It’s been thirty years since the world was introduced to the voice of Wynonna Judd, a simple guitar strum being nothing close to enough preparation for the otherworldly voice that opened the debut Judds single, “Had a Dream (For the Heart)”:
Thirty years later, after about a decade of Judds music and another two decades of solo work, that voice is still that voice. Wynonna has the ability to harness a true force of nature, having incredible depth and soul that remains under her complete control.
Less under control is her firebrand personality, an increasingly dramatic public image that has been overshadowing her music in recent years, but that’s mostly because she hasn’t been making nearly enough music. Really, once she sings two or three notes, who really cares about her public image?
But what happens when that image starts to dictate the music? What happens when producers convince themselves that they have to be
just as loud and dazzling as the lady behind the mic?
“Something You Can’t Live Without” is what happens.
You’ve got Wynonna singing a great song that clearly means a lot to her. She turns in a ferocious performance. All the musicians need to do is give her a bit of support while mostly staying out of her way.
Instead, not only is the backing music way too loud, there is a cardinal sin committed that is simply unforgivable. They actually put a digital effect on her voice.
You do that for bad singers. You do that for mediocre singers. Sometimes, you even do that for good singers. But to do it to one of the strongest vocalists popular music has ever seen is an insult.
I really like this record overall, simply because I can hear all that great Wynonna underneath the muck. But much like those synthesizer-drenched Dolly Parton songs from the eighties, it’s just bewildering that the muck is there in the first place.
Such natural, God-given talent needs organic music to back her up. I don’t care if it’s Memphis blues instead of Nashville country. Just let her surroundings be as real as she is, and save all the artifice for the reality show circuit.
Independent country artist Amber Hayes released her first EP C’mon in the summer of 2010, and has since been covering all media ground, building up a solid fan following without the support of a major label. She had already added “theater performer” to her resume back in 2008, when she was cast as Kathy in the Conway Twitty musical. The year 2012 brought about the release of her second EP Any Day Is a Good Day, as well as her screen debut in the film Cowgirls ‘n Angels. Amber Hayes recently spoke with Country Universe to discuss her accomplishments over the past year.
Ben Foster: How would you describe what your journey has been like in the two years since you released the C’mon EP, and how is that reflected on Any Day Is a Good Day?
Amber Hayes: I think it definitely reflects in the song “Any Day Is a Good Day,” because I just feel so blessed for all the opportunities I’ve gotten over the last two years. I’ve gotten to perform overseas and be in a movie and sing the National Anthem at two NFL games. It’s just been really exciting, and I’ve been really blessed.
What kind of lyrical themes do you deal with on this record?
I think it’s pretty diverse. I’ve got “Somewhere Out West” which is a story song about a girl trying to find her father. When I was on WSM the other morning, Bill Cody said “I see ‘Somewhere Out West’ as not just a story song about a little girl.” “Somewhere Out West” is like what they’re looking for in their life, so I think it definitely doesn’t just have to be about that storyline. “Suspicious” is just fun – kind of a laid-back feel to it. “Built This Wall” is more like in your face, independent. Then we have “Far Far Away,” and it’s definitely towards the love side of it all – a little vulnerable. So I think it definitely shows different sides.
What can you tell about your inspiration for writing the title track “Any Day Is a Good Day”?
I wish I could tell you exactly what it was, but when we got into the room that day, we just started talking and throwing out some ideas, and nothing was really going anywhere. Somebody just said something about it being a good day, and wanting to write a positive song, and so we just kind of came up with that. But what’s cool about that is one of the co-writers with me, he’s blind. He has a different outlook on “Any Day Is a Good Day” because his day compared to ours is a little bit harder. I think when we got done writing that song, it was pretty cool because he sang the work tape, and we were like ‘Oh my gosh, you know this is pretty awesome.’ Our day compared to his is so much easier, but his outlook on it is just like ‘I’m not going to worry about it. If I can wake up, it’s a good day.’
What kind of experience was it for you being involved in the Cowgirls N’ Angels film?
It was so fun. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because people will say ‘You were in a movie,’ and it’s like almost kind of hard to believe a little bit, but it was definitely a really cool experience – something I had never been around. I had done theater, but had never done any kind of movie or TV or anything like that. It was pretty cool. The scene that I’m in is a bar scene, and I am the girl singing in the bar, so it kind of made sense. But I got to sing two of my songs from the C’mon EP, and the stars actually line danced to “C’mon,” so it’s very cool.
