Tag Archives: Conway Twitty

100 Greatest Men: #10. George Strait

George Strait100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Country music has undergone drastic changes in the three decades that George Strait has been a recording artist.  While everything was changing all around him, he became the most consistently successful country artist in history by staying the same.

Strait was raised on a family farm in Texas, and as a teenager, he played in a rock and roll band.  When he joined the Army, he was stationed in Hawaii, and it was there that he began playing country music for the first time.  When he returned to Texas, he studied agriculture by day, and played gigs with his new band, Ace in the Hole, at night.

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100 Greatest Men: #15. Conway Twitty

Conway Twitty100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He started out as a pop teen idol, but Conway Twitty’s powerful vocals and smart taste in material made him one of country music’s longest reigning superstars.

Twitty was born in Mississippi and raised in Arkansas, a background that exposed him to gospel and blues music, as well as country music. By age ten, he was playing in his own country band, but his attention was set on being a professional baseball player.  Unfortunately, as soon as he was offered a contract by the Philadelphia Phillies, he was drafted into the army.

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Single Review: Jason Aldean, “Burnin’ It Down”

Jason-Aldean-Burnin-It-Down“Burnin’ it Down”

Jason Aldean

Written by Rodney Clawson, Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley,  and Chris Tompkins

Country music isn’t historically prudish. It covers the topical gambit of love, drinking, cheating, murder and, yes, even passion. Conway Twitty, Alabama, Charlie Rich, even Alan Jackson ,as well as many others,  haven’t shied away from memorably singing about sexual intimacy. But their songs maintained a respect for the intimacy, which Jason Aldean’s “Burnin” it Down” grossly fails to do. Instead, the song is high octane graphic with no sense of real intimacy and nothing left up to the imagination.

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Single Review: Maddie & Tae, “Girl in a Country Song”

Maddie & Tae Girl in a Country Song

“Girl in a Country Song”
Maddie & Tae

Written by Tae Lynn Elizabeth Dye, Maddie Marlow,  and Aaron Scherz

“I ain’t your tan-legged Juliet. Can I put on some real clothes now?”

Maddie & Tae give voice to the girls who have become the ornaments in what seems like every uptempo country song of the last ten years.  I really could quote the whole thing, line by line, and would have to if I wanted to share everything in the song worth quoting.  It’s that good.

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CMA Awards: Entertainer of the Year (1967-2013)

Since its inception, the top honor an artist could be given at the Country Music Association awards is this one: Entertainer of the Year.   Originally a revolving door of winners, the winner in early years was often not even nominated the following year.  In 1981, Barbara Mandrell became the first artist to win the award twice.   Alabama succeeded her with a three year run from 1982-1984.   Fourteen years later, Garth Brooks became the first artist two win four times, a feat later matched by Kenny Chesney in 2008.

Here’s a look back at the award from the very beginning, along with some facts and feats about the category and its nominees.

Eddy Arnold1967

  • Bill Anderson
  • Eddy Arnold
  • Merle Haggard
  • Sonny James
  • Buck Owens

One year after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Eddy Arnold was named the very first Entertainer of the Year at the inaugural CMA awards in 1967. Don’t assume it was a sympathy vote. Arnold had three #1 hits in the twelve months leading up to the ceremony, as he was in the middle of his impressive mid-sixties comeback, a period best defined by the 1965 classic, “Make the World Go Away.”  He remains the only member of the Hall of Fame to win this award after being inducted.

Glen Campbell1968

  • Eddy Arnold
  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Glen Campbell was a big awards favorite in 1968, with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Gentle On My Mind” both dominating the Grammy awards earlier that year.   His win in this category foreshadowed bigger things, as he soon became a network variety star, while also scoring major country and pop hits with “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.”

 johnny-cash1969

  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Roy Clark
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Johnny Cash’s career was rejuvenated on the strength of two live prison albums, the latter of which produced the massive Shel Silverstein-penned smash, “A Boy Named Sue.”   His victory came in a year that marked the beginning of his network variety show and had him dominating the country singles charts, spending ten combined weeks at #1 with “Sue” and “Daddy Sang Bass.”

Merle Haggard1970

  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Roy Clark
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Merle Haggard was a mainstay in this category from the beginning, nominated in each of the first seven years of the CMA Awards.  His victory in 1970 coincided with his commercial peak, with signature hits “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee” helping him secure his only win in this category.

