England 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.
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!
“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
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!
“Someone Somewhere Tonight”
Individual rankings: #16 – Ben; #19 – Tara
A sweeping power ballad anchored by an intimate chorus and Pickler’s pleading sincerity. – Tara Seetharam
Alabama & Friends
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.
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
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.
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, which was also released 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 finally see the release of Joe Diffie’s bluegrass album, which is also to be released on the label.
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
Smoke Rings in the Dark
1999 | Peak: #12
A dark, atmospheric wonder, as Allan delivers the final eulogy for a love that couldn’t help burning out. – Dan Milliken
Just to See You Smile
1997 | Peak: #1
Being deeply enamored of someone can make it easy – even appealing – to forfeit your own well-being. This single’s sunny sound reflects the persistent affection pulsing through its protagonist, but its story demonstrates the heartbreak to which such unmeasured selflessness leads. – DM