a real hot and sticky day and starts doing her thing. It’s a mildly amusing tune that AJ previously recorded in ’06 on his “Early On” cd.
“Lone Star Blues” was written with Delbert McClinton and has been previously covered by Delbert & George Strait. In the first scenario, he signs up for the rodeo. “I drew a bull called original sin, heard he’d killed a couple of men”, … but “he got disqualified when the bull up and died”. The chorus and last two scenarios gave me the blues and should have died too. The chorus speaks of north, south, east and west Texas blues, together the Lone Star Blues.
Although the songs included in “Texas Songbook” do not, for the most part, match some of Gary’s very best songs, the album as a whole is thoroughly enjoyable. The production is light throughout, the music is great and Gary knows how to deliver a song. If you’re into dancing, you’ll double your pleasure with this album.
There was a lot of good music out there in 2010, provided you knew where to look. Sometimes, you could even find it on the radio. Here are the top ten albums of 2010, according to our staff:
#10 Easton Corbin Easton Corbin
With the charisma of Clay Walker and the chops of George Strait, Easton Corbin sauntered onto the mainstream country music scene with a hit song that –refreshingly– name-checked “country” in all the right ways. He needs no such affirmation, though, as his debut album is a collection of effortlessly neo-traditionalist songs, ripe with sincerity. It’s fair to compare Corbin to his obvious influences, but there’s something about the natural, youthful effervescence he brings to his music that makes it sparkle all on its own. – Tara Seetharam
#9 Freight Train Alan Jackson
Like an old, trusted friend, Freight Train is easy to take for granted – and that’s a shame, because it’s as rousing as any of the boundary-pushing albums released this year. Jackson returns to his signature sound on this album, sinking comfortably into the set of twelve songs but never skimping on emotional investment. From the smoking “Freight Train” to the exquisite “Till the End” to the shuffling “I Could Get Used To This Loving Thing,” Jackson reminds us that his formula of bare-bones authenticity and quiet charm is as relevant and rewarding as ever. – TS
The countdown continues, with appearances by popular new artists joined by a pair of nineties veterans.
The Best Singles of 2010, Part 2: #30-#21
Roll With It Easton Corbin
It’s easy to overlook Corbin’s second single as just another breezy summer tune, but it stands above the rest, thanks to its near-perfect execution. From the spirited delivery to the skillful handling of otherwise trite phrases –like the title phrase and “it won’t be no thang”— “Roll With It” makes a fresh, invigorating case for shedding everyday troubles and, well, rolling with it. – Tara Seetharam
I Put My Ring Back On Mary Chapin Carpenter
“I Put My Ring Back On” is a throwback to the sounds of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s glory days on the charts. It’s catchy with a message of relational perseverance. As a result, it’s one of the two most memorable songs on her latest album. – Leeann Ward
Who Are You When I’m Not Looking Blake Shelton
Blake Shelton has a strong voice, but it’s most expressive when he dials it back enough to allow the sensitivity to cut through. Exhibit A: “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking.” As one of the beautifully understated productions of the year, he loves everything that he knows about his woman, therefore, he can’t help but imagine and wonder about what he’s not seeing. – LW
Put You in a Song Keith Urban
Creating hooky pieces of ear candy is one of Urban’s defining talents, and the lead single from his November release is further proof. Blessedly, it’s devoid of the distracting electronic instrumentation that has lately plagued his recordings, which makes for one of Urban’s cleanest releases in recent years. – LW
American Honey Lady Antebellum
Look, I still don’t know what American honey is, and I’m guessing you don’t either. What I do know is this: Hillary Scott’s performance is layered, vulnerable and desperate – a perfect encapsulation of the wave of nostalgia that finds you in your early 20s. Coupled with the wistful melody, it’s enough to override the wacky metaphor and lift the song to one of the most poignant of the year. – TS
A Father’s Love (The Only Way He Knew How) Bucky Covington
