This fall, there seems to be as many new albums from significant country artists as I can remember. Just look at Roughstock’s indispensable Fall 2010 Releases list.
New releases are on the way from no less than eight past CMA Entertainer of the Year nominees and winners, along with current top sellers Zac Brown Band, Billy Currington, Jamey Johnson, and Montgomery Gentry.
So head on over to see that list, then come back to answer this question:
What Fall 2010 CD Release are you most excited for?
For me, it’s no contest. I can’t wait to hear Sugarland’s The Incredible Machine. Their last studio set, Love On the Inside, is my favorite mainstream country album of the past five years, and I still haven’t gotten tired of the covers they included in their stopgap set Live On the Inside.
Plus, “Stuck Like Glue” is my favorite lead single from any of their albums so far, no small feat given my deep affection for “Want To.” Given that a new Dixie Chicks album comes along about as quickly as a Senator goes up for re-election, I need a fix of music from a really great country band, stat.
This Keith Whitley classic was recorded as part of a tribute album to the late country star. It became a hit all over again, perhaps because Krauss performed it in a near-whisper. The quiet arrangement matches the sentiment beautifully. – Kevin Coyne
Lawrence dishes on his ex’s cheating ways to her new potential lover. How did she get that way? He reveals that he’s the one who taught her everything she knows from the cheater’s playbook. Moreover, he seems regretful of her corruption. – Leeann Ward
Cowboy Take Me Away Dixie Chicks
1999 | Peak: #1
In a modern world where life can so easily feel cold and mechanical, love remains earthy and exciting and mysterious. It’s a window into a different world, one where we’re not defined by the predictables of our routine – the same stresses, the same cars and buildings – but by our core nature as people, our place in the greater fabric of Earth and, perhaps, heaven. On the surface, “Cowboy Take Me Away” sounds like just a sugar-sweet love song – I’ve even heard it called “pre-feminist” – but there’s something else going on here: a plea for life to have meaning again. – Dan Milliken (more…)
To continue Country Universe’s celebration of the nineties, I’m throwing in a nineties edition of iPod Check. The rules are simple: put your iPod on shuffle and list the first ten songs to pop up that were released in the nineties. They don’t have to be singles, and they don’t have to be country.
I’ve listed my ten songs below. Share yours in the comments, and check your shame at the door! (I’ve got 1994’s “Hakuna Matata” on my iPod, but sadly, it did not come up in shuffle.)
1. Sara Evans, “There’s Only One”
2. Michael Jackson, “Remember the Time”
3. Shania Twain, “You Win My Love”
4. Martina McBride, “O Come All Ye Faithful”
5. Dixie Chicks, “Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way?)”
6. Original Broadway Cast of Rent, “Seasons of Love”
Tritt gives a surprisingly but fittingly subdued performance on this cover of a Steve Earle song, telling the story of a woman who sometimes forgets that she’s sworn off men. I can never get enough of the incredibly cool arrangement. – Tara Seetharam (more…)
The hits come from all over the place here. Breakthrough hits from Trace Adkins and Carlene Carter join one-hit wonders Brother Phelps and George Ducas. And alongside crafty covers of songs by sixties rock band The Searchers and nineties country artist Joy Lynn White, you can also find tracks from three diamond-selling country albums.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #200-#176
Carrying Your Love With Me George Strait
1997 | Peak: #1
A traveler gets through his lonely nights on the sheer strength of love. It’s perhaps a little too saccharine for some, but the sweet melody and Strait’s understated vocals make the record work. – Tara Seetharam
A man sits around in a bar “talking ’bout the good old times, bragging on how it used to be.” Standard premise, but Black’s melancholy performance lifts the record to Haggardly heights. – Dan Milliken (more…)
As we did last year, it’s time to share our preferences for this year’s CMA Awards. Last year, Taylor Swift was the belle of the ball, winning four awards. Some long winning streaks came to an end, as Swift replaced both Kenny Chesney as Entertainer of the Year and Carrie Underwood as Female Vocalist of the Year. Lady Antebellum ended Rascal Flatts’ long run as top Vocal Group, and were the surprise winners of Single of the Year as well.