Charley Pride1971

  • Merle Haggard
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Reed
  • Conway Twitty

The last of four consecutive years where the Male Vocalist winner matched the Entertainer winner, Charley Pride went home with both awards in 1971.   A winner on his fourth nomination, his popularity skyrocketed upon the release of “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” which was climbing the charts at the time of the awards ceremony.

Loretta Lynn1972

  • Merle Haggard
  • Freddie Hart
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Reed

Instead of attending the awards show, Loretta Lynn’s husband Mooney went hunting.  He didn’t want to watch her lose, but he missed watching history unfold as she became the first woman to win Entertainer of the Year.  Lynn’s victory came on the heels of both solo hits like “One’s on the Way” and her popular duets with Conway Twitty.

Roy Clark1973

  • Roy Clark
  • Merle Haggard
  • Tom T. Hall
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Charley Pride

Today he’s best known for Hee Haw, the country music variety show that he co-hosted, and it’s no coincidence that he won while the show was in its prime. Still, Clark is also one of country’s most admired legends, and his legacy goes far beyond the television show that showcased his extensive musical and comedic talents.

Rich_Charlie_002_c_MOA.jpg1974

  • Roy Clark
  • Mac Davis
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Olivia Newton-John
  • Charlie Rich

The massive success of “The Most Beautiful Girl” and “Behind Closed Doors” helped Charlie Rich win this award.  It was a long time coming, as Rich toiled in obscurity despite critical acclaim for his work.   He would continue to score big hits on the country and pop charts over the next couple of years, at one point charting hits on different labels at the same time.

John Denver1975

  • John Denver
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Conway Twitty

John Denver’s victory in this race led to the most infamous moment in CMA history. Though he claimed it was due to medication later on, presenter Charlie Rich seemed to be making a furious statement against the pop crossover artists dominating country music when he opened the envelope, read it, and then lit a cigarette lighter and burned the envelope. The paper went up in flames as he derisively snarled the winner’s name, “My friend, Mister John Denver.” Poor John, accepting via satellite, was clueless to what was going on at the Opry house, and graciously accepted his award.

Mel Tillis1976

  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Dolly Parton
  • Mel Tillis

This 2007 Hall of Fame inductee won this award just as he was changing labels.  Tillis first gained notoriety for his remarkable songwriting talent, but eventually he was scoring enough hits to earn a place in this category. He would go on to have several more big hits after winning this award, earning another nomination in this category two years later.

Ronnie Milsap1977

  • Merle Haggard
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Dolly Parton
  • Kenny Rogers

Ronnie Milsap dominated the CMA Awards, becoming one of its most frequently honored performers during the formative years of the awards show.  He finally won the big prize on his third try, powered by the success of his classic hit, “It was Almost like a Song.”

Dolly Parton1978

  • Crystal Gayle
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Dolly Parton
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Mel Tillis

Her famous quote – “I’m not leaving country. I’m taking it with me” – must have held some water with the Nashville establishment, as Parton won this award at the height of her pop crossover success with “Here You Come Again,” the title track of her first platinum album.  The front of her dress popped open before she went up to receive the trophy, prompting her to quip, “That’s what I get for trying to put fifty pounds of mud in a five pound bag.”

Willie Nelson1979

  • Crystal Gayle
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Statler Brothers

He never won Male Vocalist of the Year, but superstar Willie Nelson was given his due by the CMA in 1979 when they awarded him Entertainer of the Year.   While it wasn’t his biggest year on the charts, residual goodwill from Stardust and his collaborations with Waylon Jennings helped carry him to victory.

Barbara Mandrell 21980

  • Charlie Daniels Band
  • Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers

She had a few big hits in 1980, like “Crackers” and “The Best of Strangers.”  But it was her incredibly popular variety show with sisters Louise and Irlene that truly showcased her versatility as an entertainer, securing the first of two wins in this category.

Barbara Mandrell 11981

  • Alabama
  • George Jones
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Oak Ridge Boys
  • Kenny Rogers

Despite sharing the category with four artists who had never won this award, Barbara Mandrell became the first artist in CMA history to win Entertainer of the Year for the second time.  Credit the continued popularity of her television show and the biggest hit of her career, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”,  which featured a guest turn by fellow nominee George Jones.

