Tag Archives: Darrell Scott

100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1: #100-#91

Ah, the naughties. The decade began and ended with pop crossover queens, with Shania Twain and Faith Hill at the top of their game in 2000 much like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood reign supreme today. In between, we had the roots music boom, best exemplified by O Brother and the platinum-selling Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss & Union Station; the post-9/11 patriotic explosion, which brought Toby Keith and Darryl Worley to the top of the charts; the near-total banishment of women from the country radio dial for a good part of the decade, which started to fade as redneck pride ascended, thanks to a certain woman trying to make Pocahontas proud; and far too many tributes to country living and island-flavored beach bum songs to count.

All of this made for a fascinating decade to be a country fan. As radio worked its way through all of the above (with the notable exception of roots music), the internet made it far easier for acts to be discovered without ever getting a single spin of traditional radio play.  With MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and the explosion of country music blogs, the barriers have been torn down between artist and audience in a way that was never possible before.

The motley crew of Country Universe has a diversity of tastes that fit within the widest boundaries of country music, as reflected our collaborative list of the 100 best albums of the decade.  Five of our writers contributed to the list, with all writer’s selections being weighed equally.  We’ll reveal ten entries a day until the list is complete. A look back at the greatest singles of the decade will then follow.

    The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1

    Abigail 100

    #100
    Abigail Washburn, Song of the Traveling Daughter

    Song of the Traveling Daughter is the debut album from Uncle Earl claw hammer banjo player Abigail Washburn. Produced by Béla Fleck and featuring Ben Sollee, it is a subdued album filled with intriguing instrumentation and influences.  Standout songs include “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” with its interesting Civil War period influence; the upbeat “Coffee’s Cold,” originally performed by Uncle Earl; and “Song of the Traveling Daughter,” based on the classical Chinese poem “Song of the Traveling Son.” – William Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, “Coffee’s Cold”

    Kim Richey 99

    #99
    Kim Richey, Rise

    Her ambitious swan song for Mercury Records was perhaps her least accessible record, with an emphasis on eclectic arrangements instead of hook-laden melodies. It’s also her most deeply rewarding record, one that is remarkably introspective and fully delves into themes of faith and mortality that her earlier work had only hinted at before. – Kevin Coyne

    Recommended Tracks: “A Place Called Home”, “No Judges”

    Little Big Town 98

    #98
    Little Big Town, The Road to Here

    The quartet’s second album catapulted them to the forefront thanks to the swampy anthem, “Boondocks,” and was a breath of fresh, earthy air to mainstream country music. Packed with tight harmonies and songs ranging in style from bluegrass-leaning to Fleetwood Mac-inspired, the album served as a window into the raw talent and potential of one of the best groups to hit country music in quite some time. – Tara Seetharam

    Recommended Tracks: “Boondocks”, “Live With Lonesome”

    Dolly 97

    #97
    Dolly Parton, Halos & Horns

    A gorgeous, gospel-heavy album, with tasteful bluegrass elements. Parton is effervescent as usual, and rid of any self-consciousness, which makes “Hello God” overwhelmingly stirring. A response to the September 11 tragedies, the song has Parton pleading and philosophically wrestling with God, in the sincerest of ways. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Hello God”, “John Daniel”

    Brad 96

    #96
    Brad Paisley, Part II

    Sometime back before the Future, before the smirking social commentary and the endless odes to his wife, Brad Paisley was just a silly little neotraditionalist writing silly little neotraditional songs about the twists of everyday life and love. Part II captures him at his most unassuming and tuneful, waxing breezily about courtships and feeling out his new place as a neotrad spokesperson with a few classic roots songs, plus a cute Bill Anderson/Chuck Cannon co-write (“Too Country”). – Dan Milliken

    Recommended Tracks: “Wrapped Around”, “Come On Over Tonight”

    Patty 95

    #95
    Patty Loveless, Strong Heart

    More so than any Loveless album since leaving MCA, Strong Heart draws on her pop and rock influences, with a healthy dose of Ronstadt thrown in for good measure. The contrast between her hillbilly wail and the pop-leaning arrangements of several songs manages to make her sound even more rural than she normally does. Arguably her last mainstream project, she proved that she can sound just as good chasing radio as she does ignoring it. – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “The Last Thing On My Mind”, “My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again”

