Tag Archives: Diamond Rio

Country Universe Talks with James House

James HouseEngland swings, or at least it did back in Roger Miller’s day. Nowadays, England is more likely to line dance, which helped an album from one of Nashville’s top singer-songwriters become a hit – almost 20 years after it was released.

To back up a bit: in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, country music was in a creative boom era, and James House was one of the reasons. His two albums on MCA Records (James House, Hard Times for An Honest Man) and one for Epic (Days Gone By) are all top-quality affairs that featured his distinctive voice and excellent songwriting chops. While he only had one Top 10 hit — “This Is Me Missing You” — he garnered airplay with several singles. House’s real success, though, came as a songwriter, as he penned hits for the likes of Dwight Yoakam, Martina McBride and other artists.

Those three albums really deserved a wider audience, and even today, they are well worth acquiring should you ever stumble across a copy. Days Gone By, though, ended up enjoying a renaissance in England last year, where it spawned three hit singles and coaxed House back into the recording studio for a new album and an overseas tour. Not bad for an album that was released in 1995.

“The way this all got started is that country line dance and line dancing in general is generated by the choreographers,” House says. “A choreographer there by the name of Yvonne Anderson had my records for a long, long time. She said that something happened in her life, and she was listening to “This Is Me Missing You,” and something struck her to make a line dance for it.”

The dance and the song took off, and it was soon followed by“Little by Little” and “A Good Way to Wind Up Lonesome,” also from the Days Gone By album. By July 2013, House was a major hitmaker in England. He didn’t find out about it until November.

“A fan said, ‘Do you realize that “This Is Me Missing You” is #1 on the Country Dance charts?’” he recalls. “My immediate reaction was, ‘Great, who cut it?’ and the e-mail came back that said, ‘No, it’s your actual record.’”

House had toured England as an opening act for Randy Travis in the early ‘90s, and that was his only substantial time there as a country singer. After doing a little research and talking to the magazine that ran the charts, he began putting feelers out for a trip overseas for a promotional tour. That quickly snowballed into a full-fledged tour of England, with 19 shows in July and August that are sold out or are quickly approaching that level.

House also decided to put together a new album. Broken Glass Twisted Steel, released April 29, is his first solo release on his own record label, Victor House Records. Earlier this year, he released a blues-rock record for the Troubador Kings, a side project where he sings and plays lead guitar.

Broken Glass makes for a pretty comprehensive James House primer. Three of the 11 tracks are his versions of #1 hits he wrote: “In a Week or Two” by Diamond Rio, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” by Yoakam, and “A Broken Wing” by McBride.

“Then there was a song, “Here’s to You,” that I cut in 1990, and I never felt like I nailed it,” he adds. “So I recut that and was really happy with how that came out. The rest is new stuff.”

“King of Nothing” was something that he had written with the Warren Brothers in the late ‘90s and sang live for years. He recorded that song on the advice of his wife. The rest of the album came together after pouring through his catalog for songs he liked. The first single, “Every Time It Rains,” was rediscovered in the process.

“I wrote it about six or eight months ago with Michael Bradford, who played bass and co-produced the record with me. I had forgotten all about it,” House says. “I had never turned it into my publisher for some reason. I probably just demoed it and stuck it in a drawer somewhere. When we recorded it, it just had that feel that it might want to be played over and over. Hopefully everybody will feel the same about it.”

Despite the 20-year gap in House’s recording career (he has recorded new music periodically), Broken Glass fits in quite nicely with his previous work. His earlier albums never tried to keep up with the production trends of the era, which is probably why don’t sound dated today. Broken Glass is unmistakably country, albeit with a rock edge, and House’s new songs aren’t limited to the typical topics found in today’s country music.

“I was thinking about the album and how there are no trucks on it,” House says. “Love songs to me are timeless, and there are people doing pickup truck songs so much better than me.

Besides, “I like muscle cars, so if I’m going to write about a car, it’s going to be a Chevy Malibu or something,” he adds.

House’s upcoming tour through England appears to be just the start of a busy time for him. He’s working on a U.S. tour now, and he recently made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he says of his touring plans. “I’m getting e-mails all the time from the promoter saying that shows have sold out. It’s a blessing to have this much excitement about it. And at this stage to have it happen, I’m grateful.”

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Country Universe’s Best Singles of 2013, Part Two: #20-#1

If this year’s singles list leaves you with a familiar feeling, it’s not your imagination.  For the first time in Country Universe history, an artist has topped the year end list for two years in a row, and there are plenty of repeat appearances from CU favorites.   But there are some fresh faces too, including some promising new singer-songwriters and inspired collaborations from artists we already liked an awful lot by themselves.

As always, share your thoughts and personal favorites in the comments!

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell's "Hanging Up My Heart" is popular on XPN2: Singer-Songwriter Radio.

