Tag Archives: Gary Allan

Forgotten Hits: George Ducas, “Lipstick Promises”

Lipstick Promises
George Ducas
1994
Peak: #9
Written by George Ducas and Tia Sillers

One hit wonders were once an anomaly in country music.  The nineties changed that, as the massive commercial success of the genre inspired more labels to get into the game. The result was more artists than country radio could ever play regularly, so even a breakthrough top ten hit was no longer enough to get radio to automatically give the next single a shot.

George Ducas was one of the earliest casualties of this new era.  With a voice like Dwight Yoakam with a touch of Raul Malo, Ducas showed tremendous promise as a singer-songwriter.  There’s a beautiful melancholy to his performance of “Lipstick Promises.” It’s the tale of a man who has been blinded by beauty and ends up being burned by his unfaithful lover.

It still sounds great today, and it’s a shame that radio didn’t give a fair shot to the singles that followed. “Hello Cruel World” and “Every Time She Passes  By” were both on par with the better single releases of their day. Ducas exited his label after two projects, but has gone on to have some success as a songwriter, penning hits for Garth Brooks (“Beer Run)” and Sara Evans (“A Real Fine Place to Start.”) He’s also had songs recorded by Trisha Yearwood, Dixie Chicks, and Gary Allan.

Tia Sillers, co-writer of “Lipstick Promises”, went on to win major awards for “I Hope You Dance”, the peak of a songwriting career that has also included hits by Pam Tillis (“Land of the Living”), Trisha Yearwood (“Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love”),  Dixie Chicks (“There’s Your Trouble”), and Alan Jackson (“That’d Be Alright.”)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOJMHVciR2o

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 9: #40-#21

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 9: #40-#21

#40
“This Is Me You’re Talking To”
Trisha Yearwood
2008
Peak: #25

Flawless. Proof positive that the nineties formula at its best is better than anything on naughties radio. Perhaps they can’t play it too much for that reason. It’s not good for business to park a new Lexus in a used car lot of Ford Pintos. – Kevin Coyne

#39
“Famous in a Small Town”
Miranda Lambert
2007
Peak: #14

This is one of those slice-of-life songs that anyone from a small town can easily relate to. What sets it above the pack of songs of that ilk is the witty nugget of truth that “everybody dies famous in a small town.” The Springsteen-esque vibe of the production is pretty cool, too. – Leeann Ward Continue reading

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 6: #100-81

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 6: #100-81

100 Alison Krauss Lonely
#100

“Restless”
Alison Krauss & Union Station
2004
Peak: #36

A shimmering moment of infatuation chased with unease. Krauss is entangled in thoughts of her beloved but at a distance, and temptation lurks for both of them. – Dan Milliken

99 Shania Come On Over

#99
I’m Holdin’ On to Love (To Save My Life)
Shania Twain
2000
Peak: #4

A terribly catchy slice of country-pop that, true to Twain, doesn’t sacrifice authenticity for appeal – Twain simply embodies the snappy energy that pulses through the song. – Tara Seetharam Continue reading

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 5: #120-#101

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 5: #120-#101

120 Keith Urban Be Here

#120
“Tonight I Wanna Cry”
Keith Urban
2005
Peak: #2

A chillingly frank portrait of loneliness, awkward reference to “All By Myself” notwithstanding. Few mainstream vocalists today could pull off something this intense. – Dan Milliken

119 Loretta Van Lear Rose

#119
“Portland, Oregon”
Loretta Lynn with Jack White
2004
Peak: Did not chart

If you can take a healthy dose of dirty rock ‘n’ roll in your country, this is one of the coolest-sounding records of the decade, a classic one-night-stand duet. That it’s a very cross-generational pairing singing it would be creepy if not for the goofy smiles shining through Lynn’s and White’s performances. – DM Continue reading

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 1: #201-#181

hourglassThis was the decade that brought back the single.  Not that it ever fully went away, as radio still played the promotional ones and video outlets the filmed ones. But actual commercial singles had gone the way of the dodo, until the digital revolution suddenly made them practical again.  Why buy the whole album when you can just get the song that you want?