    Sara 94

    #94
    Sara Evans, Real Fine Place

    One of the finer female vocalists in the genre, Evans is a fantastic interpreter on her fifth album, carefully treading both traditional and pop country waters. The warmth and purity to her tone is prominent on this album, and this is particularly true of the songs with more traditional arrangements, on which she shines the brightest. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Cheatin'”, “These Four Walls”

    Sara J 93

    #93
    Sarah Jarosz, Song Up in Her Head

    Sarah Jarosz’ much hyped debut with Sugar Hill Records features Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Aofie O’Donavan, and Abigail Washburn.  Notable tracks include “Shankill Butchers,” a Decemberists cover that outperforms the original; the progressive acoustic “Song up in Her Head,” reminiscent of Nickel Creek; and “Come on Up to the House,” an impressive Tom Waits cover. – WW

    Recommended Tracks: “Shankill Butchers”, “Come On Up to the House”

    Terri 92

    #92
    Terri Clark, Pain to Kill

    This album made Clark a serious contender for Female Vocalist, the only time in her career that she reached that level of success. It’s as radio-friendly as her first two albums, but the material is substantive. This is the best collection of songs that she ever assembled, and by a healthy margin. When Trisha Yearwood finds something to cover from a record, you’ve done a great job picking songs. – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “I Just Called to Say Goodbye”, “Not a Bad Thing”

    Dwight 91

    #91
    Dwight Yoakam, Population: Me

    Genre superhero Yoakam stretched his habit of excellence into a third decade, beginning with the quirky South of Heaven, West of Hell soundtrack and continuing with this solid set. The album is notable for distilling a wide assortment of Yoakam’s mastered sounds into about half an hour, from the Eaglesy (“The Late Great Golden State”) to the Owensy (“No Such Thing”) to the Elvisy (“I’d Avoid Me Too”), all united by the singer’s uniquely buoyant brand of fatalism. – DM

    Recommended Tracks: “I’d Avoid Me Too”, “The Back Of Your Hand”

    - – -

    20 Comments

    Filed under Decade in Review

    Digging Deep: Ashley Monroe

    Ashley MonroeRecently, while listening to Kathy Mattea’s

    Coal, I realized that, perhaps, the most important aspect to creating a themed play list was the ability to find some obscure songs to include with all those well-known classics. While Merle Travis’s “Dark as a Dungeon” as performed at Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash and Darrell Scott’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” as performed by Patty Loveless are two of my personal favorite coal miner songs—they are already in heavy rotation on several of my play lists and are drawn from albums I listen to regularly.

    Ashley Monroe’s “Canary,” which can be unearthed on This is My America Volume 2, is the kind of hidden gem that often can be missed even by those paying close attention to the movements of country music. Similar in tone to classic coal mining songs but delivered with modern sensibilities “Canary” most closely resembles what I wish “radio friendly” country sounded like—it isn’t traditional but it feels like country music. Plus, it fits well between my more traditional favorites, providing some variety for myself and perhaps a surprise to anyone listening along.

    Recommendation: Ashley Monroe’s “Canary,” from This is My America Volume 2.

    What hidden gems covering traditional country music subject matter (murder, drinking, ect.) would you recommend? Alternatively, what coal mining songs would you recommend?

    9 Comments

    Filed under Recommend a Track

    Travis Tritt Starter Kit

    Travis TrittWhile Travis Tritt didn’t acquire quite as many number one hits as many of his fellow artists in the nineties, with only 3 to claim, he was still a solid hit maker and strong force throughout the decade. His soulful brand of “southern rockin’ country” is often what he associated himself with, as noted in “Put Some Drive in Your Country”, but he was just as vocally connected to ballads and other more standard country fare.

    Even as an artist of the nineties who was not honored as much by the industry as some of his peers, likely as a result of his outlaw image, his album sales still managed to be impressive. They included albums that went gold (1), platinum (3), double platinum (3) and triple platinum (1).

    As one of my favorite artists of the nineties and in general, it was difficult to point to only ten essential tracks of Travis Tritt’s to spotlight, especially since the majority of my favorite songs of his were either not hit songs or even released at all.