#20
“Hangin’ Up My Heart”
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

Individual rankings:  #3 – Leeann; #20 – Kevin

What a way for Emmylou and Rodney to kick off their much anticipated duet project! The bouncy tune shows the power duo in fine form both in voice and spunk and signals what will turn out to be one of the finest albums of the year. - Leeann Ward

Gary Allan It Ain't the Whiskey

#19
“It Ain’t the Whiskey”
Gary Allan

Individual rankings:  #10 – Dan; #13 – Jonathan; #18 – Kevin

The most Allan has sounded like his old self in seven years. You can’t blame him for dialing back his intensity after the dark, heartbreaking Tough All Over, but it’s a real treat to hear him snarl out a great country weeper again.- Dan Milliken

Sturgill Simpson Railroad of Sin

#18
“Railroad of Sin”
Sturgill Simpson

Individual rankings:  #5 – Jonathan; #8 – Sam

It’s hard to pick out a highlight from Simpson’s High Top Mountain, but this song would have to be in the running. Though just a shade over two minutes in length, “Railroad” roars, rumbles and packs in more energy and attitude than whole albums from Blake Shelton or Luke Bryan. For those starving for pure, unadulterated country music, Simpson’s debut album was one of the great joys of 2013.  - Sam Gazdziak

Kelly Willis Bruce Robison 9,999,999 Tears

#17
“9,999,999 Tears”
Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison

Individual rankings:  #9 – Jonathan; #18 – Ben; #19 – Sam; #20 – Tara

Few singers are as adept as Kelly Willis at making their misery sound downright joyful. Even when she’s telling her ex that a lifetime of crying might suffice to get over him, Willis sounds like she’s determined to enjoy, either out of spite or pure masochism, each and every one of the tears she has in her future. - Jonathan Keefe

Lori McKenna Salt

#16
“Salt”
Lori McKenna

Individual rankings:  #3 – Dan; #5 – Kevin

“You ain’t worth the spit in my mouth when I scream out your name.” McKenna minces no words whatsoever as her steady, rumbling rage builds into a righteous evisceration of a selfish lover. Masterfully chosen details convey the full depth of the heartbreak in a few simple lines. Staggering. - Dan Milliken

Corb Lund Hayes Carll Bible on the Dash

#15
“Bible on the Dash”
Corb Lund featuring Hayes Carll

Individual rankings:  #5 – Jonathan; #8 – Sam

Lund and Carll share a similar twisted sense of humor, so this song about using a Bible to sweet-talk their way through police stops is right up their alleys. The video, featuring Carll as a Texas state trooper and Lund as a Mountie, is worth seeking out as well. - Sam Gazdziak

Billie Joe + Norah Long Time Gone

#14
“Long Time Gone”
Billie Joe + Norah

Individual rankings:  #2 – Leann; #17 – Tara; #19 – Kevin

The tight vocals of Norah Jones and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong are both surprising and stunning. From their collaborative project that covers the entire Everly Brother’s Songs Our Daddy Taught Us album, Jones and Armstrong brilliantly recreate the magic of the Brothers’ familial harmonies without actually being family themselves on the album’s first single, “Long Time Gone.” The song is bright and hard core country, not to mention it can be replayed a million times over without feeling stale. - Leeann Ward

Charlie Worsham Could It Be

#13
“Could it Be”
Charlie Worsham

Individual rankings:  #10 – Tara, Jonathan; #12 – Sam; #14 – Dan

A throwback to the uncomplicated pop-country sound of the ‘90s –part Vince Gill, part Clay Walker, part Diamond Rio– that still sounds undeniably current, thanks to one of the freshest opening hooks in recent memory.  - Tara Seetharam

Delta Rae Lindsey Buckingham If I Loved You

#12
“If I Loved You”
Delta Rae featuring Lindsey Buckingham

Individual rankings:  #3 – Jonathan; #5 – Tara; #19 – Dan

Delta Rae can, at times, skew a little too far into “show choir” territory, but “If I Loved You” isn’t one of those times. Their intricate harmonies, dramatic dynamic shifts, and outsized vocal performances are entirely in service to a song about how deeply it can hurt when, “It isn’t you, it’s me,” is the truth and not just a cop-out. - Jonathan Keefe

Miranda Lambert All Kinds of Kinds

#11
“All Kinds of Kinds”
Miranda Lambert

Individual rankings:  #2 – Sam; #11 – Leeann, Tara; #12 – Dan

This oddity is something that could only have come from the pen of Don Henry, along with co-writer Phillip Coleman. While the women in country music are more likely to be singing about married circus performers and cross-dressing politicians, Lambert is the best-suited to sing about a rebellious child determined to make her own way in life. - Sam Gazdziak

Alan Jackson Blue Ridge Mountain Song

#10
“Blue Ridge Mountain Song”

Alan Jackson

Individual rankings:  #8 – Kevin, Leeann, Ben; #9 – Tara

Something of a close cousin to his classic “Livin’ on Love”, the storyline of this young couple is so similar that it’s quite the sucker-punch when they don’t get their happily ever after.   As the protagonist falls to his knees, begging God not to take his love away from him, Jackson lets that moment linger in our hearts and minds as the bluegrass band takes over for a short time.  When he returns with the heart-wrenching image of our widowed hero sitting on the front porch all alone, with only memories to keep him company, it’s a hurt that returns with every listen, as unquenchable as grief itself. – Kevin Coyne