The devastation this has brought to record company bottom lines was probably unavoidable anyway, given the realities of post-Napster society. But technology has its perks. Now you can buy the songs on this list with a click of the mouse!

And what a list it is: 201 singles that run the gamut, from genuine hits that topped the charts to songs spun only by renegade DJs working the night shift. Here’s how we compiled it: four Country Universe writers ranked their personal favorite 100 singles, with an inverted point system applied (#1 on a list meant 100 points, while #100 on the list meant 1 point.) The songs were then ranked by number of total points, greatest to least. Ties were broken by the number of lists the song appeared on, then by highest individual ranking.

There was more consensus than usual for CU, and we all agreed on one thing: this list was a heck of a lot of fun to compile. We hope you enjoy it, too!

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 1: #201-#181

201 Lady A

#201
“I Run To You”
Lady Antebellum
2009
Peak: #1

There’s a palpable intensity to this song that grips me every time I listen to it. Love isn’t always characterized by peacefulness, and the song’s pulsing production perfectly conveys the urgency, desperation and passion that often accompanies it. – Tara Seetharam Continue reading

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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Conclusion: #10-#1

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Conclusion

As we come to the end of our list, the top ten selections are a lot like the ninety before them, with perhaps a bit more of a roots leaning overall.  If you didn’t see your favorite on the list, or just want to discover more great music that you might have missed, be sure to check out the list at , if you somehow haven’t done so already. Even better, start a blog and write your own list.  It feels like a lot of barriers fell within country music this decade, and I think one of the best walls to come down was the one between music journalism and the listening audience.  I hope in the next decade, a lot more readers become writers, so we can all keep reveling in the music we love and helping others discover it.

Sappy introduction aside, here’s our top ten of the decade:

10 Patty

#10
Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and few albums have inspired more imitation than Patty Loveless’ Mountain Soul. Bluegrass music full of roots influences, Mountain Soul, with its traditional sound, has become a surrogate definition of authenticity for mainstream artists returning to their musical beginnings. Standout songs include “Cheap Whiskey,” a classically dark drinking song; the energetic “The Boys are Back in Town,” with its WWII imagery; and “Soul of Constant Sorrow,” based on the traditional work popularized by the Stanley Brothers. – William Ward

Recommended Tracks: “The Boys are Back in Town”, “Cheap Whiskey”, “Soul of Constant Sorrow”, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”

9 Vince

#9
Vince Gill, These Days

An inordinate amount of praise has already been heaped upon Vince Gill’s prolific, 2006 landmark 4-disc box set of all original material. Moreover, all of the praise is warranted. Not only is all of the material original rather than culled from previous albums; Gill had a hand in writing each of the 43 tracks. Each disc is divided into its own genre (rock, jazz, bluegrass/acoustic and straight-up country). Furthermore, each disc is masterfully executed. Fortunately, These Days does not prove the old “less is more” adage. Instead, it only leaves us longing for more. – Leeann Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Sweet Thing”, “Faint of Heart (with Diana Krall)”, “Little Brother”, “Some Things Never Change (featuring Emmylou Harris)

8 Loretta

#8
Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose

She had already made a fine latter-day album with 2000’s Still Country, but Loretta Lynn’s crowning artistic moment of the last thirty years came when rocker Jack White offered to turn his semi-fetishization of Lynn’s music and persona into a full LP. As you’d expect of a project born of such fanboy fantasy, White was not shy about dressing up Loretta in his favorite things – in this case, snaky electric guitars and loose, often atmospheric arrangements that made the Kentucky gal sound more raw, Gothic and edgy than she ever had in her bouncy classic singles. But White also had the good sense not to let his little indulgences distract from the fantastic artist on his hands, who wrote herself a batch of sharp, soulful songs that capture the essence of what truly makes real country music – and Lynn herself – rock so hard. – Dan Milliken

Recommended Tracks: “Portland, Oregon”, “Trouble On the Line”, “Family Tree”, “Miss Being Mrs.”

