Tag Archives: Garth Brooks

In Memoriam: Mindy McCready, 1975-2013

Mindy McCready

The very sad news that Mindy McCready has taken her own life has been reported by several sources.  Our hearts go out to her family and those close to her, especially her two young children.

Rather than focus on her troubled life, it seems most fitting to acknowledge this tragedy by spotlighting the bright spots in her life, particularly her musical talents.  While her music career is sparse compared to others who’ve been in the business as long as she has, her out put is noteworthy all the same.

In 2010, she released an album that went largely unnoticed, but I’m Still Here was a strong set of songs that found McCready in fine voice.  Included on the well produced project was a cover of Garth Brooks’ “The Dance,” along with some gems such as the regretful “Wrong Again,” the wistful “By Her Side,” and the stormy “I Want a Man.”

Of course, the height of Mindy’s success was in the mid nineties with memorable songs such as “Ten Thousand Angels,” “Guys Do It All the Time,” and “Maybe He’ll Notice Her Now.”

Perhaps the most fitting tribute that Country Universe can pay to Mindy is the fact that the origins of our Six Pack series began with her music.  Kevin said it best, in May of 2008, when he wrote, “Mindy McCready made some great music back in her day, and I look forward to hearing more from her.  Quite frankly, she deserves to be known by her work, not her personal life.  Check out these six solid moments from her career and you’ll see what I mean.”

So, may we all follow Kevin’s advice, and know Mindy McCready for her work, not her personal life.

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100 Greatest Men: #31. Randy Travis

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He’s widely hailed as the leader of the new traditionalist movement of the mid-eighties, but his impressive sales numbers made him something the genre had never seen before: a traditionalist superstar.

Travis was born Randy Traywick in a town just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.   His youth was marked by two distinguishing features: a prodigious talent for music and a dangerous rebellious streak.   As a teenager, he played clubs with his older brother Ricky, but when the elder Traywick was jailed after a car chase, Randy moved to Charlotte proper to launch his own career at age sixteen.

Randy won a talent contest at a club owned  by Lib Hatcher, who took him under her wing and soon under her guardianship, after he barely evaded jail for what he was warned would be the last time.   Hatcher took on the role of manager, and managed to land an independent record deal that resulted in a minor hit in the early eighties.   A stint at the Nashville Palace and a well-received independent live album helped him land a deal with Warner Bros. Records.

The label convinced him to change his performing name to Randy Travis, and in 1986, his star took off.  He released the seminal album Storms of Life, arguably the most significant country album of the decade.  Its stunning multi-platinum success made Travis a household name, and destroyed the conventional wisdom that country must abandon its traditional sound to cross over to mainstream popularity.

Travis dominated the singles and albums charts for the next ten years, selling out arenas and racking up major industry awards.  But as significant as his own success was, he was just as important for creating the climate that allowed future legends

like Alan Jackson, Clint Black, and Garth Brooks to reach massive sales heights without the help of pop radio.   Though he was soon overshadowed by those giants, his sound remained the blueprint for mainstream country music well into the nineties.

Travis continued to score hits after leaving Warner Bros. for Dreamworks Records, but by the turn of the century, he was focusing his attention on country gospel music.   Even this detour produced a surprise country hit, with “Three Wooden Crosses” returning him to the top of the country charts in 2002, after an eight-year absence from the penthouse.   While he still remains primarily focused on the Christian market, his legacy continues to reverberate.  Most recently, Carrie Underwood revived his self-penned hit “I Told You So”, and invited him to record a duet version for the radio that peaked at #2.

Essential Singles:

  • On the Other Hand, 1986
  • Diggin’ Up Bones, 1986
  • Forever and Ever, Amen, 1987
  • Deeper than the Holler, 1988
  • Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart, 1990
  • Look Heart, No Hands, 1992
  • Whisper My Name, 1994
  • Out of My Bones, 1998
  • Three Wooden Crosses, 2002

Essential Albums:

  • Storms of Life, 1986
  • Always & Forever, 1987
  • No Holdin’ Back, 1989
  • High Lonesome, 1991
  • This is Me, 1994
  • Rise and Shine, 2002
  • Glory Train, 2005

Next: #30. Jim Reeves

Previous: #32. A.P. Carter

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Single Review: Jake Owen, "The One that Got Away"

It took me until nearly the end before I realized who Jake Owen was reminding me of on this one.