Alabama 21982

  • Alabama
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Oak Ridge Boys
  • Ricky Skaggs

The band that laid the groundwork for all other country bands that followed, Alabama set a new bar for commercial success in the early eighties.   The eligibility period included the release of their biggest-selling studio album, and also two of their signature hits: “Mountain Music” and “Love in the First Degree.”

Alabama 31983

  • Alabama
  • Merle Haggard
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs

As their studio albums sold in the millions, every single Alabama released to radio was hitting #1, a stretch that would eventually include 21 consecutive chart-toppers.  They repeated in this category on the strength of hits like “Dixieland Delight” and “The Closer You Get.”

Alabama 11984

  • Alabama
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Oak Ridge Boys

A mere three years after Barbara Mandrell made history by being the first artist to win two Entertainer awards, Alabama went her one better and won three. They remain one of only two acts to win this award three years in a row, doing so as their hits “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)” and “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)” dominated the airwaves.

1Ricky Skaggs985

  • Alabama
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Reba McEntire
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait

Few country artists command as much respect as Ricky Skaggs, a consummate singer and musician. Skaggs’ victory in this category signaled the resurgence of traditional country music, as he was the first winner since 1976 to not have achieved crossover hits on pop radio.

Reba McEntire1986

  • The Judds
  • Reba McEntire
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait

One of the most popular new traditionalists of the mid-eighties, McEntire achieved her commercial breakthrough with “Whoever’s in New England”, which was aided in popularity by her first of many high-concept music video clips.  McEntire would eventually become the most nominated woman in history, scoring ten nominations over eleven years.

Hank Williams Jr 11987

  • The Judds
  • Reba McEntire
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

When Hank Williams, Jr. won the Music Video award the previous year, he reminded voters, “I make audio, too.”  They finally got around to acknowledging his meaningful contributions to the genre,  awarding him the first of two Entertainer trophies in 1987.

Hank Williams Jr 21988

  • The Judds
  • Reba McEntire
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

Hank Jr. may have waited a long time for some CMA love, but once it came, it was in droves. He won Album of the Year the same night he repeated in this category.  His biggest hit of the year, “Young Country”, featured guest appearances by up and comers like Highway 101 and Marty Stuart.

George Strait 11989

  • Reba McEntire
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

Three years after his most recent Male Vocalist trophy, megastar George Strait was named Entertainer of the Year. He would go on to have one of his biggest years at radio, with two multi-week #1 singles in the twelve months that followed his victory.

George Strait 21990

  • Clint Black
  • Kathy Mattea
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis

While Randy Travis dominated the Male Vocalist race, George Strait was given his due again in the Entertainer category.   He wore an Entertainer of the Year cowboy belt on the cover of Livin’ it Up, perhaps giving him good luck toward his second victory.  He remains the most nominated in this category, and is only the second Hall of Famer to receive a nomination after being inducted into the Hall.

Garth Brooks 19911991

  • Clint Black
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Reba McEntire
  • George Strait

A mere year after winning the Horizon award, Garth Brooks was the Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards. He was breaking every sales record in the book by that point.  Shortly before the ceremony, he became the first country artist to enter the overall album chart at #1, leading to a media frenzy that gained unprecedented exposure for both Garth and the genre he represented.

Garth Brooks 21992

  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire
  • Travis Tritt

Given that he was already the biggest-selling country artist the world had ever seen, it was no surprise that Garth Brooks won his second Entertainer of the Year trophy in 1992.  His continued popularity was fueled by sold out live shows that soon led to network specials showcasing his unique brand of arena country.

Vince Gill 11993

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire

Vince Gill capped off an amazing night at the 1993 CMA Awards with his first victory in this category. It was his fifth win of the night, as he also took home Male Vocalist, Song, Album and Vocal Event.   As he was also the show’s sole host, the collective exposure pushed him to multi-platinum sales.

Vince Gill 21994

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire

The soft-spoken Gill won for a second year, which was no big surprise given his widespread popularity in Music City. He also went home with Album and Male Vocalist the same night, giving him a stunning fourteen trophies in only five years.

Alan Jackson 11995

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire

As one of the evening’s top nominees, Alan Jackson brought his parents as his special guests.  After losing in every other category, he expressed relief that he finally won something, as going home empty handed would’ve been embarrassing.   Jackson would eventually become one of the organization’s most awarded artists.