Holly Williams Drinkin

#9
“Drinkin’”
Holly Williams

Individual rankings:  #4 – Leeann; #6 – Tara; #13 – Kevin; #17 – Dan; #19 – Jonathan

“Drinkin” is far more than its simple title. While cleverly connecting the end to the beginning, the song explores the slippery slope of excessive drinking and its ravaging effects on a family. It starts with Williams pleading for understanding for why her mate is “drinking like the night is young” and ends with her own version of personal understanding as she realizes that she has been driven to go down that same distructive road.  - Leeann Ward

LEann Rimes Rob Thomas Gasoline and Matches

#8
“Gasoline and Matches”
LeAnn Rimes featuring Rob Thomas

Individual rankings:  #1 – Leeann, Ben; #13 – Dan; #17 – Jonathan

Rimes’ astounding growth as a vocal interpreter is hardly limited to her ballads – on “Gasoline and Matches” she rocks out like never before, tearing into the deliriously catchy Buddy and Julie Miller song with an uninhibited spitfire (pun intended) of a performance. Rob Thomas proves an ideal match for Rimes’ energy and intensity, the two displaying an explosive chemistry that perfectly fits the song’s central metaphor. Finish it off with an aggressive, driving production, complete with a searing Jeff Beck guitar solo, and you have one of the most unabashedly addictive songs of 2013. - Ben Foster

Jason Isbell Traveling Alone

#7
“Traveling Alone”
Jason Isbell

Individual rankings:  #4 – Sam; #5 – Dan; #6 – Kevin; #8 – Tara; #13 – Leeann

This lonely man’s lament is perhaps most compelling because it captures him at the very moment that he’s discovering his loneliness, as he has clearly been a satisfied loner up until this point.  Isbell’s sharply drawn characters are a signature of his writing, and his encounter with those dancing ladies of the evening in the second verse, who won’t even take his money, is vividly real and sympathetically endearing. - Kevin Coyne
Chris Stapleton What Are You Listening To

#6
“What are You Listening To”
Chris Stapleton

Individual rankings:  #2 – Tara; #9 – Kevin, Dan; #12 – Leeann; #15 – Jonathan; #17 – Sam

Simply the most cathartic song about songs in years, layering blues and soul with the kind of crushing anguish only a master class vocal can convey. - Tara Seetharam

LEAnn Rimes Borrowed

#5
“Borrowed”
LeAnn Rimes

Individual rankings:  #3 – Kevin; #5 – Leeann; #7 – Tara, Jonathan; #11 – Dan

LeAnn Rimes’ career of late has been all about her choices. “Borrowed” may touch upon the decisions she’s made in her private life, but what’s far more interesting about the single are the choices she makes in her nuanced vocal performance. The way she breaks her voice into the high note as she sings the word “borrowed” at the end of each chorus, how she drops into her lower register whenever she’s admitting her status as the proverbial Other Woman, and the clarity and resolve in her delivery of the line, “I don’t want to give you back”: They’re all choices of a truly masterful storyteller. - Jonathan Keefe

Brandy Clark Stripes

#4
“Stripes”
Brandy Clark

Individual rankings:  #3 – Ben; #6 – Leeann; #7 – Sam; #8 – Dan; #13 – Tara; #15 – Kevin

The unintentionally anti-revenge song, “Stripes” is clever and funny. While she would like to commit a crime of passion as a consequence for her lover’s cheating ways, she decides against it because “there’s no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion.” But even when the silly punch line wears off, Clark’s endearing performance and the addictive rhythm section will prevent the song from descending into lame novelty status.  - Leeann Ward

Little Big Town Sober

#3
“Sober”
Little Big Town

Individual rankings:  #1 – Tara, Jonathan; #2 – Ben; #4 – Dan; #16 – Sam; #18 – Leeann

Country music’s done well by love: It understands it, respects it and celebrates it without adornment. But few country songs have tapped into as exquisitely –as spiritually, even– as “Sober,” an arms-raised surrender that dares to mirror the intoxication of love. There’s not a hint of restraint in “Sober’s” fabric, no self-consciousness in its confessional chorus or lilting harmonies. Sweetest of all is the abandon in Kimberly Schlapman’s performance, so mesmerizing that you can’t help but feel a little mind-altered yourself.  - Tara Seetharam

Miranda Lambert Mamas Broken Heart

#2
“Mama’s Broken Heart”
Miranda Lambert

Individual rankings:  #2 – Kevin, Dan; #3 – Sam; #4 – Tara, Ben; #15 – Leeann; #20 – Jonathan

Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark dominate the top five of this list as writers and performers, and “Mama’s Broken Heart” is a further reminder how compelling their writing is, even in the hands of other performers. Lambert’s manic energy and signature edge is often paired with over the top material, so it’s awesome to hear her tear into a relatively grounded breakup song.  You know if she wrote this, she wouldn’t be just cutting her bangs with those rusty kitchen scissors.  The more realistic approach taken here allows for some sly generational and feminist commentary, another signature of both Musgraves and Clark, and Lambert, too, when she’s at her best.   - Kevin Coyne

Kacey Musgraves Follow Your Arrow

#1
“Follow Your Arrow”
Kacey Musgraves

Individual rankings:  #1 – Dan, Sam; #3 – Tara; #4 – Kevin, Jonathan; #5 – Ben; #14 – Leeann

Surprised? You’re probably not surprised. Musgraves topped our singles list last year with the sharp “Merry Go ‘Round,” and if anything, “Follow Your Arrow” one-ups it, offering an uplifting antidote to the malaise that “Merry Go ‘Round” warns of: go forth and live happily, whatever the word may mean to you.