    Ten Essential Tracks:

    “Here’s A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)”
    From the 1991 album It’s All About to Change

    In the nineties, Tritt was credited as having a strong personality, though people close to him, including various opening acts, have reported that he was always surprisingly friendly and accommodating. This satisfyingly and refreshingly retaliatory song, however, helped to perpetuate the feeling that Tritt is not someone to be crossed. It is a glimpse of how it would feel to actually respond with one of those quippy comebacks that we only dream of lobbing, after the fact, of course.

    “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” (with Marty Stuart)
    From the 1991 album It’s All About to Change

    The second of several collaborations with his critically acclaimed buddy, Marty Stuart. While the whiskey may have worked for a time, they realize that a good woman is what they really need.

    “Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man”
    From the 1992 album T-R-O-U-B-L-E

    A timely and timeless theme done perfectly. Tritt does an excellent job of conveying both practical resignation and natural frustration to which the average person can easily relate.

    “Looking Out for Number One”
    From the 1992 album T-R-O-U-B-L-E

    He’s tired of trying to please everyone else at the expense of his own happiness, so starting now, he’s “looking out for number one.” Sounds selfish, but don’t we all feel that way at times?

    “Worth Every Mile”
    From the 1992 album T-R-O-U-B-L-E

    For as many Tritt songs that had attitude, he had at least as many ballads. I’m not particularly fond of a lot of them anymore, but “Worth Every Mile” is one that still works for me. It’s a realistic celebration of a long lasting relationship that is a worthy candidate for an anniversary song.

    “Take It Easy”
    From the 1994 album Common Thread: Songs of the Eagles

    It’s dangerous to say it, but this song, recorded for country music’s tribute to the Eagles, has always sounded stronger than the original version to me. The fact that it helped to get the Eagles back together “after hell {apparently} froze over” is just an added bonus for loyal Eagles fans out there.

    “Foolish Pride”
    From the 1994 album Ten Feet Tall And Bulletproof

    This is a thoughtful case study of a couple who is too prideful to overcome their anger toward each other. “Ain’t it sad to see a good love fall to pieces?” asks Tritt. “Chalk another heartbreak up to foolish pride.”

    “It’s A Great Day to Be Alive”
    From the 2000 album Down the Road I Go

    It’s nearly impossible not to feel positive after hearing this catchy and quirky Darrell Scott penned song.

    “Modern Day Bonnie And Clyde”
    From the 2000 album Down the Road I Go

    Tritt enjoyed renewed success at the turn of the century with this Dobro laden thriller of a song, which actually tells an engaging story. Imagine that.

    “I See Me”
    From the 2004 album My Honky Tonk History

    As a rabble rouser turned sentimental dad, Tritt sings this song with palpable sensitivity and sincerity. It wasn’t a hit, but it should have been.

    Two Hidden Treasures:

    “Start the Car”
    From the 1998 album No More Looking Over My Shoulder

    I’m a sucker for jaunty horns and this upbeat, bluesy song, delightfully, features them.

    “What If Love Hangs On”
    From the 2007 album The Storm

    One of only a couple great tracks on an otherwise disappointing effort from Tritt. On this hopeful, but melancholy tinged love ballad of sorts, Tritt’s voice displays a hint of vulnerability and is uncharacteristically restrained, which is only positively accentuated by an equally restrained, but tasteful, production.

    9 Comments

    Filed under Back to the Nineties, Starter Kits

    Sarah Jarosz, Song Up in Her Head

    songs-up-in-her-head1Sarah Jarosz
    Song Up in Her Head
    stars-412.gif

    Interview emerging country music stars today and it may surprise you—especially if you listen to the radio—that they are all influenced by Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and (if they play mandolin) Bill Monroe. When you find that they also claim to emulate artists such as Garth Brooks, George Strait, Alan Jackson or whoever else has recently gone platinum (with the exception of the Dixie Chicks), it can be almost discouraging to consider that few are even that traditional.

    This brings us to Sarah Jarosz, whose debut with Sugar Hill Records, Song Up in Her Head, presents a very different view of influences and a noticeably different performer in its eighteen year old co-producer.