7 Cash

#7
Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man

It’s astounding how some artists can convey as much meaning through voice as they can through lyric. Cash performs covers and original material alike so affectingly on this Grammy-award winning album that you feel like you can reach out and touch what you’re hearing. It’s a stunningly haunting, uniquely introspective project, carried by the strength of Cash’s wisdom and transcendent voice. – Tara Seetharam

Recommended Tracks: “Before My Time”, “I’m Leaving Now”, “Solitary Man”, “I See a Darkness”

6 OCMS

#6
Old Crow Medicine Show, Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show’s first and best progressive acoustic album is difficult to label as far as genre is concerned. However, what can be defined is that there are elements of bluegrass, country, folk, etc., which all culminate in a mighty fine debut effort from a band that has developed an impressive cult following as a result. With overt drug references, subtler (though still obvious) political undertones, quiet philosophical moments and some simply fun numbers, this album never gets tiresome, which is a testament to its long lasting substance as a whole. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “Tell It to Me”, “Big Time in the Jungle”, “Wagon Wheel”

5 Kathy

#5
Kathy Mattea, Coal

Kathy Mattea’s Coal is a near-perfect example of an album acting as a single piece of art. More than a collection of mining songs, Coal, co-produced by Marty Stuart, is a brutal and beautiful look at a way of life that is both challenging and enlightening. Notable tracks include “Dark as a Dungeon,” delivered with meticulous but even intensity; the haunting “Red-Winged Blackbird,” with its blood and coal color imagery; and the a cappella “Black Lung,” an impressive choice in which Mattea successfully pushes the boundaries of her musical abilities. – WW

Recommended Tracks: “Blue Diamond Mines”, “Red-Winged Blackbird”, “Sally in the Garden”, “Dark as a Dungeon”

4 Miranda

#4
Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Call it potential realized: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the album we all knew Lambert could make, and waited on the tips of our toes to hear. Her follow-up to Kerosene is a rich, defiant album that conveys a sharp perspective and a clear musical identity. Amidst a spunky blend of twang and rock, she draws from a more incisive set of songwriting skills and packs a hell of a believable punch, like on her first top ten hit, “Gunpowder & Lead.” And the punch isn’t reserved for the fiery numbers, as the album’s most gripping track comes in the form of pure tenderness. The wistful lament “More Like Her” is one of the best and most heartbreaking songs of this decade. – TS

Recommended Tracks: “Famous in a Small Town”, “More Like Her”, “Dry Town”, “Love Letters”

3 Gary

#3
Gary Allan, Tough All Over

A rough, scattered, imperfect and wholly realistic 12-track grieving process. By the time of the tragic personal events leading to this album, Allan had already proven he could interpret a song better than just about anyone working in the genre; on Tough All Over, he took on the unimaginable task of interpreting his own battered emotional core. The results are striking, as he confronts not just his inevitable loneliness (“Best I Ever Had”, “Ring”, “Puttin’ Memories Away”), but also less tidy trackings of guilt (“I Just Got Back From Hell”), self-loathing (“What Kind of Fool”), spite (the title track), and reluctant hope (“Nickajack Cave [Johnny Cash’s Redemption]”, “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”). Country music and Allan himself have produced several more beautiful albums this past decade, but none that sounded quite so necessary. – DM

Recommended Tracks: “Tough All Over”, “I Just Got Back From Hell”, “Ring”, “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”

2 Kasey Shane

#2
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones

The fact that neither Kasey Chambers nor Shane Nicholson make particularly traditional-sounding music on their own makes it all the more incredible that they have joined together to create one of the rootsiest records on this list. Aside from the intriguing, though processed “Jackson Hole”, the songs on Rattlin’ Bones sound more like beloved classics than the original Chambers and Nicholson compositions that they actually are. The naturally compatible husband-wife pairing has created an album full of crisp, majestic harmonies, distinctive melodies and intriguing lyrics, easily making this album one of the most sonically pleasing and substantive albums of the decade. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “Rattlin’ Bones”, “Monkey on A Wire”, “One More Year”, “No One Hurts Up Here”

1 Chicks

#1
Dixie Chicks, Home

This was our top selection by such a wide margin that it’s tempting to just say, “Of course it’s the greatest album of the decade. It’s Home.”   But one sentence does not a justification for best album of the decade make, so let me go on to say that Home is conclusive proof that a modern country album can tear down the walls between radio-friendly and artistic, mainstream and Americana, pure country and crossover, revealing that while they looked like stone, they were paper walls all along.