There’s a little more to it, of course. The song is historically huge in its warm embrace of sexual diversity and religious tolerance, and its commentary on body image issues isn’t far behind. It rides a plucky, acoustic groove that dares to believe modern country music can sound like John Prine. It looks at life the way life really is, complicated and controversial, and does so with concise phrasing and a working sense of humor—why, that sounds like a classic country song to me. - Dan Milliken

Country Universe’s Best of 2013:

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Country Universe’s Best Singles of 2013, Part One: #40-#21

For the second year in a row, our seven writers – Kevin Coyne, Leeann Ward, Dan Milliken, Tara Seetharam, Ben Foster, Jonathan Keefe, and Sam Gazdziak –  individually listed our twenty favorite albums and singles of the year. It’s a diverse crop of singles, some of which dominated country radio, while others were primarily heard in the Americana, bluegrass, and alternative country worlds. Today, we present the first half of our singles list, with the conclusion to follow tomorrow. Share your favorites in the comments!

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#40
“Someone Somewhere Tonight”
Kellie Pickler

Individual rankings:  #16 – Ben; #19 – Tara

A sweeping power ballad anchored by an intimate chorus and Pickler’s pleading sincerity.  - Tara Seetharam

Will Hoge Strong
#39
“Strong”
Will Hoge

Individual rankings: #10 – Sam

Yeah, it’s the Chevy song, but whatever it takes to get Will Hoge introduced to a larger audience can’t be a bad thing. His lyrics about a true salt-of-the-earth individual ring true without ever steering into maudlin territory, and the line, “he ain’t jut tough, he’s strong,” is a great hook. It probably moved a fair number of pickup trucks, too. - Sam Gazdziak

Dierks Bentley Bourbon in Kentucky

#38
Bourbon in Kentucky”
Dierks Bentley

Individual rankings: #9 – Leeann

Although Bentley vies for radio play, “Bourbon in Kentucky” still sounds unique enough to stand out from the generic bombast of the male players on current country radio. In service to the intense angst of the song, the wailing guitars and the mix of Bentley’s and Kacey Musgraves’ emotive vocals make this single a riveting sonic and emotional experience. - Leeann Ward

Laura Bell Bundy You and I

#37
“You and I”
Laura Bell Bundy

Individual rankings: #8 – Jonathan

Laura Bell Bundy goes more-Shania-than-Shania on a cover of Lady Gaga’s “You and I” that aches and shakes in equal measure. Bundy’s music is best when she embraces her campiest impulses, so it makes perfect sense for her to take a signature hit by the most theatrical star in pop and lasso it into the country genre. - Jonathan Keefe

Kenny Rogers Dolly Parton Old Friends

#36
“You Can’t Make Old Friends”
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

Individual rankings: #7 – Kevin

After several attempts to recreate the youthful playfulness of the classic “Islands in the Stream”, Rogers and Parton embrace their age and confront their own mortality. It’s an obvious truth that no matter how great a new friend is, they can’t replace the shared memories of someone you’ve known for a long time. Even if you’ve since parted ways, you still share a part of the other’s identity. How fitting that these two old friends are ours as well, making the entire proceedings that much more poignant. - Kevin Coyne

Steeldrivers; Rounder Records; Photo: David McClister

#35
“I’ll Be There”
The SteelDrivers

Individual rankings:  #7 – Leeann

It’s almost unheard of for a group to lose a lead singer as dynamic as Chris Stapleton and still be as strong as ever with a replacement. Gary Nichols, however, managed to seamlessly slip into the SteelDriver’s front spot with the newly revamped band’s first single, “I’ll Be There.” The song is deliciously haunting both in content and melody. - Leeann Ward

Charlie Worsham Want Me Too

#34
“Want Me Too”
Charlie Horsham

Individual rankings:  #7 – Dan

Imagine if your favorite Keith Urban song and your favorite Diamond Rio song were to meet in the middle ‘neath that old Georgia pi-i-iiine. You might end up with something like Worsham’s second single, a lovestruck tail-wagger with Urban drive and Rio harmonies. Show me a cuter line from this year than “My heart’s skippin’ like a stone on the water!” - Dan Milliken

Taylor Swift Red

#33
“Red”
Taylor Swift

Individual rankings:  #6 – Dan

“Red” is a curious mix of brilliant similes (“Fighting with him was like trying to solve a crossword and realizing there’s no right answer”), plain ol’ descriptions posing as similes (“Touching him was like realizing all you ever wanted was right there in front of you”), and logical pretzels twisted against their will into similes (“Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met”—what!). But Swift’s passion and command of melody pull the disparate pieces together, resulting in one of the year’s most unique and compulsively listenable singles. - Dan Milliken