What was it like working with Richie McDonald?
He’s very nice. He’s so nice. When we wrote this song ["Always There for Me"], and we were trying to decide who to sing it with, he came to mind because I love his voice. It’s soothing, plus it commands, and I thought it sounds like a dad. He was just very easy to work with, and so nice. It’s pretty cool. He’s done so many great things in his career. That I got to record with him and perform with him was awesome.
You’ve also branched into television with having four of your songs selected for use in The CW’s Heart of Dixie. How did that feel?
I’ve been a fan of Heart of Dixie since it actually started coming on TV. I’ve just always loved the show because it reminds me of where I grew up, and I just always knew that they had a lot of great country music in there, and I kind of in the back of my mind thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if I actually got some music on that show?” Then we did, and it was really awesome. I was watching the first season a couple of weekends ago, and all of the placements we got are in the first season, so it really cool to watch that, and then it’s like “Oh gosh, there’s the song!” So it was neat!
What can you tell us about your contribution to Liam Sullivan’s new book Making the Scene: Nashville?
Well, Liam came to my album release show that we did with WSM at Station Inn. I met him then, and he asked if he could interview me for this book, so we just sat down and talked, and I just kind of told him my story like an interview type thing. I kind of just forgot about it, and then when I found out it came out, I just started looking into it, and come to find out I actually made the book, so it was really cool. So it’s a great book about Nashville, what you should do when you come to town, and great places to go – even if you’re not into the music industry, but just visiting.
Let’s talk about some of your musical heroes. In what ways do you endeavor to carry on the musical legacy of the women in country music who have inspired you?
My biggest influences are Reba and Dolly and Barbara Mandrell probably, but I love people like Jeannie Seely and Jean Shephard, and I’ve also had the big honor of knowing both of those women and working with them. I just am so grateful to people like them who still to this day get to go on the Opry every week and sing country music, and they’re so proud to represent country music in such a great way. They’re so classy. I think that’s the deal with all these people that I love. If I could say one word that sums them up, it’s class. They’re great entertainers. I think that every single one of those women, when they walk out onstage, they have you right in the palm of their hand. Of course, Dolly and Reba and Barbara Mandrell have all done a little bit of everything, and that’s what I want to be, and that’s what I want to do. I definitely want my fans to go away from a show
thinking ‘Wow, this was so fun’ and ‘She puts on a great show,’ and I can’t wait to go back again.
You pay tribute to one of your heroes with the song “Me and Loretta.” How did that song come about?
Well, I wrote that song with Brian Eckert and Brady Seals, and Brady is a huge traditional country music fan. He said “You know, we should write a song about your love for country music, or somebody that you love.” He loves Loretta, and he knows Loretta and has worked with her in the past. He said “You know, every song of Loretta’s that you hear you’ve gone through, somebody has lived. Let’s just make it where you’re like talking to her, or in the car with her or something,” and we came out with “Me and Loretta.” I think it’s a pretty cool story. I think it’s just kind of like with “Somewhere Out West.” Loretta can be whoever you want it to be, but to me it’s just Loretta. Every one of her songs is just so real, and like I said, you’ve lived it at some point in your life.
What’s next for Amber Hayes?
“Any Day Is a Good Day” is the single, and we’ll see what happens with that. Just booking stuff for 2013, and I don’t know. I guess I’ll just see what happens! I’m just so excited to get new music out, just because it’s been two years, and I’ve done a lot since then. I feel like I’ve really built up a lot of new fans, and old fans that need to hear some new music, so it’s exciting!
Today is Dolly Parton’s 67th birthday. What better time to revisit and relaunch our ongoing feature that reviews every single that she’s released in her illustrious career?
This post will look at her four singles from late 1975 through the end of 1976. Three were solo efforts, while the fourth was her final release of the decade that was a collaboration with Porter Wagoner.
“We Used To”
Written by Dolly Parton
It was clear by this point that Parton had designs on the pop market, but she hadn’t yet found the right way to make her style work in that format. So we get overlong pop ballads like this, which ramble on forever because Parton’s restraining her vocal trademarks that would make the record too identifiably country.
“Hey, Lucky Lady”
Written by Dolly Parton
Then again, even when she was being proudly country at this period, the material still wasn’t always up to snuff. It’s a shame that “Shattered Image” wasn’t sent to radio as the lead single from All I Can Do instead of of this endlessly repetitive ditty. This probably held the record for the most times a title was repeated in one song until Little Texas released “My Love” two decades later.