Rick Springfield.  Slightly less theatrical, but Owen doesn’t have all that soap opera experience to draw upon.

So, “The One that Got Away” is about a summer love that ends when the weather changes.   It’s an old story.  It’s been done on the beach.   It’s been done at the seaside carnival.  It’s been done on the farm. It’s been done in the fields.

It’s gotta be done with cleverness. Or distinctiveness. Or viagra non prescription sincerity.  This fails on all counts, leaving us with a generic summer song that’s as easily forgotten as the love that it documents.

Written by Dallas Davidson, Jake Owen, and Jimmy Ritchey

Grade:  C

Listen: The One that Got Away

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GUWXF3LIy8

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Country Music Hall of Fame Welcomes Garth Brooks, Connie Smith, and Hargus “Pig” Robbins

Garth Brooks, Connie Smith, and keyboardist Hargus “Pig” Robbins will join the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.

Brooks is the top-selling country music artist in history.  At fifty, he is one of the youngest living inductees ever.

Smith is the fifth female artist to be inducted since 2008, when Emmylou Harris ended a nine year drought for female inductees.

Since playing on the George Jones classic “White Lightning” in 1957, Robbins has recorded with countless legends of country and rock music, including Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Alan Jackson, and Bob Dylan.

What’s your take on the 2012 inductees?  More importantly, who deserves to join them in 2013?

We’ll run a list of our picks for the next round. Share your suggestions in the comments!

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100 Greatest Men: #63. Clint Black

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

The Class of 1989 permanently changed the face of country music.  Clint Black was its valedictorian.

Born in New Jersey and raised in Texas, Black’s vocal talent was evident at an early age.  He played in a band with his older brothers, and taking a gamble, he dropped out of high school and pursued a solo career.

The new traditionalist movement of the early eighties inspired him to commit himself to the country music genre.   As he honed his craft throughout the eighties, he met songwriter and guitarist Hayden Nicholas, who would become an instrumental component of Black’s success.

Signing with RCA, he recorded his debut album with his road band.  Black wrote or co-wrote every track on Killin’ Time, and the 1989 release had a seismic impact on country music.  Black became the first country artist in history to have his first four singles reach #1, and the album quickly reached multi-platinum status.  Beyond its sales and radio impact, Killin’ Time was widely hailed by critics and genre enthusiasts as a masterpiece.

The impact of Black opened the doors for fellow artists like Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and Alan Jackson to find similar massive success with their debut albums.  Together, they rejuvenated the country music market, putting it on the even playing field with pop, rock, and R&B that it still enjoys today.  Black won several major industry awards, and then had another multi-platinum album with his sophomore set, Put Yourself in My Shoes.

Throughout the nineties, Black continued to write and record radio hits.  Even as his album sales cooled to platinum and then gold, he still maintained a streak of top ten hits.  It wasn’t until his 29th solo single, “Loosen Up My Strings” in 1998, that he missed the top ten.   To a certain extent, Black’s profile was reduced because of the very door that he opened.  The flood of talent that followed in his wake included major talents who soon overshadowed him.

The tail end of his run with RCA found him recording with wife Lisa Hartman Black, and they enjoyed a big hit with their duet, “When I Said I Do.”  Collaborations with Wynonna, Steve Wariner, Roy Rogers and Martina McBride also gained positive attention.   In the new century, Black took the bold step of launching his own label, Equity Records, resulting in two studio albums that achieved moderate success.  One of them, 2004’s Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic, was his most critically acclaimed set in years.

His most recent release is 2007’s Love Songs, which featured re-recordings of some of his hit ballads from the nineties.  He’s kept his profile alive with various film and television appearances, and he does some light touring, preferring at this stage to spend as much time as possible with his family.

Essential Singles:

  • A Better Man, 1989
  • Killin’ Time, 1989
  • Nobody’s Home, 1990
  • State of Mind, 1993
  • Something That We Do, 1997

Essential Albums:

  • Killin’ Time, 1989
  • Put Yourself in My Shoes, 1990
  • The Hard Way, 1992
  • Nothin’ but the Taillights, 1997
  • Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic, 2005

Next: #62. Red Foley

Previous: #64. Jerry Reed

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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100 Greatest Men: #67. Steve Wariner

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Many stars shone brighter before they quickly faded away. Steve Wariner stayed humble and relied on his talent, and he managed to outlast all of them.