Easton Corbin All Over the Roa

#32
“All Over the Road”
Easton Corbin
Individual rankings:  #6 – Ben

A delicious slice of steel-heavy nineties-esque escapist country bliss – complete with a breezy melody and an infectious, laid-back vocal performance. More please. - Ben Foster

Brad Paisley Beat This Summer

#31
“Beat This Summer”
Brad Paisley

Individual rankings: #11 – Ben; #19 – Leeann

With a hooky sing-along melody, addictive guitar riff, and a unique genre-bending arrangement, Paisley proves that summer hits don’t have to suck.  - Ben Foster

Mando Saenz Pocket Change

#30
“Pocket Change”
Mando Seanz

Individual rankings:  #5 – Sam

Texas radio stations jumped on this single when it was released, with good reason. Saenz has been known for his quiet, introspective ballads in the past, but “Pocket Change” starts with a slow burn before exploding into a full-blown rocker. “Where’s my Studebaker, I’m nobody’s pocket change,” he snarls as he walks/runs away from a bad love. - Sam Gazdziak

Ashley Monroe Weed instead of roses

#29
“Weed Instead of Roses”
Ashley Monroe

Individual rankings:  #16 – Tara, Jonathan; #20 – Sam

One woman’s plea to pump some action into her deflated marriage – via weed, leather and whips. It pops because it’s provocative, but it works because Monroe blends delightful charm with tongue-in-cheek boredom like the pro that she is.  - Tara Seetharam

Carrie underwood see you again

#28
“See You Again”

Carrie Underwood

Individual rankings:  #1 – Kevin

“See You Again” combines three of my favorite things: death, positivity, and power vocals. The entire premise that a person can look past their grief because their faith tells them they’ll be reunited with their lost loved one is hardly new to country music, but it’s rarely presented with such confident bravado and so little melancholy. I can’t think of another singer who could pull that off as believably as Underwood, who by the end of these proceedings makes me hope that the choir of angels in heaven sound like her insanely catchy backup singers do here. - Kevin Coyne

Old Crow Medicine Show Carry Me Back to Virginia

#27
“Carry Me Back to Virginia”
Old Crow Medicine Show

Individual rankings: #9 – Sam; #12 – Jonathan

For anyone who wants to discover Old Crow Medicine Show beyond “Wagon Wheel,” this song is an excellent primer. Lightning-fast fiddle and vocals from Ketch Secor with a song about the Civil War, and crack band of musicians that favor enthusiasm over the precision that is often found in bluegrass. They’ve been often imitated but never duplicated. - Sam Gazdziak

Kacey Musgraves Blowin' Smoke

#26
“Blowin’ Smoke”
Kacey Musgraves

Individual rankings: #7 – Ben; #15 – Sam

For three glorious minutes, the voice of the working class is heard once again on country radio. Musgraves suitably renders the song with a rundown sigh of a performance, while a gritty, rumbling arrangement places the listener right in the midst of the smoky haze. - Ben Foster

Ashley Monroe You Got Me

#25
“You Got Me”
Ashley Monroe

Individual rankings: #14 – Kevin; #15 – Ben; #16 – Leeann

On the surface, it’s obvious that this is about an entangled dysfunctional relationship, but listening deeper reveals that the relationship is with an addictive substance. Encased in a deep melancholy, the song cleverly and astutely captures the parallels with the two types of relational embattlements. The observations acknowledge that while the sources may be different, many of the general effects are the same. - Leeann Ward

Amos Lee Chill in the Air

#24
“Chill in the Air”
Amos Lee

Individual rankings:  #14 – Tara; #15 – Dan; #16 – Kevin

A smooth yet moody cocktail of country, folk, and soul that rides its long drawl into a sweet, simple chorus. Shoulda been a hit. - Dan Milliken

The Band Perry DONE

#23
“DONE.”
The Band Perry

Individual rankings: #6 – Jonathan; #15 – Tara

At a time when most contemporary country acts are aspiring to sound like arena rock, metal, and post-grunge bands that were terrible in the first place, The Band Perry at least had the good taste to blatantly rip off one of the best rock singles of the last decade for their hit “DONE.” - Jonathan Keefe

Tillis Morgan I Know What You Did Last Night

#22
“I Know What You Did Last Night”
Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan

Individual rankings: #10 – Kevin, Ben

They may be in their fifties, but make no mistake about it: Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan can still party down when they want to. Built around good-humored conversational interplay between two old friends, “I Know What You Did Last Night” is one of the freshest, most entertaining up-tempos sent to radio this year, and a reminder that Tillis and Morgan are still two of country music’s most vibrant talents.  - Ben Foster

Rhonda Vincent I'd Rather Hear I Don't Love You

#21
“I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Nothing at All)”
Rhonda Vincent

Individual rankings:  #9 – Ben; #10 – Leeann

Rhonda Vincent is always supreme whether she’s singing traditional bluegrass or, in this case, a good ol’ country weeper. Supported with the best kind of country acoustic instrumentation, Vincent’s voice satisfyingly leans into the heartbreak and desperation of a woman who is gripping a relationship that is obviously already dead. She knows it’s over, but her heart says that it’s not over until he literally says it’s over.  - Leeann Ward

Country Universe’s Best of 2013:

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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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Retro Single Review: George Strait, "Ace in the Hole"

1989 | Peak: #1

A Western Swing spin on “The Gambler.”