It was a hint of further greatness to come that the Chicks were able to pen some of their own material and have it stand proudly among the very best works of brilliant songwriters, and the album became a classic because the songs really are the best ever written by Darrell Scott (“Long Time Gone”), Stevie Nicks (“Landslide”), Bruce Robison (“Travelin’ Soldier”), Radney Foster, (“Godspeed [Sweet Dreams]), and Patty Griffin (“Truth No. 2 and “Top of the World”). But with the acoustic production and their decision to record three-part harmonies for the first time, the result is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Despite the formula being so simple – great songs + great vocals + great production = great album – Home is a reminder of just how difficult that formula is to pull off.  Released back in 2002, no country album has come along since to match its quality. – KC

Recommended Tracks: “Long Time Gone”, “Truth No. 2″, “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”, “Top of the World”

– – –

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Male Vocalist of the Year

The past two decades have only brought eight winners in the CMA Male Vocalist race, with only two of them – Toby Keith and Clint Black – winning only once.  Compare this to the Female Vocalist race, which has brought twelve winners during the same time frame, though even that race has become more streaky of late, with Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood combining for seven victories in the past eleven years.

Is it time for an overhaul in the Male Vocalist race? Yes and no. There’s no denying that some of the multiple nominees/winners over the past nineteen years remain the genre’s strongest male voices. Still, there’s room for some others at the table. The problem is that there are so very few of the genre’s male artists that are genuinely at the top of their game. Even most of the men listed below have had weak singles this year.

Still, if I picked the five nominees for the 2009 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, they would be:

Jamey Johnson

If Johnson earns fewer than five nominations at this year’s CMA Awards, I’ll be shocked. In fact, I think he’ll earn six, with the surprise nomination being in this category. These aren’t predictions, though, so I’ll state that while I’m not particularly a fan of Johnson, his success at retail with a traditional project that has only received airplay for one single is darn impressive. Along with Brad Paisley, he’s one of only two artists I’ve listed that were determined by genuine merit, not process of elimination.

Brad Paisley

The genre’s most consistent radio act and the reigning champion for the past two years. In a stronger year, I would think it’s time to move on from acknowledging him in this category and consider him more for Entertainer of the Year, but he’s still the presumptive favorite in this race. At the very least, he deserves another nomination.

Darius Rucker

Too soon? Possibly.  But replace his name with other candidates  – say, Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Gary Allan, Rodney Atkins, or Blake Shelton – if you think they made better music this year.

George Strait

It’s hard to make the call about which perennial favorite – Alan Jackson or George Strait – deserves a shot this year, especially since neither of them are likely to contend for the win.  “Sissy’s Song” is better than any of Strait’s singles this past year, but all of Strait’s are better than Jackson’s other two – “Country Boy” and “Good Time.” Seeing “I Still Like Bologna” sent to radio puts me firmly in Strait’s corner, whose “River of Love” and “Troubadour” brought me listening pleasure this year.

Keith Urban

I don’t think that there’s a stronger singer in consistent rotation on country radio, even if his material has been slight this year.  A case could be made for Tim McGraw or Toby Keith getting this slot instead, but they’re dealing with the same problem: weaker material than they’ve generally been known for.

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Gary Allan, “Today”

Gary AllanI’ll say it again. Gary Allan has one of the most interesting and compelling voices in country music right now. Furthermore, he is able to convey emotion with an ease that should be the envy of his peers. Thankfully, he has also been particularly good at selecting equally engaging songs that have been worthy of his gifted talent. Unfortunately, “Today happens to rank among the few songs that do not rise to the challenge.

With a moody piano to serve as the foundation for the swelling strings and over all dramatic angst, Allan sings of the pain of losing his former lover to another man. He knows that his chance has officially passed as he laments her wedding day: “Today is the happiest day of her life./I should be happy for her today./So, tell me, why are these tears in my eyes?/I know I should be happy for her./But I lost everything/I lost everything I ever wanted today.”