Brooks and Dunn1996

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

They were already winners of five CMA awards, due solely to their domination of the Vocal Duo category. But in 1996,  they finally won another race, and it was a big one. Brooks & Dunn remain the only duo to win this award, with The Judds and Sugarland being the only other duos to receive nominations.

Garth Brooks 31997

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

In a year when all five nominees had won this award before, it was Garth Brooks who returned to the winner’s circle, tying Alabama’s long-standing record of three victories in this category.   Adding to the sense of déjà vu, this was the third year in a row where all five nominees were the same.

Garth Brooks 41998

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait

As hard as it is to believe that there were any records left for him to break by 1998, Garth Brooks shattered another one, becoming the first artist in the history of the CMA to win four Entertainer of the Year awards. By this time, Garth had already sold more than 60 million albums, and while he has yet to win this award again, he remains the top-selling solo artist of all time in the United States.

Shania Twain1999

  • Garth Brooks
  • Dixie Chicks
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait
  • Shania Twain

The odds seemed against Shania Twain, as she had never won a CMA award before and the last woman to win was Reba McEntire thirteen years earlier.  Fittingly, McEntire was on hand to present the trophy to Twain, who won on the strength of Come On Over, which eventually became  top-selling country album of all time and the top selling album of the decade from any genre.

Dixie Chicks2000

  • Dixie Chicks
  • Faith Hill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait

The Dixie Chicks capped off a stunning three-year run at the CMA Awards with this victory, one of nine that they racked up since 1998.   Within those three years, their first two albums each sold over ten million copies, and the band was widely credited for championing country radio and traditionalism while other top acts were crossing over to pop radio.

Tim McGraw2001

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Dixie Chicks
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait

After winning two Male Vocalist and two Album of the Year honors in the previous three years, Tim McGraw finally won the CMA’s top award. It was a satisfying acknowledgment of an artist who’d had his talent underestimated in the first few years of his stardom, but built up a reputation for his stellar taste in choosing material.

Alan Jackson 22002

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • George Strait

Jackson’s win in 1995 came as he was reaching his commercial peak.  In the years that followed, Jackson remained a successful and well-respected artist that got less attention every year when it came time to hand out awards. Then came the one-two punch of “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, both of which were viewed as the very embodiment of all that makes country music unique and essential.   This was one of five awards he was honored with that night.

Alan Jackson 32003

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw

Although the ACM had chosen Toby Keith as their standard bearer a few months earlier, the CMA stuck with the previous year’s winner Alan Jackson. By 2003, Jackson had evolved into an elder statesman for the genre, but still managed to stay relevant with hits both clever (“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”) and poignant (“Remember When.”)

Kenny Chesney2004

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw

Chesney’s long dry spell at the CMA’s came to a satisfying end as the superstar collected both Entertainer and Album of the Year trophies. He had been charting for eleven years before finally winning his first CMA award.

keith-urban2005

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban

One of the most surprising and endearing wins in the history of this category, a shocked and humbled Urban accepted this award in New York City. He couldn’t have picked a better night to bring his Australian parents to the ceremony.

kenny-chesney2006

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Keith Urban

It’s pretty rare to come back and win this award for a second time, as most multiple wins have been consecutive in this category. But Kenny Chesney joined Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson as the only other artists to pull it off when he won in 2006, a club that would later be joined by Taylor Swift.

kenny_chesney2007

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Rascal Flatts
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Chesney entered the elite company of Garth Brooks, Alabama, and Alan Jackson with his third victory in this category. Rascal Flatts, meanwhile, became the first group since the Dixie Chicks to score back-to-back nominations, a feat also accomplished by Alabama and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Kenny Chesney2008

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Sugarland
  • Keith Urban

As Sugarland became only the third duo in history to receive a nomination and George Strait extended his record number of nominations to sixteen, Kenny Chesney tied Garth Brooks for the most wins in this category with his fourth victory.  His popularity at radio and retail was remarkable, but it was Chesney’s highly attended summer stadium tours that earned him these wins.

Taylor Swift CMA2009

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Taylor Swift both made history and prevented it with her win in this category.  She simultaneously became the youngest artist ever and the first female solo artist in ten years to take home the prize. She also kept Kenny Chesney from becoming the sole all-time champion in this category, as he remains tied with Garth Brooks with four wins to date.

paisley2010

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band

2010 shook up the category, with three first-time contenders in the running for the crown for the first time since 1981. Despite all the new blood, sixth time proved to be the charm for Brad Paisley, who finally won this award after five consecutive losses.  Paisley’s persistent popularity helped him earn the nod in a year where the two previous winners weren’t even nominated.

