Elvis Presley

Traditional Country is a Link in a Long Chain

June 30, 2009 // 23 Comments

The following is a guest contribution from Scott O’Brien.

“But someone killed tradition. And for that someone should hang.” –Larry Cordle & Larry Shell, “Murder on Music Row”

Dan Milliken’s recent post got me thinking: The country music I grew up with is nothing like the music on country radio today. If I turned on today’s country radio in 1988, I might not realize it was a country station and keep right on flipping. Back then, Randy Travis and Keith Whitley’s traditional twang ruled the airwaves. Today, they are dominated by the giggly teeny-bopper ditties of Taylor Swift and the boy band sounds of Rascal Flatts. Did they get away with murder on music row? Well, let’s start by briefly uncovering country’s traditional roots.

What is traditional country music? Is it simply anything from the past? That seems too broad; Shania Twain wasn’t traditional. Anything before 1990? Maybe, but that is still a rather wide net. To me, traditional country music is honky-tonk music. It heavily employs steel guitars, fiddles, and forlorn vocals. It moves at a slow pace. There are no drums or electric guitars. The songs typically deal with heavy topics such as heartbreak, cheating, or drinking, with a ballad here and there. In most cases, the goal is to induce pain. Not bad pain, but the therapeutic empathy that tugs your heart and helps you through your personal struggles. The patron saint of traditional country is Hank Williams. Hank’s first disciple is George Jones. Jones’ first disciple is Alan Jackson. The traditional template is supposed to help us decipher what is country and what is not. After all, what makes country music country if not fiddles and cheatin’ songs?

The Few Remaining Icons

June 29, 2009 // 27 Comments

I’ve heard it said so many times in the past week: the death of Michael Jackson is my generation’s equivalent of the Death of Elvis Presley. (I can only assume that makes Kurt Cobain our Janis Joplin?)

He was a controversial figure, to be sure, and much like Elvis, a tragic figure even before his tragic death. Being a music fan first, I lost interest in Jackson a long time ago, simply because he’s made so little music in the past two decades – a mere three studio albums in more than twenty years.

But there’s no doubt that he’s an icon, the embodiment of the MTV age and the breakdown of barriers between pop, R&B and dance music. Who does pop music have left that’s in the same league? Only Madonna, but since she’s still very much at the top of her game and is anything but a tragic figure, don’t expect the mourning for her to begin any time soon.

But pop music isn’t the only genre running low on icons. What country acts remain that could garner significant coverage upon their death? Johnny Cash’s death made the cover of Time magazine, an honor usually reserved for former Beatles members. CNN broadcast live from Tammy Wynette’s funeral back in 1998.

Dwight Yoakam Starter Kit

May 3, 2009 // 22 Comments

Few artists command as much critical acclaim as Dwight Yoakam, yet he was also a stunningly successful commercial act from the start. Nine of his releases have been certified gold or better, and his biggest set to date – This Time – has sold more than three million copies.

His catalog is deep with classic cuts. Here are ten of the best, a solid introduction to one of the genre’s greatest talents.

And while it’s not represented on the list, I highly recommend his stellar Under the Covers, an excellent covers album that is best heard in its entirety.

“Guitars, Cadillacs” from the 1986 album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

It’s tempting to kick off with “Honky Tonk Man”, Yoakam’s effective cover of Johnny Horton’s classic that was also his breakthrough hit. But what’s missing from that track is Yoakam’s signature heartache and pain. In Yoakam’s best songs, he’s not seeking out the night life because he enjoys it. It’s to distract him from the loneliness and rejection that his lover has inflicted upon him.

“Streets of Bakersfield” (featuring Buck Owens) from the 1988 album Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room

Yoakam was instrumental in making the younger generations aware of the importance of Buck Owens, clearly Yoakam’s strongest country influence. When he chose to revive an old Owens tune, he invited the man himself to help him out. The end result was a #1 hit that was a comeback for Owens and a signature smash for both of them.

Conway Twitty Starter Kit

March 15, 2009 // 17 Comments

Starter Kits are Country Universe’s way of introducing country music fans to an artist that they might not be fully aware of. Our first Starter Kit features Conway Twitty, the legendary Hall of Famer with forty number one singles to his credit. After having major success on the pop charts in the fifties, Twitty crossed over to country, where he was a regular presence in the top ten from the late sixties until the early nineties. No country music fan should be without some Conway Twitty in their collection. Here are ten tracks to start off with. “It’s Only Make Believe” from the 1958 album Conway Twitty Sings Twitty’s clearly influenced by Elvis Presley as a vocalist on this #1 pop hit. He’d later develop a country style but never fully lose the soul sound found on his first hit. “Hello Darlin’” from the 1970 album Hello Darlin’ Still his Read More

Grammy Flashback: Best Male Country Vocal Performance

January 19, 2009 // 10 Comments

Updated for 2009 While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories. This year, the 45th trophy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance will be awarded. In a continuation of our Grammy Flashback series, here is a rundown of the Best Country Vocal Performance, Male category. It was first awarded in 1965, and included singles competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks. As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back. Be sure to vote in My Kind of Country’s Best Male Country Vocal Performance poll and let your preference for this year’s race be known! Read More

Dan Milliken’s Top 10 Albums of 2008

December 25, 2008 // 2 Comments

Happy holidays, everybody! I’m back with my personal top ten albums of the year, a list that took a stupid-long time to put together but is very nice to have done. All I would say as a note is that I like all of these albums very much and don’t think the rankings should be scrutinized to death, because my tastes certainly change frequently enough. Okay, you get it. Let’s do this. Va-VOOM! #10 Dailey and Vincent, Dailey and Vincent I typically lean progressive in my bluegrass tastes, but there’s simply no arguing with this dynamic twosome, whose debut finds them ripping into a straight-ahead traditional style with such crazy-polished singing, playing and writing that they practically become the new standard. Excellent. #9 Kathy Mattea, Coal Confession: I wasn’t quite sure how to take this one. Although I like Kathy Mattea’s voice and generally love concept albums, I had trouble Read More

Discussion: An Elvis Kind of Christmas

December 6, 2008 // 6 Comments

Through the wonders of digital technology, duets with the deceased are not only possible, but convincing collaborations can be constructed from the transcendent art they’ve left behind.  To honor Elvis Presley, a new collection of Christmas song finds his inimitable voice paired with some of the finest singers in a variety of musical genres. From Sony Music Entertainment: Sony Music Entertainment is giving Elvis Presley fans the opportunity to sing a Christmas duet with The King of Rock ‘N’ Roll. The “Sing With The King” ecard makes it possible for fans to record their own version of Presley’s classic ‘Blue Christmas.’ The ecard uses the same unique technology that allowed country superstars like Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood, and Sara Evans to sing along with Presley on the “Elvis Presley Christmas Duets” CD. At www.SingWithTheKing.com fans can watch the new Elvis Presley and Martina McBride ‘Blue Christmas’ video, record their own Read More

100 Greatest Women, #17: Brenda Lee

June 13, 2008 // 5 Comments

100 Greatest Women #17 Brenda Lee She was the rockabilly superstar that Music City had dreamed would come along, a pioneer who made the fusion of early rock and country commercially viable. She made timeless records while still in her early teens, and matured into a mainstream country singer later in her career. Today, she is a legend to both country and rock audiences, one of the few artists who can be found in both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad for a poor Georgia girl who started singing professionally to help her widowed mother pay the bills. Brenda Lee was born Brenda Mae Tarpley, and she was singing from the time she could walk. As a toddler, she could hear a song twice on the radio and be able to sing it back, word for word. Even at age six, she was a Read More

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