He was born and raised in Indianapolis, and started out as a member of his dad’s backing band.  Though he enjoyed singing, his guitar meant just as much to him, and the dual talents caught the attention of Dottie West.   At age seventeen, he was hired to join her band.  Unlike most guitar players on the road, his prodigious talent was considered worthy enough to take into the studio, and he backed West on several records, including her smash hit “Country Sunshine.”

By 1976, he’d gained the attention of RCA, which would be the first of four major label deals over the next quarter century.  His first album didn’t make much of an impact, and RCA released several singles before one finally hit.  In 1980, he had his first top ten hit, “Your Memory.”   His second album was released in 1981, and the self-titled set received high critical acclaim.  It featured his first #1 single, “All Roads Lead  to You.”

After one more album with RCA, Wariner switched to MCA, where he would have his greatest success at radio.  Over the course of six albums and six years, Wariner racked up seventeen consecutive top ten hits, including eight #1 hits.  Wariner chose to leave MCA for upstart Arista in 1991, and the change was creatively reinvigorating.

Hie first set for his new label, I am Ready, hit stores in 1991, and it produced three top ten hits.  It quickly became the top-selling album of his career, and his first to be certified gold.  During his years at Arista, Wariner would release an instrumental album and win a Grammy for a collaboration with Mark O’Connor.  In 1997, he teamed with Anita Cochran on her debut album, and their collaboration “What If I Said” became his first #1 hit since the eighties.

Wariner guested on a Garth Brooks single, who coaxed Wariner into joining his label Capitol.  Wariner would have his greatest commercial success at this label, with two straight gold-selling albums.   His first single for Capitol, ‘Holes in the Floor of Heaven”, became his signature song.  When he won the CMA awards for Single and Song in 1998, he was greeted with standing ovations, as the genial performer finally received industry honors for his solo work.

He scored the last of his thirty-one top ten hits in 2000, reaching #5 with “Been There”, a duet with Clint Black.   Since then, he has gone on to release several independent albums to continued critical acclaim.  Wariner still tours, but keeps a higher profile in Nashville, particularly at the Grand Ole Opry, where he’s been a member since 1996.

Essential Singles:

  • All Roads Lead to You, 1981
  • Some Fools Never Learn, 1985
  • Life’s Highway, 1986
  • The Tips of My Fingers, 1991
  • What if I Said (with Anita Cochran), 1997
  • Holes in the Floor of Heaven, 1998

Essential Albums:

  • Steve Wariner, 1982
  • It’s a Crazy World, 1987
  • I am Ready, 1991
  • Burnin’ the Roadhouse Down, 1998
  • Steal Another Day, 2003

Next: #66. David Houston

Previous: #68. Mark Chesnutt

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Twelve Songs of Christmas: Day Four

Song #4: White Christmas

Sam’s Pick: Garth Brooks – For the ultimate version of this song, it’s hard to go wrong with Bing Crosby. But Garth’s jazzy, laid-back take on “White Christmas” is pretty excellent too. Fun fact: This song loses a lot of its charm once you’ve spent a Christmas night with your heart in your throat driving home after a blizzard but before the salt trucks have come out.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ8X8aZv4RE

Leeann’s Pick: Bing Crosby

I’ve searched high and low for a superior version, but no one can top the ultimate version of “White Christmas”. It’s beautiful, it’s calming and it’s perfect.

BONUS PICK

Jonathan Keefe: Lari White

One of the reasons I’m not crazy about Christmas music is that so much of it ends up produced in the same vanilla, tasteful-to-a-fault kind of soft rock manner, and White’s rendition does have that problem. Fortunately, it does get points for a prominent steel guitar line and for having an over-the-top, campy choir kick in during the second verse.

But, more importantly, it’s also a showcase for White’s incomparable voice: In terms of power, range, control, and richness of tone, she’s easily one of the finest singers country music has ever been lucky enough to claim. The catastrophically poor taste of the “Wild at Heart” video pretty well killed her career, but her version of this holiday standard does still score her some seasonal recurrent airplay.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr8i-YVPVZk

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Summer Single Reviews Round-Up: Luke Bryan, Jake Owen, Jerrod Niemann, Zac Brown Band, Dierks Bentley

We’re halfway through the summer months, which means we’ve heard the handful of summer-oriented singles played on the radio approximately 17,283 times by now. In keeping with CU’s retro theme, let’s hit the singles we missed upon their initial release (sorry y’all!).