Taylor Swift Fearless Tour 2009 In New York City2011

  • Jason Aldean
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Thirty years after Barbara Mandrell became the first woman to win this award twice, Swift became the second to do so.  She won the award on the strength of her third set, Speak Now, which showcased her growing maturity as a songwriter and her growing appeal beyond her teenage and young adult fan base.

Shelton2012

  • Jason Aldean
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Taylor Swift

One of the most surprising wins in CMA history, few saw Blake Shelton’s victory coming.  But it isn’t too surprising when you consider the number of artists who parlayed network television exposure into a win in this category.  Perhaps in this new era of media saturation and minimal album sales, television may once again become a deciding factor when choosing the genre’s top star every year.

question_mark2013

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift

George Strait’s farewell tour helped return him to the category for the first time since 2009, earning him a record-extending  eighteenth career nomination.  Strait joins previous winners Taylor Swift (2009, 2011) and Blake Shelton (2012) in attempting a return to the winner’s circle.   Luke Bryan earns his first nomination, just months after winning the ACM trophy.  Jason Aldean, meanwhile, is hoping to get lucky the third time around.

Facts & Feats

Multiple Wins:

  • (4) – Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney
  • (3) – Alabama, Alan Jackson
  • (2) –Vince Gill, Barbara Mandrell, George Strait, Taylor Swift, Hank Williams, Jr.

Most Consecutive Wins:

  • (3) – Alabama (1982-1984), Kenny Chesney (2006-2008)
  • (2) – Garth Brooks (1991-1992, 1997-1998), Vince Gill (1993-1994), Barbara Mandrell (1980-1981), George Strait (1989-1990), Hank Williams, Jr. (1987-1988)

Most Nominations:

  • (18) – George Strait
  • (12) – Alan Jackson
  • (11) – Brooks & Dunn
  • (10) – Reba McEntire
  • (9) –  Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney
  • (8) –  Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Brad Paisley
  • (7) – Keith Urban
  • (6) – Barbara Mandrell, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Keith Urban
  • (5) – Alabama, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap, Kenny Rogers

Most Nominations Without a Win:

  • (5) – Kenny Rogers
  • (4) – Toby Keith, Randy Travis
  • (3) – Jason Aldean, Waylon Jennings, The Judds, Oak Ridge Boys

Winners in First Year of Nomination:
Eddy Arnold (1967), Garth Brooks (1991), Glen Campbell (1968), John Denver (1975), Charlie Rich (1974), Taylor Swift (2009), Mel Tillis (1976), Shania Twain (1999), Keith Urban (2004), Hank Williams, Jr. (1987)

CMA Entertainers of the Year Who Have Never Won the ACM Award:
Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Roy Clark, John Denver, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Charlie Rich, Blake Shelton, Ricky Skaggs, Taylor Swift, Mel Tillis, Keith Urban

ACM Entertainers of the Year Who Have Never Won the CMA Award:
Luke Bryan, Mac Davis, Mickey Gilley, Freddie Hart, Toby Keith, Kenny Rogers, Carrie Underwood

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A Tale of Two Tributes: Alabama

Alabama-Friends

Various Artists
Alabama & Friends

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To recognize the impact that Alabama has had on modern country music, you could consider their millions of albums sold, their hundreds of awards, their many #1 songs or their induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005. You could also look at how the boys from Fort Payne, Ala. have the distinction of bringing something entirely new into country music.

Prior to Alabama, country music was predominantly a land of solo acts, with the occasional superstar duos (Conway & Loretta, George & Tammy) or backing bands (The Strangers, The Buckaroos) thrown in for good measure. Sure, there were plenty of vocal groups (Statler Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys), but actual bands, who played their own instruments, were few and far between in country music. It took Alabama to break down that particular barrier, and they paved the way for groups like Zac Brown Band, Diamond Rio, Eli Young Band and others.

Alabama is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a reunion tour and a couple of well-deserved tribute albums. The tributes are quite different, with one being done under the direction of the band, and the other a completely independent effort.