This is probably Covington’s best performance to date. The song manages to be sweet without crossing the line to sickeningly cloying. It depicts a father who shows his love through action rather than verbal affirmation, which is something that the son ultimately accepts as just as good. – LW
Playing the Part Jamey Johnson
Something that Jamey Johnson isn’t afraid to do in this radio era of watered down, trite messages is expose himself as less than a perfect human being. Instead, he will sing about drug addiction (“High Cost of Living”) and depression, as we hear in this tale of disappointment that is a result of the crushing disappointment of unattained success. – LW
Fearless Taylor Swift
As a single release, it was little more than an afterthought, the album of the same name having already flexed most of its world-conquering muscles. As a sort of mission-statement album track, though, “Fearless” still rocks, adeptly capturing the jitters and giddiness of young romance and sort of arguing for embracing such sensations while you can. That Swift tells herself at a certain point to “capture it, remember it” suggests she knows there’s more loneliness and disappointment on the flip-side of this one elated moment. – Dan Milliken
She Won’t Be Lonely Long Clay Walker
Ringing with effortless charisma and playful sincerity, the lead single off Walker’s latest album was a welcomed reintroduction to his most beloved qualities. Interestingly, though the song serves as a tribute to his classic 90s sound, it fit snugly –and refreshingly– on country radio. – TS
Only Prettier Miranda Lambert
Lambert exposes the sneaky bitchery lurking behind so much Southern sweetness. Country radio is all like, “Whaaat?” – DM
Greatness comes in twos this year, as ten different artists make dual appearances on this list. Perhaps this demonstrates a greater truth about 2010. Sure, there was some good music, but greatness was concentrated among a smaller group of artists than usual.
As is the annual tradition, we’ll reveal this year’s forty best singles, ten at a time. Check back tomorrow for Part 2.
The Best Singles of 2010, Part 1: #40-#31
Why Wait Rascal Flatts
The Flatts boys return to their roots with this bright, infectious slice of country-pop. Bonus points for keeping both Gary LeVox’s voice and Dann Huff’s production in check. – Tara Seetharam
That’s Important to Me Joey + Rory
So far, Joey+Rory’s calling card has been their ability to exude authenticity through their songs with a naturalness and warmth as convincingly as a certain mother-daughter duo of the eighties, The Judds. Only, unlike the Judds, this partnership’s perceived connection isn’t marred by real accounts of strife and familial discord. Instead, by all accounts, Joey and Rory’s love is as sweet as their musical harmonies suggest. And this song is a nice encapsulation of what makes them who they are as a duo, both in a personal and professional sense. – Leeann Ward
Where Do I Go From You Clay Walker
Walker’s voice has matured so much over the past decade. Thankfully, he still has preserved his playful way with a melody, resulting in records like this that elevate radio fodder into something more than just filler. – Kevin John Coyne
Back to December Taylor Swift
She ran from love “when fear crept into [her] mind,” but fear has long since given way to sorrowful regret. Swift knows there’s probably no reversing her mistake, but gets the grief off her chest anyway, with a chorus that sounds almost as nervous as you’d imagine the real-life plea to. – Dan Milliken
Little Miss Sugarland
My disdain for the duo’s label remains strong, as their lack of quality control let a terrible album reach the marketplace. But kudos to the folks who are picking the singles, as The Incredible Machine must sound like a great piece of work to radio listeners who’ve only heard the album’s two singles. It’s not quite “What it Feels Like For a Girl”, but as modern-day post-feminist explorations of gender go, “Little Miss” is very good. – KC
Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer Billy Currington
He ain’t cut out to sing great ballads. He’s not the type to make deep and introspective albums. But he’s pretty good – no, pretty great – at laid back songs like this. – KC
Temporary Home Carrie Underwood
A story of shared humanity, brought to life by Underwood’s spot-on vocal interpretation. This is the first single in her catalog to slice through to the person behind the artist, and the payoff –striking, palpable personal conviction– is rich. – TS