There is something poetic about this being their final duet together, aside from some unreleased tracks that would surface in 1980 after a prolonged legal battle. They went out on a high note, perhaps because of the palpable sadness that permeates the proceedings.
“All I Can Do”
Written by Dolly Parton
Another ditty, which is surprising given the heaviness of the
“Forever is the love,” they sing, “that is true and undemanding.”
Which just goes to show that what makes for a great love doesn’t necessarily make for a great song.
As they were reaching the end of their professional partnership, “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine” was as true to their original sound as it could be, but the song is so undemanding of their combined talent and energy that what we’re left with is as sterile as it is yawningly predictable.
traditional country genre conventions. On his tasteless new single “Southern Comfort Zone,” that strength sounds it’s been totally buried.
The bombastic arrangement sounds like it was lifted right out of Tim McGraw’s Emotional Traffic, and Paisley’s vocal is slathered in grating, ill-advised reverb effects. All the noise is so distracting that it’s difficult to even make out what Paisley is singing about, let alone become invested in the lyric on any meaningful level. It’s hardly country by any stretch of the imagination, and it plainly just sounds bad.
It’s hardly a potent song to begin with. The lyrics of “Southern Comfort Zone” remain squarely inside country radio’s comfort zone, with the song’s titular pun being the height of the song’s cleverness. The depthless verses continue to indulge the notion that the south is the last refuge for people who go to church, listen to country and gospel music, wear jeans and ball caps, etc. I can give some credit for leaving out the Aldean-esque aggression, but that doesn’t redeem the song’s total lack of purposeful focus, nor the tin-eared trainwreck of a production.
If you want to hear a good song about Southern nostalgia, stick with Dolly Parton’s “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Paisley’s “Southern Comfort Zone” is a misguided, watery mess.
They would both go on to successful solo careers, but it was the music that Ira and Charlie Louvin made together that earned them a place in the annals of history.
Born in to Appalachian poverty, the Louvin Brothers began their public singing career by performing gospel standards at church. Their distinctive harmonies and instrumental skills soon earned them a spot on AM radio in Chattanooga. After Charlie did a brief tour with the Army, the duo moved to Knoxville, where their sound reached a wider audience.
By the late forties, the labels came calling. as did a publishing deal. The Louvins released a few moderately successful singles before Charlie was sent back overseas, but when he returned, the brothers began incorporating country into their repertoire, a move largely influenced by their appearances on the Opry. Throughout the fifties and early sixties, they released many of the most significant country compositions of all-time, including standards like the #1 hit “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” and the top ten “Cash on the Barrelhead.”
They never abandoned their gospel roots, as reflected in a series of classic albums with a spiritual focus. One of their essential works was the LP Satan is Real, which became notorious for its vivid album artwork along with its music. The increasing popularity of rock and roll slowed down their success, which sadly led to an alcohol addiction for Ira, who was encouraged to drop his signature mandolin from their sound. His deterioration was the primary reason the duo disbanded in 1963.
Both brothers pursued solo careers, with Charlie forging out on his own and Ira performing with his new wife, Anne Young. Tragically, Ira and Anne were killed in an automobile accident in 1965, preventing a reconciliation of the brothers. Charlie proudly carried on the legacy of the Louvin Brothers, recording and performing right up until his death in 2011.
As years have gone by, the songs and recordings of the Louvin Brothers have become increasingly influential, shaping the sounds of the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, and others. In 2002, a tribute album by contemporary country, bluegrass, and pop artists was a huge success, winning the Grammy for Best Country Album. Their sound lives on in the work of every duo built around harmony, from the Everly Brothers to the Judds, their songs have been covered by artists as diverse as James Taylor and Dolly Parton, and their themed albums with powerful artwork are regarded as essential classics by both musicians and graphic designers.
Since bringing back Recommend a Track proved so popular, I’m resurrecting another CU oldie but goodie: the iPod check.
I’ve only recently discovered the Most Played feature on iTunes, since it never had any relevance until iPods were large enough in memory to sync all of my music. So going back to early 2011, I have a lengthy list of the songs I’ve played the most.
So today’s iP0d check: List your most-played song from twenty different country artists.