Alabama & Friends, featuring many of today’s leading country stars, comes off as less of a tribute album and more of an Alabama-themed celebrity karaoke night. Many of the songs have very similar arrangements to the originals, and even include Randy Owen, Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry on lead and harmony vocals.

Many of the memorable elements from the original songs are still present. The fiddle breakdown in “Tennessee River” (with Jason Aldean), the tempo changes in “My Home’s in Alabama” (with Jamey Johnson) – they’re all present and accounted for. The songs that stick close to the originals aren’t necessarily bad. Luke Bryan, for instance, has plenty of flaws as a country singer, but his vocal abilities are not in question, so his version of “Love in the First Degree” is solid. The same could be said of Jason Aldean’s take on “Tennessee River” and Toby Keith’s “She and I.” There’s nothing wrong with them, but fans who love the Alabama originals might think the new ones are a bit too by-the-book.

There are a few instances where the guest singers step outside the box and add more of their own personality to the recording. Trisha Yearwood, the only female voice on the project, does a lovely job on “Forever’s as Far as I’ll Go,” and “Lady Down on Love” by Kenny Chesney stands among his best vocal performances. The same can’t be said of Florida Georgia Line, who takes “I’m in a Hurry (and Don’t Know Why),” adds their usual amount of noise and clutter to the mix, and makes it sound like every other Florida Georgia Line song ever recorded. While it’s a rare opportunity to hear both Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley sing lead vocals, it raises the issue of whether or not they’ve already run out of original ideas.

Alabama recorded two songs for the first time in 11 years, but they’re the weakest songs on the album. For a band that was one of the first to successfully blend country music with amped-up Southern rock, “That’s How I Was Raised” and “All American” are low-energy, generic rah-rah country disappointments.

high-cotton-tribute-to-alabama-2013

Various Artists
High Cotton: A Tribute to Alabama

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High Cotton: A Tribute to Alabama, is available from Lightning Rod Records and has a collection of Americana/Red Dirt/indie all-stars doing their takes on Alabama hits. There is some overlap with the Alabama & Friends, but these versions have a bit more of an original feel. “Why Lady Why” gets transformed into a smoldering soul tune by JD McPherson, while Jason Isbell and John Paul White of The Civil Wars completely reinvent “Old Flame.” The Turnpike Troubadours and Shonna Tucker provide a spark with “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)” and “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler),” respectively. While neither version is light years from the original, they add energy to a project that leans heavily toward slow and reflective songs.

Two of Alabama’s love songs are recast as duets. While it’s startling to hear Todd Snider as a romantic balladeer instead of a smart-ass hippie folk singer, his voice never quite meshes with Elizabeth Cook on “Feels So Right.” Wade Bowen and Brandy Clark’s duet on “Love in the First Degree” is excellent, however, and raises the anticipation level for Clark’s debut album.

Not every experiment is a success. Once again, “I’m in a Hurry” gets short shrift, as Jessica Lea Mayfield turns it into a funereal dirge. “Lady Down on Love” just does not work as a bluegrass/spoken word ballad, as evidenced by Bob Schneider & The Texas Bluegrass Massacre with Ray Benson. Jason Boland & The Stragglers’ take on “Mountain Music” is fine, but the insistence of aping the original, from the spoken-word intro to the guest vocals from a couple of the Stragglers à la Cook and Gentry is a little cheesy.

It’s a testament to Alabama’s far-reaching appeal that artists as different as Jason Isbell and Jason Aldean would want to sing their songs. Whether it’s a note-for-note recreation or a completely new interpretation of their hit songs, there is something in these two albums to please any Alabama fan.

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Single Review: Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan, “I Know What You Did Last Night”

I Know What You Did Last NightGreat singers. Great title. Great song.

Would you expect anything less from a collaboration between Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan, especially one that has them officially being billed as Grits & Glamour?

Much like both ladies were known for doing in their chart-topping days, “I Know What You Did Last Night” weds traditional country structures with the contemporary female experience.  It’s one of those classic conversational duets, with both singers alternating lines and talking as much as singing at certain points.  They don’t quite break the fourth wall, but they push up against it, much like Loretta & Conway and Porter & Dolly would do on their album cuts.

But the girls night out spirit is completely modern, without even a hint of apology for their rowdiness.   If anything, it’s a friendly competition for who did the most partying down, with the details grounded enough in reality that it never becomes a caricature.