While Allan’s voice is still in typical fine form, which heroically saves the song from utterly disastrous melodrama, the production is more like what one might expect from a Rascal Flatts song rather than what we’ve come to hope to hear in a Gary Allan song. Sadly, this is what seems to plague the greater portion of today’s country music. “Today” is actually a good song, but it is severely weakened by a disappointingly generic, overblown production.

Grade: C+

Listen: Gary Allan, “Today”

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Concert Season: Who Are You Going to See?

taylor-swiftI blame Adam Lambert for what I am about to reveal to you all:  I’m headed to a Taylor Swift concert tonight. That’s right, Taylor Swift. Insidious curiosity got the better of me.

But why do I blame Lambert, you ask? Because I haven’t been listening to a whole lot of country music recently. Instead, thanks to my new, bizarre obsession with Lambert, in the past month I’ve pulled out old Queen, Bowie, Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin. And I’ve listened to more My Chemical Romance, Pink and even Def Leppard than anything resembling country.  So, of course I thought of Swift. Because, when you think of hard rock, isn’t Swift the first person who comes to mind? 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh6WKvQaCK4
(Save your ears, don’t listen)

I’ve also been tuning into rock radio, a rarity for me, to see what’s popular these days. Lo and behold, wouldn’t you know, Taylor Swift is also a rock artist (in addition to being a country, pop and heavy metal artist).  She’s regularly squeezed in between All American Rejects and Green Day on my local station. And let me tell you, nothing sounds more rock than a re-mix of Love Story. Don’t you agree?

But you have to give credit where credit is due. This girl has everyone fooled. Re-mix, re-package, throw in a few guest appearances with John Mayer and Def Leppard, form a friendship with Miley Cyrus, and suddenly, wow, you appeal to every demographic (under the age of 20). I gotta admit, I’m impressed. I’m also curious how a tall, gangly misfit, with a precocious attitude, who can’t sing, has made it work.  So, I’m headed to a concert tonight and will report back here because I actually know that many of you consider Swift a guilty pleasure. Wish me luck.

But no worries. I also have a number of saner concerts scheduled later this summer.  I’ve already got tickets to see Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith and Buddy Miller; as well as tickets to see Gary Allan and LeAnn Rimes (if she doesn’t cancel, which she’s done on  me twice).  I’m also still holding out for Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson tickets, but I’m sure that one is going to work out.

Summer concert season is around the corner.

Who are you planning on seeing in concert this summer?

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Review: Doug Stone, "Don't Tell Mama"

doug-stone-brownThere are some singers you generally shou

ldn’t touch if you don’t want to your rendition to be remembered for second-bestness. You shouldn’t touch Patsy, you shouldn’t touch Connie, you shouldn’t touch Merle, you shouldn’t touch Reba, you shouldn’t touch Wynonna, you shouldn’t touch Trisha, you shouldn’t touch either George. And you shouldn’t touch Gary Allan.

Okay, to his credit, Stone actually has some nice moments in this attempt at the honky-tonk weeper that most notably appeared on Allan’s Smoke Rings in the Dark. He’s always had one of the prettier voices in the business, and the first verse of his reading suggests he might use that quality to offer a different interpretive take on the song than Allan’s appropriately gritty vocal did. Perhaps, you think, Stone will focus on the shocked vulnerability of the drunk driver as he realizes he is near death and utters his empathic last words. Or perhaps he’ll make the whole situation sound more angelic and dreamlike, like it’s such an intensely emotional moment that it doesn’t even seem to be of this world.

But when that crucial phrase comes in the chorus, all the tension just seems to dissipate. Stone’s technical performance is hard to fault, even as he litters it with lots of little slurs that make him sound like he’s practicing to become the male McEntire. But interpretively, forget it. He sings sweetly, like he recognizes this is a sad song, but Allan sang like he actually watched it happen. “Don’t Tell Mama” is the kind of piece that requires a master interpreter to unlock its full sentimental value, and for that, you gotta have Gary.

Written by Buddy Brock, Jerry Laseter & Kim Williams

Grade: B-

Listen: Don’t Tell Mama

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