    Seven years ago, while requesting an autograph from Chris Thile, Sarah Jarosz, not yet a teenager, expressed interest in, someday, playing music with Chris Thile. Since then, she has added Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Aofie O’Donavan, and Abigail Washburn—all who appear on her album—to her most often quoted list of influences. As a result, we are presented with an impressive, but much less calculated list than one might expect from a newcomer. Given that these are some of my favorite artists, it also sets a high bar with this particular reviewer. Fortunately for this recent high school graduate who plays mandolin, guitar, clawhammer banjo, octave mandolin, piano, and toy piano (we will get to that) on her debut album, these lofty expectations are not beyond her ability.

    Song Up in Her Head opens with its title track, a progressive bluegrass number that will remind listeners (in no small part to Chris Thile’s contribution) of progressive acoustic prodigies of the past. While those influences certainly exist, it would be a mistake to use them to typecast Jarosz, who has as much in common musically with Darrel Scott or Gillian Welch as she does with the progressive acoustic scene.

    From the well-written “Tell me True,” which rolls comfortably upon tight lyrics and a repeating chorus, to “Left Home,” and impressive vocal number with the outstanding Aofie O’Donovan singing harmony vocals Jarosz more than establishes her songwriting credentials penning eleven of thirteen tracks on the album. Particularly notable is the balance between youth and maturity that seems to exist throughout these songs. Presenting the experiences of Sarah Jarosz, they only occasionally feel adolescent, always managing to escape the self-importance rampant among pop music acts her age. The finest example of this comes in “Broussard’s Lament,” a challenging song written in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that came out of “an interview on the Sunday morning news program “Meet the Press,” with a man named Aaron Broussard. His interview was heart wrenching, and it inspired me to write the tune.”

    Inserted neatly between her songs are two well-chosen covers, Tom Waits “Come on Up to the House” and The Decemberists “Shankill Butchers.” While the Tom Waits cover is notable, “Shankill Butchers” excellent production makes it stand out. Using a toy piano along with Sarah’s compelling vocals, its mood ideally fits the modern nursery rhyme to the degree that it outshines the original recording.

    Despite being an accomplished singer and mandolin player Sarah Jarosz does not go out of her way to list Bill Monroe as an influence—and the thing is she doesn’t have to. Unlike those pronouncing the influences that they feel they should have, with Song Up in Her Head you can hear influences being explored side by side with the effects of her colleagues close mentoring. Sarah Jarosz’ debut is delightfully distinct; supplementing her own talents with the best just-off-the-radar artists available today she has found a voice that will undoubtedly continue to produce eloquent music for another fifty years.

    9 Comments

    Filed under Album Reviews

    Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters: Darrell Scott

    darrell-scottI’m pleased to introduce a new feature to Country Universe readers, which is a spin off of Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists called Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters.

    While we all appreciate songwriters for their invaluable contributions to our favorite artists, they still often remain unrecognized as the people behind the scenes and, therefore, stand in the shadows of the big name artists who sing their songs. The purpose of this feature is to spotlight those songwriters who had or have aspirations of being stars, but are better known for sharing their craft with the more visible artists.

    Therefore, the criteria for this feature is that the spotlighted songwriter has to have both written songs that other artists have recorded and recorded music of his/her own. For instance, Darrell Scott, Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Robison, etc. are eligible songwriters, since they’ve recorded their own music and written songs for other artists. Conversely, people like Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Clint Black etc. won’t be eligible, since they’ve mostly only written songs for themselves and not others.

    Finally, Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters will include a mix of songs that the songwriter has recorded, and songs that he/she has written that other artists have recorded, which will obviously depend on our favorite songs by that songwriter and our preferred version of the chosen song.

    With this feature, we hope to help readers realize the contributions of individual songwriters and, perhaps, inspire you to explore the artists’ own discographies as a result.

    Last summer I kicked off our Songwriters Series with my favorite modern country music songwriter, Darrell Scott. So, I thought it fitting to do the same with this new feature. Since I’ve already taken up considerable space describing this feature, I encourage you all to refer to my aforementioned spotlight to learn more about the man about which this article is written.

    A pertinent note, however, is that most of the songs on this list have been recorded by both Scott and other artists. While the majority of the songs on this particular list will specifically refer to other artists, please assume that Scott’s own recordings are more than worth exploring as well.

    #15

    Darrell Scott, “Banjo Clark”
    Aloha From Nashville

    One of the things that I marvel the most about Darrell Scott is his ability to write songs that sound like timeless standards. “Banjo Clark” is one such song. In fact, I had to double check to make sure Scott had actually written this song and that it wasn’t a public domain standard that he revived.