Pam and Lorrie toured together for a bit in the nineties, but they’ve been pairing up regularly for a couple of years now, and that helps the collaboration feel natural, not forced.  Grits & Glamour, the tour moniker, has taken on a sound that has elements of both artists but is uniquely its own.   They have more than a few classic recordings between them, with Tillis being especially strong as an albums artist, but I don’t remember either of them having so much pure fun on a studio recording.

In a year that has seen some incredible collaborations already, it looks like Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan are still quite capable of hanging in the big leagues.   I cannot wait to hear the rest of their album.

Written by Al Anderson and Karyn Rochelle

Grade: A

Listen:  I Know What You Did Last Night

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Single Review: Chris Young, "I Can Take It from There"

In some aspects, Chris Young’s hook-heavy new single may come off as a calculated bid to regain the airplay he unjustly lost from country radio’s tepid response to the excellent but underappreciated “Neon.”  Unfortunately, it’s hard to call him out for peddling safe material when I can’t get my toe to stop tapping.

“I Can Take It from There” illustrates how solid song structure and an inspired performance can lift standard country radio fodder from rote to memorable.  The magic lies neither in Young’s come-on of “Grab a couple of glasses and a bottle of wine… Baby while you’re at it you might as well let down your hair,” nor in the song’s namedrop of Conway Twitty – both somewhat standard Peach Picker song fare – but in the way Young effortlessly makes the song his own.  His energetic performance brings out an organic quality in the song’s pulsing melody, while cheeky-sounding fiddle hooks rip through the song, making “I Can Take It from There” a most delicious nugget of catchiness.

Of course, “I Can Take It from There” might not seem to hold up well against the brilliance of “Neon,” but it’s worth noting that while “Neon” was a piece of country heartbreak poetry, “I Can Take It from There” serves

the purpose of simple escapism.  That’s a worthwhile end in itself, and Young tears into “I Can Take It from There” with just enough infectious abandon to make the song soar.

Written by Chris Young, Rhett Akins, and Ben Hayslip

Grade:  B+

Listen:  I Can Take It from There 

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Country Music Hall of Fame Welcomes Garth Brooks, Connie Smith, and Hargus “Pig” Robbins

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!

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Pop Goes Country – A Cover Song Report Card

Cover songs can be a hot topic at just about any given time.  We recently got to hear a somewhat underwhelming OneRepublic cover by Faith Hill, which Kevin recently reviewed.  Other recent attempts include Sara Evans’ pop-country reworking of Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” as well as last year’s polarizing Beyoncé cover by Reba McEntire.

Since cover songs are so much fun to talk about, I thought I’d weigh in on a few well-known cover songs from the past few years – the good ones, as well as a few that we would rather forget.  My criteria is simple:  A good cover song should bring something new to the table, and the song should be treated in a way that is well-suited to the artist as well as the genre.  This list focuses specifically on country covers of non-country songs.

 

Click the original artists’ names in parentheses to hear the original versions.

 

Rosanne Cash, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” (The Beatles)
1989 | #1

Where it goes right:  Rosanne’s last career hit was a cover from a Beatles tribute album, and it didn’t sound quite like one might expect.  Though rarely one to use overt country instrumentation throughout most of her career, she delivers a brisk, upbeat take that’s layered in fiddling.  I’ll take it!

Grade:  B+

Mark Chesnutt, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith)
1998 | #1

Where it goes wrong:  It’s hard to imagine a worse pairing between song and performer.  Mark Chesnutt, the revered neotraditionalist behind “Too Cold at Home” and “Going Through the Big D” covering a rock power ballad?  It’s true – complete with apologetic steel guitar fills and a vocal smothered in autotune.  The end result is so cheesy that you might as well slap it between two crackers.  The fact that this is the top Mark Chesnutt iTunes download is very very sad.

Grade:  D

 

Dixie Chicks, “Landslide” (Fleetwood Mac)
2002 | #2

Where it goes right:  The Chicks give a well-known Fleetwood Mac favorite a stripped-down bluegrass treatment, which is a great fit for the nature-related imagery in the song’s lyrics.  The Chicks elevate the song further with their gorgeous harmonies.  As much as I love Fleetwood Mac, I have to say that this version tops the original.  It’s one of the best cover songs I’ve ever heard, and one of the Dixie Chicks’ personal best moments, of which there have been many.