Once again. I’ve selected the five artists that I believe are most deserving of an Entertainer of the Year nomination. But first, let’s take a look at last year’s race:
Entertainer of the Year (2009)
Swift was victorious in her first nomination in this category. She competed against three previous winners: Kenny Chesney, who has gone 4 for 8 in this category; Keith Urban, who is 1 for 5; and the incomparable George Strait, who is 2 for 17. Brad Paisley lost for the fifth year, tying Kenny Rogers for the most nominations without a win.
As the numbers above show, this has been a largely static category for the past ten years. Only thirteen artists earned nominations from 2000-2009. The CMA noms can be very predictable.
But looking at radio and retail these days, there’s been a big changing of the guard. I think that this category more than any other should reflect that. I’m putting my personal tastes aside here, as there are only two artists I list that I actually listen to regularly.
Entertainer of the Year (2010)
The nominees should be:
Their second album has already spent 25 weeks at #1, and “Need You Now” was such a big hit that it’s led to pop airplay for “I Run to You”, the award-winning hit from their debut album. It would be an early nomination in terms of their career, but Alabama and Dixie Chicks were elevated to this category even faster, so there’s precedent for vocal groups.
She’s always had the critical success, and she’s always sold records. But she’s selling them a heck of a lot faster these days and radio is suddenly, shockingly, spectacularly on board. It’s time for the CMA to catch up with the ACM, who have been away ahead in acknowledging this artist.
Being nominated the year after winning is not a given, but it’s the norm. While it was common in the seventies, it’s been very rare in recent years. Shania Twain (1999) was the last winner to not receive another nomination the following year, with the others being: Dolly Parton (1978), Mel Tillis (1976), John Denver (1975), and Charlie Rich (1974).
So she’s probably a lock for a nomination, and she deserves one. Though things have been quiet on the Swift front for the past couple of months, she had a massive tour and sold a ton of records during the eligibility period.
She really should be enjoying her third nomination this year, but a (flimsy) case could be made for her not making the ballot in 2008 and 2009. But no nomination this year would be inexcusable. She had a very successful tour, continued to dominate radio, and her third album is quickly approaching double platinum. At this point, she shouldn’t just get a nomination. She should win.
Zac Brown Band
Their live performances are well-regarded, radio is fully on board, and their first major label album is double platinum. A case could be made for Brad Paisley getting this spot, but sales of his new album have fallen quite a bit short of previous efforts. The same goes for other perennial nominees Keith Urban, George Strait, and Kenny Chesney.
My dad was passionate about many things, and in my memory, he’s defined by two of them: c0llecting vintage toys and loving music. Earlier today, my mother and I attended Toy Story 3. He loved the first two films, and it was a way to get closer to him in spirit this Father’s Day.
I couldn’t let this day end without using my humble little corner of the internet to celebrate some of his favorite songs. A love for country music was something that my father shared with my mother, and thanks to long car trips as child, this love eventually rubbed off on me. This morning, my mother put on the country classics Music Choice channel and it was playing their song: “Blanket on the Ground” by Billie Jo Spears.
It’s one of those songs that always seemed to be on the mix tapes that my parents listened to. But there are a wealth of country hits that I associate with just Dad. Some of them I always loved. Some of them I didn’t care for at the time. Some I openly disdained and wished he’d never play again. All of them are now among my favorites because they remind me of him.
So in honor of Father’s Day, here are some of my Dad’s favorite country songs. Share your dad’s favorites in the comments!
Alan Jackson, “Livin’ On Love”
From my mom’s point of view, K.T. Oslin’s “Hold Me” perfectly encapsulated their marriage. For my dad, it was “Livin’ On Love.”
Clint Black, “Nobody’s Home”
My dad loved Clint Black, especially his first two albums. This was the hit he played to death when Killin’ Time was his album of choice.
Johnny Cash, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”
Sure, my dad loved “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Five Feet High and Rising.” But he also loved Cash’s campier hits, like “One Piece at a Time” and this chestnut.
Dixie Chicks, “Travelin’ Soldier”
No matter what was going on in the room, my dad would stop what he was doing to watch this video. As a Navy veteran, this song really hit home for him.
Dwight Yoakam, “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere”
Another guy that Dad couldn’t get enough of. This was a song that I thought he played too much, never caring for it at the time. Now it’s one of my favorites of his.
John Anderson, “Seminole Wind”
He bought the album for “Straight Tequila Night”, but this quickly emerged as one of his all-time favorite songs.