    #14

    Tim McGraw, “Old Town New”
    Live Like You Were Dying

    Scott wrote “Old Town New” with another superb modern songwriter, Bruce Robison. So, it’s no surprise that this song about a man wishing that he could make his old town feel new again after a failed relationship is good. While it remained just an album cut on McGraw’s signature album, it’s as good as many of the singles that were released from it.

    #13

    Suzy Bogguss, “No Way Out”
    Give Me Some Wheels

    “No Way Out” is up-tempo, but is not devoid of life’s realities. The family experiences familiar hardships, but the husband and wife hold themselves accountable by reminding each other that they’ve “fell in love and there’s no way out.”

    While Bogguss’ recording is the superior version, both Darrel Scott’s and Julie Roberts’ versions are good as well. Moreover, this is the first song of Scott’s that was recorded by another artist.

    #12

    Darrell Scott, “When There’s No One Around”

    Family Tree

    Garth Brooks recorded a version of “When There’s No One Around”, but Scott’s version is more organic and sonically appealing. It’s a poignant look at who we are when there’s no one around, which is inevitably different than our public personas.

    #11

    Travis Tritt, “It’s A Great Day to Be Alive”
    Down the Road I Go

    We  all know “It’s A Great Day to Be Alive”, since it was a big hit for Travis Tritt. This song has been recorded by Scott and Cory Morrow. Tritt’s is the definitive version, however. It tries to be hopeful while still somehow managing to feel a little bleak at the same time. While he proclaims that it’s a great day to be alive, there’s a sadness that lurks under the surface that seems to threaten the bright outlook, which is actually more tangible in Scott’s recording.

    #10

    Darrell Scott, “With A Memory Like Mine”

    Real Time

    “With A Memory Like Mine” was co-written with his dad, Wayne Scott. Darrell found the beginnings of this song in a notebook of his father’s and encouraged the Elder Scott to finish it with him. Scott’s version, which can be found on a solid project with Tim O’Brien, is darker than the quick paced recording by The John Cowan Band, which is more appropriate for this chillingly sad song. The man sends his son off to war by telling him to “be a good soldier/but return again someday.” His son does return, but in the most devastating way possible for a parent. In a casket.

    #9

    Martina McBride, “I’m Trying”

    Shine

    “I’m Trying” has been recorded by both Diamond Rio as a duet with Chely Wright and Martina McBride, though McBride’s is the stronger version. It explores a struggling relationship that almost seems like more work than it’s worth. Instead of leaving us with a typical happy or tragic ending, we are only given an assurance that they love each other and they are trying to make things work. The melody is tastefully simple with a fitting production that showcases McBride’s atypical restrained vocals, which translates into appropriate empathy for the characters within the song. It is a simple song with a simple production, but still poignant in a quiet way.

    #8

    Trace Adkins, “Someday”

    More

    Adkins is the only artist to record this song, as far as I know. It’s a beautiful and hopeful song, with tinges of sadness. As is duly noted about Adkins, he sings these more serious songs the best, even if radio disagrees.

    #7

    Dixie Chicks, “Heartbreak Town”

    Fly

    This is an indictment on Nashville, which is one of two songs written by Scott and recorded by The Chicks that tackles the topic. The song portrays Nashville, a place where so many people hope to enjoy success, as a “heartbreak town, which is something that both the Chicks and Scott have surely learned from personal experience.

    #6

    Kathy Mattea, “Loves Not Through With You Yet”

    Right Out of Nowhere

    I’m thrilled that one of my favorite Mattea albums includes this thoughtful, gorgeous Celtic flavored song by Darrell Scott: “You may think that love takes two, but loves a gift from you to you.”

    #5

    Sara Evans, “Born to Fly”

    Born to Fly

    Scott happened to write one of Sara Evans’ most recognizable and best hits to date. “Born to Fly” is an infectious coming of age song. While her parents are stable and grounded, that’s not the way the songs’ character wishes to live and she asks, “How do you keep your feet on the ground when you know you were born to fly?”