You can access this info by going to your own Most Played list and adjusting the number of songs on it – I use 500 for mine – or you can just go to Music and sort by number of plays. Or you can just pick twenty artists at random and list your most played song for each. We’re easy here. (This would also work in Spotify, from what I hear.)
Alan Jackson – So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore (40)
Crystal Gayle – Why Have Your Left the One You Left Me For (39)
George Strait – Meanwhile (39)
Lee Ann Womack – I May Hate Myself in the Morning (39)
Aaron Tippin – Whole Lotta Love on the Line (38)
I’m surprised that some of my most played artists overall, like Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and Tim McGraw, don’t have that one big song that I play excessively. Also, at least half of the songs above aren’t what I would call my favorite song by the given artist. How about you?
Apparently, the vulnerability that led her to use the metaphor that she was a bargain store was taken literally by some disc jockeys, who believed that it wasn’t just her emotions that were up for sale.
Kinda makes you want to hit your head up against a wall, doesn’t it?
Anyway, “The Bargain Store” is exquisitely beautiful, laced with the painful melancholy that usually colors Parton’s best songwriting. I think it’s because her personality is so uplifting and positive by nature. When she sings a sad song, it’s somehow sadder because her optimism has her clinging to find a silver lining where one doesn’t exist.
Back when I was heavily educating myself in country music history, I bought a vinyl copy of her greatest hits album from 1975, The Best of Dolly Parton. It included so many of the hits that we’ve written about lately: “Coat of Many Colors”, “Jolene”, “I Will Always Love You”, “Touch Your Woman”, “My Tennessee Mountain Home”, and “The Bargain Store.”
As somebody more familiar with her later pop-flavored hits, I was floored by the album. I just couldn’t believe all of these songs had been written by the same person in such a short window of time. With all I’ve learned about country music since, and all of the legendary music that I eventually educated myself about, I think I’m more amazed now than I even was then.
“The Bargain Store” marks the end of this particular period of Dolly Parton’s brilliant career. She’d go on to write many more great songs and make many more great records that sold far more than her work from this period did. But her talent would never again be so prolific to produce such an embarrassment of riches in such a short time. This is the very best at her very best.
Known affectionately as the Thin Man from the West Plains, Porter Wagoner was a steadfast champion for the traditions of country music, even as he used forward-looking methods of delivering it to the masses.
Wagoner was a self-taught singer and musician, and first gained notoriety as a singing grocer. The store manager thought his young worker had great potential, and arranged for him to perform on the radio in West Plains, Missouri. This led to his own radio show in 1951, and then a high-profile stint onOzark Jamboree, a television show spearheaded by Red Foley.
His success on radio and television landed him a contract with RCA records, a label he would stay with for more than two decades. At his time with the label, he would be a pioneer for the genre in many ways. While recording popular country hits like “A Satisfied Mind” and “Misery Loves Company”, he also produced powerful spiritual numbers, including the evocative “What Would You Do? (If Jesus Came to Your House)”, helping to mainstream a southern Baptist perspective to the masses.
He also was an innovator both in album concepts and album artwork, creating bold designs for his LPs that explored themes like adultery, poverty, and alcoholism. His arresting visual style made him an ideal fit for television, and his wildly popular syndicatedThe Porter Wagoner Show made him a household name. It also led to his most high-profile musical partnership when he invited Dolly Parton to join the cast.
Wagoner’s show peaked in popularity with Parton as a cast member, and their memorable duet singles and albums kept him on the upper echelon on the country charts throughout the mid-seventies. While his solo career was cooling off at the same time, he remained a major presence in the Southern gospel market, the area which earned him multiple Grammy awards.
He left RCA in the early eighties, following a successful final duet album with Parton. By then, his show was also off the air, but as cable television began filtering into homes, Wagoner’s hosting duties on the Grand Ole Opry made him a familiar figure to a new generation of country music fans. He recorded sporadically for the next two decades, but received overwhelming critical accolades when he released Wagonmaster. Produced by Marty Stuart, his final album was a powerful swan song in 2007, and gave him one more moment in the spotlight, the same year that he passed away at the age of eighty.
Company’s Comin’, 1954
A Satisfied Mind, 1955
What Would You Do? (If Jesus Came to Your House), 1956
Misery Loves Company, 1962
Green, Green Grass of Home, 1965
The Cold Hard Facts of Life, 1967
The Last Thing on My Mind (with Dolly Parton), 1967