I’m In Keith Urban
In an unusual accomplishment, Keith Urban manages to allow a drum machine to enhance a song rather than destroy it. What’s more, this lively Radney Foster penned celebration of commitment is both infectious and refreshing. When it comes to a new relationship, we don’t know what to expect, so the best choice is to be all in and present. – LW
Pray For You Jaron and The Long Road to Love
If we’re going to bring a college-boy mentality to country music – heck, Hootie’s already in the house anyway – let’s have it be as satisfyingly clever as it is juvenile. – KC
From a Table Away Sunny Sweeney
Seeing the man she loves visibly enthralled by the wife he claims he’s leaving, the man’s mistress finally realizes how badly she’s being used. Sort of like “Stay” with more reserved narration. This is the kind of country single we don’t hear much anymore, with traditional-leaning vocals and production that work only enough to capture the song’s natural pathos, never overcooking things. – DM
A perfect time capsule of the boom times, as Jackson wryly notes all of those genre-hoppers who saw dollar signs in the growing country music scene. Funny how they didn’t arrive on radio until a decade later. – Kevin Coyne
I Want to Be Loved Like That Shenandoah
1993 | Peak: #3
Sometimes the deepest understanding of love comes from what you see around you. The narrator in this song won’t settle for anything less than the unwavering love he’s witnessed in his life, and his examples are stunning in the way they slice straight to the core of love, to the bond that can’t be broken by the physical world. This is one of the purest tributes to love I’ve ever heard. – Tara Seetharam (more…)
To continue Country Universe’s celebration of the nineties, I’m throwing in a nineties edition of iPod Check. The rules are simple: put your iPod on shuffle and list the first ten songs to pop up that were released in the nineties. They don’t have to be singles, and they don’t have to be country.
I’ve listed my ten songs below. Share yours in the comments, and check your shame at the door! (I’ve got 1994’s “Hakuna Matata” on my iPod, but sadly, it did not come up in shuffle.)
1. Sara Evans, “There’s Only One”
2. Michael Jackson, “Remember the Time”
3. Shania Twain, “You Win My Love”
4. Martina McBride, “O Come All Ye Faithful”
5. Dixie Chicks, “Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way?)”
6. Original Broadway Cast of Rent, “Seasons of Love”
Tritt gives a surprisingly but fittingly subdued performance on this cover of a Steve Earle song, telling the story of a woman who sometimes forgets that she’s sworn off men. I can never get enough of the incredibly cool arrangement. – Tara Seetharam (more…)
As we reach the halfway point of the countdown, seventies stars like Tanya Tucker and Don Williams prove just as relevant to the decade as newbies like Terri Clark and and Clay Walker. But it’s eighties original George Strait that dominates this section with three additional entries.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #225-#201
Passionate Kisses Mary Chapin Carpenter
1992 | Peak: #4
A lightweight wish list/love ditty that somehow seems to tap into a deep well of truth. Credit Carpenter’s soulful vocal, which digs in and finds the cohesive character written between the song’s separate cute lines. – Dan Milliken
The electric guitar line sounds cribbed from The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, but the sentiment couldn’t be much more different. Dalton is tense all over, as bad omens seem to stack on top of each other while she waits in anticipation of one big let-down. – DM (more…)
Sometimes the choices that you make linger forever. Here, a woman in her thirties drives past a high school football game, and her mind wanders to the painful void left in her heart from the son she gave up for adoption. – Kevin Coyne
Faith Hill’s sophomore album is a surprisingly deep set, filled with candid insights into different womens’ lives. The title track represents that approach well, with Hill’s protagonist speaking to the differences in her approach to love and her partner’s. Seems simple, but then again, people spend thousands in couples counseling trying to find a way to voice feelings this directly. – Dan Milliken
She’d Give Anything Boy Howdy
1993 | Peak: #4
A not-so-subtle depiction of how elusive true love can be for some women – even those who desperately seek it – that resonates not despite of but because of its blatancy. There’s a beautiful honesty to the song’s precise articulation of the mixture of frustration and strength that builds up within these women. – Tara Seetharam