    #4

    Darryl Worley, “Family Tree”

    I Miss My Friend

    While many of Scott’s songs can be heavy, this is an example of his sillier side. Scott does a great version, but Worley cuts loose just the right amount. He clearly revels in singing deliciously smarmy lyrics like, “Well, raisin’ up babies is our new sport/You’re one day late and I’m one dollar short/Now, maybe it was planned or maybe it was a goof/But a cat’s got to dance on a hot tin roof.”

    #3

    Darrell Scott, “Goodle’ USA”

    The Invisible Man

    A more watered down version of this song can be heard on Faith Hill’s album. If one doesn’t listen closely, it’s easy to miss the probing lyrics that question the state of America. While Scott’s recording is not quite as polished, the political message is much more overt, which includes his original lyrics that were altered for Hill’s version to be less controversial.

    #2

    Dixie Chicks, “Long Time Gone”

    Home

    This is the other song that was written by Scott and recorded by The Chicks that takes Nashville to task. Wrapped in an unshakably catchy melody, “Long Time Gone” disregards conventional niceties and tersely critiques the music that’s being played on the radio:

    “Now me and Delia singin’ every Sunday
    Watchin’ the children and the garden grow
    We listen to the radio to hear what’s cookin’
    But the music ain’t got no soul

    Now they sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard
    They got money but they don’t have cash
    They got Junior but they don’t have Hank
    I think, I think, I think…the rest is…
    A long Time Gone”

    #1

    Patty Loveless, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”

    Mountain Soul

    Patty Loveless’ recording of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” sounds like a superb arrangement of a forgotten classic, except it isn’t a remake and was written just over ten years ago. While I feel the definitive version was recorded by Patty Loveless, Darrell Scott has recorded two versions that, even if Loveless’ version did not exist, would earn a spot on this list. Through haunting lyrics and melodic structure, “Harlan” tells the tragic story of the bleak existence of coalminers that is just about inevitable:

    “But the times got hard and tobacco wasn’t selling
    And old granddad knew what he’d do to survive
    He went and dug for Harlan coal
    And sent the money back to grandma
    But he never left Harlan alive

    Where the sun comes up about ten in the mornin’
    And the sun goes down about three in the day
    And you’ll fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you’re drinkin’
    And you spend your life just thinkin’ of how to get away”

    Patty Loveless sings this song with an immense emotional intensity that was likely gathered from personal experience as a daughter of a coalmining father who eventually succumbed to “Black Lung Disease” as a result of coalmining in Kentucky. In fact, each person who has sung this song so far, including Darrell Scott himself, has a personal and deep understanding of the significance of the hopelessness that the lyrics convey, since Brad Paisley, Kathy Mattea and Scott also lived in coalmining towns as children. Consequently, they were all exposed to the horrifying reality of the song’s title that authoritatively proclaims that “you’ll never leave Harlan Alive.”

    This list certainly does not exhaust the extent of Darrell Scott’s immeasurable songwriting prowess, but it shows his wide range of capabilities as a diverse composer and lyricist. He can do fun, heartbreak, inspirational, political, social commentary, fast, slow, etc. Moreover, he does it all with poignancy and wit, as it is appropriate.

    14 Comments

    Filed under Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters

    Independent Suggestions

    emusicIn one of last summer’s discussion threads, Matt B., from Roughstock, mentioned a great place to buy music. As a compulsive music buyer, I was easily compelled to check it out.

    For those who aren’t aware of it, E-music has a wide variety of independent digital music, including plenty of our favorite kind, country music. However, as an independent digital retailer, they don’t necessarily have the big, recognizable names. For me, this is refreshing because it forces me to do some serious searching on their site in order to purchase music from artists that I might otherwise inadvertently overlook.

    I’ve found a ton of great music so far, including albums from Darrell Scott, Jason Boland, Reckless Kelly, The Be Good Tanyas, Chris Knight, etc. My favorite find, however, was the two bonus tracks on Kathy Mattea’s Coal.

    My question to you tonight is in every way self-serving, but I’d like to have your help so that I can continue to expand my independent music collection. So, I come to you, our wise readers, with this question:

    What lesser-known artists would you suggest who can be found on E-music or other independent outlets?