Not much to say about it beyond that.  It bounces along pleasantly enough, and despite

the recycled life lessons, it still packs a little punch.

It also showcases Strait’s live sound better than most of his singles do, letting the band loose for a surprisingly long time, given the remarkably short 2:34 running time.

Fun fact: the B-side of the single was “Oh Me, Oh My, Sweet Baby”, which would be a top five hit for Diamond Rio a few years later.

Written by Dennis Adkins

Grade: B+

Next: Overnight Success

Previous: What’s Going on in  Your World

 

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2011 Grammy Pre-Telecast Winners

Refresh for updates. Major categories will be announced above the fold:

Male Country Vocal Performance: Keith Urban, “‘Til Summer Comes Around”

Country Duo/Group Vocal Performance: Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”

Country Song: Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott, “Need You Now”

Country Collaboration with Vocals: Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson, “As She’s Walking Away”

Country Instrumental Performance: Marty Stuart, “Hummingbyrd”

Bluegrass Album: Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul II

Americana Album: Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone

Traditional Folk Album: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Genuine Negro Jig

Contemporary Folk Album: Ray LaMontagne And The Pariah Dogs, God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise

Southern/Country/Gospel Bluegrass Album: Diamond Rio, The Reason

Traditional Gospel Album: Patty Griffin, Downtown Church

_____

Short Form Music Video: Lady GaGa, “Bad Romance”

Long Form Music Video: The Doors, When You’re Strange

Recording Package: The Black Keys, Brothers

Boxed Limited Edition Package: The White Stripes, Under Great White Northern Lights

Album Notes: Big Star, Keep an Eye on the Sky

Historical Album: The Beatles, Original Studio Recordings

Engineered Album, Non-Classical: John Mayer, Battle Studies

Remixed Recording: Madonna, “Revolver (David Guetta’s One Love Club Remix)”

Surround Sound Album: Michael Stern & Kansas City Symphony, Britten’s Orchestra

Instrumental Composition: Billy Childs, “The Path Among the Trees”

Instrumental Arrangement: John Scofield, Vince Mendoza & Metropole Orkest, “Carlos”

Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals: Christopher Tin, Soweto Gospel Choir & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, “Baba Yetu”

Compilation Soundtrack Album: Crazy Heart

Score Soundtrack Album: Toy Story 3

Motion Picture, TV, Visual Media Song: Ryan Bingham & T. Bone Burnett, “The Weary Kind”

New Age Album: Kitaro, Sacred Journey Of Ku-Kai, Volume 4

Children’s Musical Album: Pete Seeger With The Rivertown Kids And Friends, Tomorrow’s Children

Children’s Spoken Word Album: Julie Andrews & Emma Walton Hamilton, Julie Andrews’ Collection Of Poems, Songs, And Lullabies

Spoken Word Album: Jon Stewart (With Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac, Jason Jones, John Oliver & Sigourney Weaver), The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Audiobook)

Musical Show Album: Billie Joe Armstrong, American Idiot (Featuring Green Day)

Hawaiian Music Album: Tia Carrere, Huana Ke Aloha

Native American Music Album: Various Artists, 2010 Gathering Of Nations Pow Wow: A Spirit’s Dance

Zydeco/Cajun Music Album: Chubby Carrier And The Bayou Swamp Band, Zydeco Junkie

Reggae Album: Buju Banton, Before The Dawn

Traditional World Music Album: Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté, Ali And Toumani

Contemporary World Music Album: Béla Fleck, Throw Down Your Heart , Africa Sessions Part 2: Unreleased Tracks

Dance Recording: Rihanna, “Only Girl (In the World)”

Electronic/Dance Album: La Roux, La Roux

Traditional Pop Vocal Album: Michael Bublé, Crazy Love

Latin Pop Album: Alejandro Sanz, Paraiso Express

Latin Rock/Alternative/Urban Album: Grupo Fantasma, El Existential

Tropical Latin Album: Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Viva La Tradición

Tejano Album:Little Joe & La Familia, Recuerdos

Norteño Album:Intocable, Classic

Banda Album:El Güero Y Su Banda Centenario, Enamórate De Mí

Gospel Performance: BeBe & CeCe Winans, “Grace”

Gospel Song: Jerry Peters & Kirk Whalum, “It’s What I Do”

Rock or Rap Gospel Album: Switchfoot, Hello Hurricane

Pop Contemporary Gospel Album: Israel Houghton, Love God. Love People.