Luke Bryan, “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)”

Written by Luke Bryan & Dallas Davidson

Whereas Jason Aldean would likely have soaked this dance number in aggression, Bryan melts away its sexist edge by layering it with goofiness and playful energy. The result is a shamelessly catchy ditty that makes me want to shake it for the squirrels. File that under: Things I never thought I’d say. Grade: B

Jake Owen, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”

Written by Dylan Altman, Eric Paslay & Terry Sawchuk

Look, I’m all about overdramatizing memories, so the atmospheric, arena rock set-up of the song doesn’t feel inherently ridiculous to me. But in order for a larger-than-life arrangement to have any traction, you’ve got to paint your memories with at least a nugget of lyrical depth. Grade: C+


Jerrod Niemann, “One More Drinkin’ Song”

Written by Richie Brown & Jerrod Niemann

Sounds like part George Strait, part Garth Brooks, part Niemann (+). Feels like a lack of creativity (-). Grade: B-

Zac Brown Band (Feat. Jimmy Buffett), “Knee Deep”

Written by Coy Bowles, Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette & Jeffrey Steele

Like the innocent little brother of “Toes,” “Knee Deep” lacks spunk but radiates the same sea-breezy blissfulness. Bonus points for the crisp craftsmanship. Grade: B

Dierks Bentley, “Am I The Only One”

Written by Jim Beavers, Dierks Bentley & Jon Randall

If you can refrain from doing the obvious –holding this song up against the splendor of Up On The Ridge–, it falls a little less flat. Then again, I kind of dig the boozy lethargy, especially in Bentley’s performance– it’s like he really doesn’t give a damn about anything so long as he gets his party on. (Seriously, though, if I don’t even watch “Idol” on a Friday night, who does?) Grade: B-

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Album Review: Gary Nicholson, Texas Songbook

Gary Nicholson
Texas Songbook


Written by Bob Losche

Texas Songbook is the latest album from country/blues singer/songwriter Gary Nicholson, a recent inductee into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame. Nicholson is best known for writing familiar radio hits such as”The Trouble With the Truth” (Patty Loveless), “One More Last Chance” (Vince Gill), “Squeeze Me In” (Garth Brooks/Trisha Yearwood), and “She Couldn’t Change Me” (Montgomery Gentry), among many others.

Although he left Texas for Nashville over 30 years ago, Nicholson remains a Texan at heart, and all 13 songs on Texas Songbook have a Texas connection.

Produced by Gary and recorded in Austin at Asleep at the Wheel’s Bismeaux Records, the album features Texas musicians and co-writers, the latter group including the likes of Lee Roy Parnell, Delbert McClinton, Guy Clark and Allen Shamblin among others. There’s plenty of fiddle and steel guitar as well as effective use of the harmonica and accordion in this collection of swinging and two-stepping, dance hall and honky-tonk style music.

Many country music fans may already be familiar with some of the songs on this album: “Fallin’ & Flyin’ “, written with the late Stephen Bruton and performed by Jeff Bridges, was featured in the movie “Crazy Heart.” The island flavored “Live, Laugh, Love” was written with Allen Shamblin and previously recorded by Clay Walker on his 1999 album of the same title. It’s a “seize the moment” song.

Previously recorded by George Strait, Delbert McClinton and Del McCoury, “Same Kind of Crazy” written with Delbert McClinton, gets things rocking. McClinton plays harmonica with backing vocals by Randy Rogers. The man is smitten because his new girl is the same kind of crazy as he is. The third verse begins, “It’s getting hard to use a ladder ’cause I keep climbing down just to kiss her” and concludes with the best line of the song, “she talks in her sleep but she always gets my name right.”

My favorite track on the album is “Talkin’ Texan”, which was written with Jon Randall Stewart. I especially love the chorus: “there’s nothin’ he ain’t seen or done,/ he’s always got the biggest one/ he ain’t lyin’, he’s just talkin’ Texan”

Another co-write with Jon Randall, along with Guy Clark, is “Some Days You Write the Song”, which was the title song of Clark’s 2009 Grammy nominated record, Some Days the Song Writes You. Musing on the mystery of the song writing process, Nicholson sings, “Somedays you write the song, some days the song writes you.”