John Conlee, “Common Man”
I do believe that I’d never have discovered this great vocalist if his greatest hits set wasn’t one of the very first CDs my father purchased. I still remember the “Priceless Music Priced Less” logo on the front.
Johnny Horton, “Sink the Bismarck”
Another hits collection dad played the heck out of. I always thought this was Horton’s biggest hit because Dad played it so much. I remember being shocked to find “Honky Tonk Man”, which I knew as a Dwight Yoakam song, was on there, too.
Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”
He didn’t care for the man’s love songs or most of his pop hits, but he had this album on vinyl and I only remember hearing him play the title track.
Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, “Pancho and Lefty”
Another one of Dad’s first CD purchases. I always thought the opening music sounded like a TV theme song.
Marty Robbins, “Big Iron”
Dad loved the Western subgenre of country music, at least as performed by Marty Robbins.
And finally, it’s not a country song, but it was his favorite song, and I’ll forever associate it with him. Amazing how I used to groan when I heard him playing it on our living room jukebox again, and now I never get tired of it because it’s him.
As Dan observed in his single review of “Up on the Ridge”, there was a noticeable decline in Dierks Bentley’s music after his well received Long Trip Alone album. It is purely speculative to suggest, but one can’t help but wonder if Bentley himself felt staleness creeping into his music as well. It’s not farfetched for the idea to be true, since Dierks has proven himself to be an astute artist in the past. So, why wouldn’t he notice if there was, indeed, a shift?
Speculation aside, Bentley has taken a break from the routine of his last four albums to create an album that is far removed from what is popular on mainstream country radio and somewhat different than what he’s put on his own previous albums. However, he is still marketing to radio, as his first single, the title track, has been treated like any other Bentley single release. The album is not as adventurous, or as strong, as the Dixie Chicks’ unapologetically acoustic album, but it may be as close to the concept as we have gotten since their targeted mainstream acoustic project, Home.
It has been appropriately publicized that this album is not a pure bluegrass project. Instead, it is close in style to the bluegrass influenced tracks that Bentley has consistently included on each of his studio albums. Yes, mandolin, banjo, dobro and fiddle are ever present, but Bentley is not shy about using drums, exploring subversive melodies (“Up on the Ridge”, “Fallin’ for You”), or deviating from traditional bluegrass rules of engagement along the way. Moreover, Bentley does not possess the high lonesome tenor that is typically associated with bluegrass. He, however, proves himself to be a capable vocalist within the parameters of his unique style of it.
A handful of covers, songs by well respected songwriters, and some of Bentley’s own compositions makes this rootsy album a well rounded set. The best of the covers is bob Dylan’s “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) and Kris Kristofferson’s Bottle to the Bottom”. While the otherwise solid “Bottle to the Bottom” features a somewhat pointless cameo by Kristofferson, the addition of the Punch Brothers on “Senor” is inspired art. A less successful cover is U2’s “Pride (in the Name of Love).” While Del McCoury’s distinctive tenor does well to do the heavy lifting, the over all recording still lacks the etherealness of the original. Ironically, as they are most closely associated with Americana, the Buddy Miller cover is the most mainstream friendly sounding song on the album. Unfortunately, it is also inferior to Miller’s version.
Among the strongest of Bentley’s songs is “Rovin’ Gambler” (once again, with the Punch Brothers), “Draw Me a Map” (featuring Alison Krauss on background vocals), “You’re Dead to Me” (co-written by and featuring Tim O’Brien”, and “Down in the Mine.”
Bentley wisely enlists the help of some of his creative friends such as the Punch Brothers (with Chris Thile of Nickel Creek fame), Del McCoury, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert, Tim O’Brien, and Kris Kristofferson. Complimented by Jon Randall’s organic production sensibilities, this impeccable support adds a welcome texture to the project. However, the collaborations work best when they are more subtle. For instance, while the prospect of Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson collaborating is, indeed, an appealing concept, the result does not rise to the occasion in practice. Both Lambert and Johnson deliver excellent performances with Bentley on “Bad Angel”, with Lambert’s voice being huskier than usual, but the parts together translate as more disjointed than natural. Likewise, the results of Del McCoury’s and Kris Kristofferson’s contributions were not as successful as one would hope for from such revered artists. On the other hand, the Punch Brothers (who played on several tracks), Alison Krauss, Tim O’Brien, Jon Randall, and Vince Gill (“Fiddlin’ Around”) were used less overtly to greater effect.