Contemporary R&B Gospel Album: BeBe & CeCe Winans, Still

Engineering, Classical: TIE: Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony; Deus Ex Machina AND Eliesha Nelson & John McLaughlin Williams, Quincy Porter: Complete Viola Works

Orchestral Performance: Giancarlo Guerrero, Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony; Deus Ex Machina

Opera Recording:Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; Rundfunkchor Berlin, Saariaho: L’Amour De Loin

Choral Performance: Riccardo Muti, conductor; Duain Wolfe, chorus master, “Verdi: Requiem”

Instrumental Solo w/Orchestra: Mitsuko Uchida, “Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 23 & 24″

Instrumental Solo w/o Orchestra: Paul Jacobs, “Messiaen: Livre Du Saint-Sacrement”

Chamber Music Performance:Parker Quartet, “Ligeti: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2″

Small Ensemble:Jordi Savall, conductor; Hespèrion XXI & La Capella Reial De Catalunya, “Dinastia Borja”

Classical Vocal Performance:Cecilia Bartoli, “Sacrificium”

Classical Contemporary Composition: Michael Daugherty, “Deus Ex Machina”

Classical Crossover:Lucas Richman, Christopher Tin: Calling All Dawns

Producer of the Year, Classical: David Frost

Classical Album: Verdi: Requiem

Comedy Album: Lewis Black, Stark Raving Black

Contemporary Jazz Album: The Stanley Clarke Band, The Stanley Clarke Band

Jazz Vocal Album:Dee Dee Bridgewater, Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee

Improvised Jazz Solo: Herbie Hancock, “A Change is Gonna Come”

Jazz Instrumental Album: James Moody, Moody 4B

Large Jazz Ensemble Album: Mingus Big Band, Live At Jazz Standard

Latin Jazz Album: Chucho Valdés And The Afro-Cuban Messengers, Chucho’s Steps

Alternative Music Album: The Black Keys, Brothers

Traditional Blues Album:Pinetop Perkins & Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, Joined At The Hip

Contemporary Blues Album: Buddy Guy, Living Proof

Rap Solo Performance: Eminem, “Not Afraid”

Rap Duo/Group Performance: Jay-Z & Swizz Beatz, “On to the Next One”

Rap/Sung Collaboration: Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”

Rap Song: Shawn Carter, Angela Hunte, Alicia Keys, Jane’t “Jnay” Sewell-Ulepic & Alexander Shuckburgh, “Empire State of Mind”

Female R&B Vocal Performance: Fantasia, “Bittersweet”

Male R&B Vocal Performance: Usher, “There Goes My Baby”

Duo/Group R&B Vocal Performance: Sade, “Soldier of Love”

Traditional R&B Vocal Performance: John Legend & The Roots, “Hang On In There”

Urban/Alternative Performance: Cee Lo Green, “F*** You”

R&B Song: John Stephens, “Shine”

R&B Album: John Legend & The Roots, Wake Up!

Contemporary R&B Album: Usher, Raymond V Raymond

Solo Rock Vocal Performance: Paul McCartney, “Helter Skelter”

Duo/Group Rock Vocal Performance: The Black Keys, “Tighten Up”

Hard Rock Performance: Them Crooked Vultures, “New Fang”

Metal Performance: Iron Maiden, “El Dorado”

Rock Instrumental Performance: Jeff Beck, “Hammerhead”

Rock Song: Neil Young, “Angry World”

Pop Collaboration with Vocals: Herbie Hancock, Pink, India.Arie, Seal, Konono No 1, Jeff Beck & Oumou Sangare, “Imagine”

Pop Instrumental Performance: Jeff Beck, “Nessun Dorma”

Pop Instrumental Album: Larry Carlton & Tak Matsumoto, Take Your Pick

Female Pop Vocal Performance: Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”

Male Pop Vocal Performance: Bruno Mars, “Just the Way You Are”

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical: Danger Mouse







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100 Greatest Men: #91. Diamond Rio

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Theme parks are full of aspiring musicians hoping to make it big. Most of them never do, but Diamond Rio did, and in a very big way.

The nucleus of the band was formed in 1984, when lead singer Marty Roe met keyboard player Dan Truman while both were working at Opryland U.S.A., a now-defunct theme park adjacent to the Grand Ole Opry theater.

First billed as the Grizzly River Boys, they changed their name to the Tennessee River Boys before settling on Diamond Rio. Along the way, they picked up four more members: Gene Johnson, Jimmy Oleander, Brian Prout, and Dana Williams.

They quickly settled on a mainstream country sound that was tinged with bluegrass.  Though they signed to Arista in 1988, health issues with several band members delayed the recording of their debut album. When they finally hit the marketplace in 1991, their debut single, “Meet in the Middle”, became the first ever by a country group to go to #1.

Over the next decade, they would be the most consistently successful country band.  Their debut album sold platinum, and nearly every other release would sell at least gold.  They dominated at the country award shows, winning the CMA Vocal Group trophy four times.  Though they were regular fixtures on the radio from their first hit, it wasn’t until 1997 that they topped the charts again, this time with the catchy “How Your Love Makes Me Feel”, which earned an ACM nomination for Single Record of the Year.

Toward the end of their hit run, they became more known for their ballads.  “One More Day” became an anthem in the wake of the 9/11 tragedies, and “I Believe”, their final #1 hit, foreshadowed their transition into Christian music.