The cool sounding “Messin’ with My Woman”, written with John Hadley and Seth Walker, is a swinging tune with attitude. “Don’t be messin’ with my woman, when I’m out on the road, let my song be your warning, you can’t say you ain’t been told.” If the guy does mess with his woman, he’s “gonna take a whole lot of doctors to put you back the way you were”, with background singers Ray Benson and Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel chiming in “they’d never get it right, they’d never get it right”.

The well executed fiddle and steel guitar filled “Texas Weather”, written with Lee Roy Parnell, opens the album by comparing the singer’s relationship with his woman to the volatile weather of his home state. He contrasts “angry voices, bitter cold and tender words that warm the soul”. “We know if we only wait a while we’ll see that rainbow smile”. The theme is a bit predictable. It reminds me of the saying, “If you don’t like the weather in (fill in the blank), wait 5 minutes.”

With a swinging melody that I love, “She Feels Like Texas” was written with Kimmie Rhodes. The girl’s “in a lone star state of mind, everywhere she goes.” Whenever she sees a foreign tourist attraction, she compares it to something from Texas, including calling the Eiffel Tower “the biggest oil rig I believe I’ve ever seen”.

“A Woman in Texas, A Woman in Tennessee” is a solo writing effort by Gary that he calls “a true story I made up”. Both women wondered where he was half the time. The situation gets more complicated as the song progresses: children with both, an accidental meeting of the families and the revelation of another family in Louisiana.

“Listen to Willie” is a tribute to the Redheaded Stranger written with Kevin Welch. Except for the chorus, the lyrics consist essentially of Willie Nelson song titles: “You’ve always been a ‘good hearted woman’, and I’d hate to see your ‘blue eyes cryin’ in the rain’. Other titles cleverly connected to compose the verses include “funny how time slips away”, “you were always on my mind”, “night life”, “on the road again”, “crazy” and about a half dozen others. Add a star if you’re a Willie fan. It is clever but after a few listens, I got tired of it

“Bless ‘em All”, written solely by Gary, bless him, features the gospel singing McCrary Sisters. Bless them too. The song mentions about a dozen religions, bless ‘em all, and concludes that “we got to all come together and find a better way to live”.

“Texas Ruby”, written with Jim Croce’s son AJ, features Marcia Ball on piano and Jim Hoke on saxophone. It tells of a stripper who gets on a street car in New Orleans on a real hot and sticky day and starts doing her thing. It’s a mildly amusing tune that AJ previously recorded in ’06 on his “Early On” cd.

“Lone Star Blues” was written with Delbert McClinton and has been previously covered by Delbert & George Strait. In the first scenario, he signs up for the rodeo. “I drew a bull called original sin, heard he’d killed a couple of men”, … but “he got disqualified when the bull up and died”. The chorus and last two scenarios gave me the blues and should have died too. The chorus speaks of north, south, east and west Texas blues, together the Lone Star Blues.

Although the songs included in “Texas Songbook” do not, for the most part, match some of Gary’s very best songs, the album as a whole is thoroughly enjoyable. The production is light throughout, the music is great and Gary knows how to deliver a song. If you’re into dancing, you’ll double your pleasure with this album.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 26

Today’s category is…

A Song About Time.

Here are the staff picks:

Tara Seetharam: “For the Good Times” – Jamey Johnson

About a man spending one last night with his lover, frozen in the “good times” instead of thinking about the pain that will inevitably ensue. There are plenty of versions of this song that I enjoy, but Johnson’s hits on the exact swirl of genres that just gets to me.

Kevin Coyne: “Pushing Up Daisies” – Garth Brooks

My favorite metaphor about time and the importance of making it count is captured in the chorus of this song.

Leeann Ward: “Wayside (Back in Time)” – Chris Thile

When I looked through my iTunes to find a song about time, as you might imagine, many of them were reflective and conveyed some sort of sentimentality. But I love this breakneck version of Gillian Welch and David Rawling’s “Wayside (Back in Time)” the best.

Dan Milliken: “Time Changes Everything” – Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys

The sweet, simple truth: If you think you’ll never get over being discarded, wait.

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