With expert musicianship by the best in the business, solid songs, and impressive vocal support, Up on the Ridge is a refreshing album from an artist who is taking a chance with this musical detour while still in the throes of a considerably lucrative career. Not only is taking such a chance commendable, Bentley has created a solid album to justify the diversion.
I suppose this puts the “Natalie Maines dragged the other two Chicks away from their roots” theory to rest.
The debut album from Court Yard Hounds, the duo comprised of sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, is an adult pop affair. This isn’t disappointing in its own right, being only a few degrees less country than the excellent Chicks album that preceded it, but what’s absent is both the urgency of that album’s material and Maines’ powerhouse delivery of it.
As on Taking the Long Way, the songwriting is done in-house, and the two sisters prove they are still quite adept with a pen. Some of the songs are as good as anything the Chicks have written or recorded. “Then Again” gets into the psyche of a self-destructive woman, while the stunning “Ain’t No Son” plays out like the prequel to “Top of the World”, with the narrator wreaking the havoc that he’d later rue upon his death.
But the album is hampered by playing down their strengths in favor of their weaknesses. Where Maguire and Robison have always shined is on their instruments, and there simply isn’t much of a showcase of their virtuoso talents. Long Way proved that they can stretch beyond their country and bluegrass roots, with the fierce fiddle on “Lubbock or Leave It” bordering on punk. There’s no such adventuring here.
This wouldn’t matter as much if they were able to compensate at the mic, but they make the strange choice of downplaying their sisterly harmonies for a warmed-over variation of post-Globe Sessions Sheryl Crow. The songwriting is strong enough to make this an interesting listen, with genuine gems like “See You in the Spring”, “Gracefully”, and “It Didn’t Make a Sound”, and I’d love to see them do these songs in a live setting that’s less restrained. But as it is, Court Yard Hounds plays more like a collection of lost demos than a cohesive album in its own right.
Dixie Chicks Playlist: The Very Best of Dixie Chicks
For those of us who were living and breathing country fans from 1998 to 2006, the idea of a Dixie Chicks compilation is unnecessary. Some of us have all four albums and listen to them in different proportions, while a fairly large part of their audience haven’t bothered with them since 2003.
But Playlist, the first compilation of the Natalie Maines-helmed era of the band, is the only career-spanning introduction for those who may be discovering them for the first time. Don’t let its existence as part of an established budget line fool you, either. The twelve tracks found on this collection were picked by the Chicks themselves, not a record executive or chart history buff.
All four of the Chicks albums are critically acclaimed and were commercially successful. Heck, all four of them won the Grammy for Best Country Album to boot. So my instinct is to call this the best case for just buying the original albums since the first Emmylou Harris hits set. But I say this as someone who would reflexively tell listeners to buy Home and Taking the Long Way first, and I know of several country music fans and journalists who would swap out one or both of those titles in favor of Wide Open Spaces and Fly.
So the beauty of this set is that it picks a handful of tracks from each album that are truly representative of each set. The Chicks made four very different albums. Wide Open Spaces, a debut set that seemed bold at the time but is almost quaint in its conventionalism today, is represented by the title track and “You Were Mine”, two #1 hits that are easily the strongest of the five singles from that album.
The selections from Fly are where things get interesting. That album produced seven top twenty hits, but only one of them is here: the #1 hit “Cowboy Take Me Away.” While a case could be made for including “Goodbye Earl” as well, the set is stronger for including their tender cover of Patty Griffin’s “Let Him Fly” and the fearless “Sin Wagon”, which is the best pre-Home showcase of Martie Maguire and Emily Robison’s jaw-dropping instrumental prowess.
Home is their best album to date, and while I miss the absent “Travelin’ Soldier” and “Top of the World”, the inclusion of Griffin’s “Truth No. 2″ alongside smash hits “Long Time Gone” and “Landslide” is fair compensation. And while Taking the Long Way produced only one big hit, “Not Ready to Make Nice”, it is joined by three more great autobiographical hits that should’ve been: “The Long Way Around”, “Easy Silence”, and “Lubbock or Leave It.”
Is it a perfect collection? No. But it’s close enough, and a much better reflection of the band’s best work than a traditional hits collection could ever be. If you’re looking for a strong introduction to the most talented and successful country band of the past 25 years, this is the place to start.