    14 Comments

    Filed under Discussion

    Leeann Ward’s Top Ten Albums of 2008

    steel-drivers#10

    The SteelDrivers, The SteelDrivers

    Chris Stapleton’s voice just blows me away. As Lee Ann Womack has recently observed, he sings like a real man. He takes Travis Tritt’s soulfulness to a whole new level. With incredible harmonies and terrific songs not limited to “Blue Side of the Mountain” and “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey”, this is a strong project that certainly stood out in 2008.

    #9

    Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Comal County Blue

    I love Boland’s folk-tinged country voice, which sings these memorable fiddle laden melodies to great affect. While the lyrics can be abstract at times, they still manage to feel meaningful. I’ve come to realize that what ultimately appeals to me about this album is the fact that it reminds me of good nineties country music, which is the era that drew me to this genre in the first place.

    #8

    Darrell Scott, Modern Hymns

    My admiration for Darrell Scott is unending. I, of course, love his voice, but I especially love his thoughtful songwriting. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” just floors me every time I hear it. In this project, however, he chose to cover some of his favorite songs that he classifies as modern hymns. Unsurprisingly, these choices turn out to be as interesting as his own compositions, which simply confirms that his talent is inspired by tasteful writing equal to his own.

    #7

    Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song

    Admittedly, nothing about this album is warm or pretty. Johnson’s vocals are harsh and the songs are mostly darker than we’re accustomed to hearing in country music these days. Along with the outlaw tinged productions, these factors are the fundamental elements of this great album.

    peter-cooper-mission-door#6

    Peter Cooper, Mission Door

    While the melodies on his first album, Mission Door, are enough to draw you in, it is Peter Cooper’s provocative and insightful lyrics which catch you by surprise on this folk infused, steel guitar laden album. Cooper either wrote or co-wrote ten out of the twelve tracks that explores such weighty topics as racism and poverty. He enlists the help of Nanci Griffith and Todd Snider, his two favorite singers, on the album’s stand out title track, along with recording his own mellower version of “Thin Wild Mercury”, which he co-wrote with Todd Snider for Snider’s The Devil You Know album.

    The best and most powerful song on the album, however, is “715 (For Hank Aaron), a song that discusses the duality of Aaron being a revered baseball player and an oppressed black man. This grossly ignored album that sounds like a mix of Darrell Scott and Todd Snider, with lots of steel guitar thrown in for good measure, is one of the year’s most intriguing albums.

    Continue reading

    7 Comments

    Filed under Best of 2008

    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.

    Continue reading

    10 Comments

    Filed under Best of 2008

    Darrell Scott

    Darrell Scott was born on a tobacco farm in 1959 in London, Kentucky, but was raised in East Gary, Indiana where his father worked as a steel worker. When he was eleven, his family moved to Southern California where his musical father, Wayne, started a band comprised of Darrell and his four brothers. His father’s band played in roadhouses and taverns all over the United States, including traveling as far North as Alaska.

    After studying Literature and earning a degree in Poetry at Tufts University, Darrell finally moved to Nashville to realize his dream of singing and songwriting in the Music City. For a while, he worked as a skilled session musician and played guitar and banjo on albums for people such as Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, Steve Earle and Guy Clark, among others.

    The first of his songs to be recorded was “No Way Out,” which was released by Suzy Bogguss in 1996. Following that cut, many other artists started to record Scott’s songs as well, including The Dixie Chicks who took “Long Time Gone” into the top ten on the charts, which also earned a Grammy nomination in 2003. “Long Time Gone” famously and cleverly reproaches Nashville for its slick productions that often fails to consider art or authenticity: ” Now they sound tired but they don’t sound haggard/They’ve got money but they don’t have cash/They got junior but they don’t have hank/I think, I think, I think/The rest is a long time gone…”

    Other artists who have had the good taste to record his songs include Garth Brooks, Guy Clark, Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Sara Evans, Tim McGraw, Travis Tritt, Brad Paisley, Darryl Worley and Kathy Mattea. In an article for the Houston Chronicle, Scott admits: “They were written for me and first appeared on my records before they ever became hits. I’ve tried to write hits, and all I ever end up with are lousy songs that sound like I was sitting around trying to write for the radio. So I stopped doing that. Now I only sit down to write when I have something to say. I’m not the kind of disciplined writer who fills up notebooks or who gets up every day at 9 to write. I wait till something taps me on the shoulder.”

    Continue reading

    8 Comments

    Filed under Songwriter Series