The Trouble With the Truth Patty Loveless
1997 | Peak: #15
The trouble with the truth is that is just so demanding. We think we want it, but it often requires some sort of action from us once we have it. Loveless struggles with this quandary: “The trouble with the truth is it always begs for more. That’s the trouble with the truth.” – Leeann Ward
Still Gonna Die Old Dogs
1999 | Peak: Did Not Chart
Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare, and Jerry Reed united for an amazing live album dominated by Shel Silverstein songs. For anyone who read his brilliant poetry books for children, “Still Gonna Die” is the golden years equivalent: clever, frightening, and darkly hilarious. KC
From the first strains of the song, we know this is going to be a dark one. While he hasn’t physically cheated yet, the thoughts of at least wishing to do so are spilling over, which begs the analogy of “It’s like trying to hide a fire in the dark.” – LW
She is Gone Willie Nelson
1996 | Peak: Did Not Chart
As in his classic recording of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”, Nelson’s sad remembrance of a lost love glows with unspoken warmth, as the beauty of his good memories shines through the outer layer of melancholy. – DM
Presenting the perfect Country & Western song! This is a great David Allan Coe cover with some alterations, including the exclusion of a stanza (which does water down the song a bit), changes to the spoken part, and additions of some special guests. – LW
Wine Into Water T. Graham Brown
1998 | Peak: #44
A kneeling drunkard’s plea for the modern age. A broken man struggling with his alcoholism asks Jesus to perform His first miracle in reverse. Brown’s rough and tumble voice is the best possible fit for this fine composition.- KC
High Powered Love Emmylou Harris
1993 | Peak: #63
The added punch to the production shows that Harris could do nineties country as well as anybody on the radio back then, which is quite the compliment, given who was getting airplay in 1993. A perfect lament for a lover who won’t settle for skin deep treasures, she wonders, “Is there anyone left with teeth just a little uneven? Who won’t spend more time with a mirror than he does with me?” – KC
You Won’t Ever Be Lonely Andy Griggs
1998 | Peak: #2
Griggs creates a touching ballad out of one of the sweetest, simplest promises that comes with making a commitment to someone – that no matter the storm outside, you’ll never have to face it alone. – TS
Instead of serving as a means to shut the other person out, the door that Tippin is suggesting is for the purpose of letting the other person in. “a door ain’t nothin’ but a way to get through a wall”, he sings. If they work together to create it, then they might be able to walk through it to meet each other halfway. – LW
Built on a poignantly written metaphor, “The River” gracefully weaves together elements of faith, inspiration and motivation. It’s a masterful single, from its poetic lyrics to its beautifully simplistic arrangement, but the heart and soul is Brooks’ gripping conviction – quiet yet fierce. On a personal note, this song contains one of my all-time favorite lyrics that I often revisit: “So don’t you sit upon the shoreline and say you’re satisfied/Choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide.” – TS
McGraw’s character leaves behind a lifelong love interest and a little home town to explore the world. But instead of getting good closure, the poor guy starts seeing the girl he left in every place he visits, even long after she has married and had children. That these visions could feasibly represent both unresolved romantic feelings and the inescapable imprint of one’s roots is just country-delicious. – DM
You’re Beginning to Get to Me Clay Walker
1998 | Peak: #2
Walker’s falling head first for a girl, but he isn’t ready to take the plunge with the L-word just yet. In his catalogue of fabulous 90s hits, this understated “love” song gets overshadowed by some of the more distinct ones, but it’s nonetheless memorable. – TS
Travis Tritt is one of few country artists who is as known for his rocking side as he is for being a strong balladeer. “Help Me Hold on” is a plea to his lover to help him salvage what’s left of their relationship, which doesn’t seem to be much, since she’s already packing a suitcase. – LW