Even though all of their studio albums for Arista had gone at least gold, the label refused to release their eighth set, Can’t You Tell, which was recorded in 2003.  Radio hadn’t embraced the two singles sent to them from the project. Instead, the label released a second hits collection in 2005, which would be their final release for the label that featured new material. “God Only Cries”, the single from that set, became their last radio hit, peaking at #30.

Not content to play out their twilight years as a has-been country band, the group successfully embraced its Christian roots and re-emerged as a successful Christian country band.  After the warm response received for a Christmas album, they released the critically-acclaimed The Reason, which earned them a Dove Award for Country Album of the Year.

Essential Singles:

  • Meet in the Middle, 1991
  • Norma Jean Riley, 1992
  • How Your Love Makes Me Feel, 1997
  • You’re Gone, 1998
  • One More Day, 2000
  • Beautiful Mess, 2002

Essential Albums:

  • Diamond Rio, 1991
  • Love a Little Stronger, 1994
  • One More Day, 2000
  • The Reason, 2009

Next: #90. John Denver

Previous: #92. Gene Watson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


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Premium Label

September has a lot of album releases that I’m really enjoying or looking forward to. In fact, it’s the most lucrative month for music for my taste in quite some time.

Last Tuesday (September 7), Rounder Records released The SteelDrivers’ second album, Reckless (which is pretty spectacular, by the way) and this week, they will be releasing Robert Plant’s follow up to his 2007 collaborative album with Alison Krauss, also on Rounder. From the streaming preview that can be heard on NPR’s website until release day, the album is a wonderfully rootsy project helmed by Plant and Buddy Miller and includes guitar work from Darrell Scott. October will also finally see the release of Joe Diffie’s bluegrass album on the label.

When one learns that an album will be released through Rounder Records (which has recently been sold to Concord Music Group), it’s pretty much automatically expected that the project will be quality. Whether it’s The SteelDrivers, Robert Plant, Joe Diffie, John Mellancamp, Alison Krauss or Willie Nelson, it’s reasonable to assume certain aspects of a Rounder release, including that the album may even stray from a typical artist release to be more rootsy in approach, as is the case with the recent Willie Nelson and John Mellancamp albums, along with the upcoming Diffie project. More often than not, I can count on Rounder Records to please my musical sensibilities, even with unexpected artists, since I never expected that Robert Plant would be recording some of my favorite roots music.

As much as I love and count on Rounder Records to produce great music, my absolute favorite record company is Sugar Hill Records (owned by Vanguard Records). Incidentally, Joey+Rory will be releasing their anticipated second album through Sugar Hill on Tuesday (September 14). Additionally, Marty Stuart’s recent release, the excellent Ghost Train, was released through them as well. Other artist who have been associated with Sugar Hill include, but are not limited to: Nickel Creek, Ricky Skaggs, Guy Clark, Dolly Parton, Darrell Scott, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, The Duhks, Sarah Jarosz, and the list goes on. As with Rounder Records, many artists seem to release albums with Sugar Hill as a deviation from the music for which they are most popularly associated, as is the case with Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, and even Rodney Crowell, who released his venerable The Houston Kid on the label.

Right now, it seems that my favorite record labels aren’t in the business of releasing music that we hear on mainstream country radio, though Joey+Rory are attempting to crack through. While I don’t have the inside knowledge to say that it doesn’t exist, we don’t hear about the red tape and politics that is ever present with major companies like, lets say, the infamous Curb Records, which has produced some rather publicly disgruntled artists, most notably Tim McGraw and the two Living Hank Williamses.

But when I was a kid, MCA Records was the label that seemed like the powerhouse record company for country music to me. Some of my favorite artists were on that label, including Trisha Yearwood, George Strait, Reba McEntire and, of course, Vince Gill. I admired the country roster of Arista as well, which included Alan Jackson, Diamond Rio, Radney Foster, and Blackhawk.

Along with reminding you about some good releases that have recently been released and will soon be available, this is the very long and self-indulgent way of getting to the question of:

What is the record label that you most admire and can count on to release your favorite music?

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #25-#1

And so we come to the end. The top of our list includes a wide range of artists singing a wide range of country music styles.  Thematically, these entries are diverse, but what they all have in common is what has always made for great country music. They are all perfectly-written songs delivered with sincerity by the artists who brought them to life.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #25-#1

#25
Smoke Rings in the Dark
Gary Allan
1999 | Peak: #12

Listen

A dark, atmospheric wonder, as Allan delivers the final eulogy for a love that couldn’t help burning out. – Dan Milliken

#24
Just to See You Smile
Tim McGraw
1997 | Peak: #1

Listen

Being deeply enamored of someone can make it easy – even appealing – to forfeit your own well-being. This single’s sunny tone reflects the persistent affection running through its protagonist, but its story demonstrates the heartbreak to which such unmeasured selflessness leads. – DM Continue reading

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #225-#201

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

#225
Passionate Kisses
Mary Chapin Carpenter
1992 | Peak: #4

Listen

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

#224
Black Coffee
Lacy J. Dalton
1990 | Peak: #15

Listen

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 Continue reading

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