Grade:  A

 

Sara Evans, “I Could Not Ask for More” (Edwin McCain)
2001 | #2

Where it goes right:  Evans delivers a stunning and powerful vocal performance that holds nothing back whatsoever.

Where it goes wrong:  The arrangement is a bit syrupy, and it’s essentially a pop cover of a pop song.  Is a little fiddle or steel too much to ask for?

Grade:  B

 

Faith Hill, “Piece of My Heart” (Erma Franklin, Janis Joplin)
1994 | #1
faith hill piece of my heart video Pictures, Images and Photos
(Watch the video)

Where it goes right:  The fact that Hill was unfamiliar with the Franklin and Joplin versions is telling.  You can easily tell that she is making no attempt to emulate the style of another artist, instead giving a performance totally her own, while the songs’s melody fits well with the countrified arrangement.

Where it goes wrong:  Again, the fact that Hill was unfamiliar with the previous versions is telling.  Her performance lacks the fire and fury of Joplin’s version, which makes it easy to see why one might consider Hill’s performance to be a bit too sugary.

Grade:  B-

 

Alison Krauss, “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” (The Foundations)
1995 | #49

Where it goes right:  Krauss takes a forgettable Motown tune, and delivers a slowed-down mid-tempo version that much more deeply accentuates the emotions conveyed in the lyrics.  In contrast, the original sounded like one big party, which is an ill-fitting treatment of a song about trying to stop one’s lover from leaving.  The track is made all the more sweeter by Kruass’ angelic vocals, and by the expert instrumental backup of Union Station.  The song went on to win Krauss a well-deserved Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

Grade:  A

 

Reba McEntire, “Cathy’s Clown” (Everly Brothers)
1989 | #1

Where it goes right:  It’s extremely effective as a reinterpretation, as McEntire slows the song down to an emotional ballad, and tweaks the lyrics to fit her feminine perspective.  Did I mention that she also gives a mighty fine vocal performance?

Where it goes wrong:  The production is a bit watered-down, which was not unusual for Reba’s late eighties and early nineties output.

Grade:  B+

 

Pam Tillis, “When You Walk In the Room” (Jackie DeShannon)
1994 | #2

Where it goes right:  Tillis could hardly have chosen a better song to countrify, as the lyric about a nervous encounter with an old flame fits right in with classic country music.  She even tweaked the instrumental opening so as to be better suited for the steel guitar, which demonstrates her strong commitment to the country genre.

Grade:  A

 

Travis Tritt, “Take It Easy” (The Eagles)
1994 | #21

Where it goes right:  The Eagles were about the countriest rock band you’d ever meet, and did a great deal to influence the evolution of country sounds and styles, so they were a fitting candidate for an all-country tribute album.  The centerpiece of the collection was honky-tonker Travis Tritt’s version of “Take It Easy” – an energetic performance that had even more body than the original, but that still felt reverent toward the legendary group’s classic version.

Grade:  A

 

Conway Twitty, “The Rose” (Bette Midler)
1983 | #1

Where it goes right:  Nowhere.

Where it goes wrong:  Everywhere. (Can you say bad karaoke?)

Grade:  D

 

Jimmy Wayne, “Sara Smile” (Hall and Oates)
2009 | #31

Where it goes wrong:  To put it simply… reinterpreting a song does not mean simply “adding a banjo line.”  The fact that Hall and Oates even sing background vocals on this track only adds to the overall feeling of pointlessness.

Grade:  D+

 

Mark Wills, “Back at One” (Brian McKnight)
1999 | #2

Where it goes wrong:  If it made for an awfully cheesy pop song in the hands of Brian McKnight, it made a flat-out terrible country song when Mark Wills covered it a mere two months after the release of the McKnight version.  It’s a record characterized by superfluous genre-pandering steel guitar fills, and a lead vocal that sounds more occupied with grooving to the beat than making any sort of emotional connection.  The song peaked at #2, and then Wills tackled a Brandy song immediately afterwards.  Seriously, dude?

Grade:  C-

 

Dwight Yoakam, “Suspicious Minds” (Elvis Presley)
1992 | #35

Where it goes right:  Covering an Elvis song is a tall order, to say the least.  The fact that Yoakam’s version rivals the original, with its contemporized arrangement and knockout lead vocal, is hardly a small feat.

Grade:  A

 

What’s your take on these tunes?  What are your favorite cover songs?  What are your least favorite cover songs?

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