Tag Archives: Gretchen Peters

Best Country Albums of 2009, Part 1: #20-#11

A tense uncertainty hung over 2009, as the world waited to see what would become of a new American president, an economy in crisis, and a full deck of divisive social issues.

Popular music tends to respond to such charged societal circumstances in one of two ways: by confronting the issues and their ramifications head-on, or by cranking up the escapism to drown it all out for a bit. 2009 leaned heavily on the latter course, as the thumping sex-pop of Lady GaGa and the fluttery boy-centrism of Taylor Swift dominated the airwaves and the registers, offering listeners a chance to believe, if only for a few passing moments, that the world was as simple as a ride on a “disco stick” or the defeat of an evil cheer captain.

The tensions were certainly felt in country music, whose mainstream attempted to rally its casual fans against all the fallout by drumming up endless brain-optional reassurances of hometown value, God and gender identity, mostly with the volume at an attention-forcing 11 and the lyrical shrewdness averaging about 3. It made for a remarkably accessible year for that mainstream, but one which fewer fans ultimately cared much about, neutered as it was by its attempts to appease – rather than inspire – the mass public.

But let’s be positive: there were exceptions. For all its white lies and willful ignorances, country music in 2009 still told a great deal of truth. For all the loudness and brashness, the actual chart smashes – “Then”, “You Belong with Me”, “Big Green Tractor”, “Need You Now”, “Consider Me Gone” – were mostly non-exclamatory songs, songs that reflect a cherishing of simple, core ideals: Stability. Support. Romance. Appreciation. And of course, the alternative and independent artists hidden under country’s big tree continued to flourish in their own way, protected by the stability of the music’s thick roots and a less-tainted appreciation for its craft. Kinda like in the first two thirds of Avatar.

The countdown beginning below – our final country music retrospective of the past year and decade – contains albums from every spot on that big tree, from superstars squatting on the apples up top to upstart little sprouts on the middle branches to the legends holding down the withered bark at the base. It has been compiled by combination of equally weighed top-ten lists by Kevin, Leeann, William, Tara and myself, and features commentary from all five of us. Part 2 will come tomorrow, along with our individual singles and albums data. As always, we hope you enjoy the countdown and invite you to share your own top albums in the comments, along with any thoughts you may have as we close the book on 2009, if not on all the issues it brought forth.

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#20
One to the Heart, One to the Head
Gretchen Peters & Tom Russell

Gretchen Peters is best-known as a singer-songwriter, and a successful one at that, having penned the CMA. Song Of The Year “Independence Day” in 1994 and scored a top five hit when Faith Hill recorded her song, “The Secret of Life” in 1999. It is surprising then that, with her seventh album, One to the Heart, One to the Head, she and Tom Russell would release an album consisting almost completely of covers. Reminiscent of Willie Nelson’s penchant for relaxed delivery, One to the Heart, One to the Head flows with subtle emotion and western imagery. – William Ward Continue reading

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Filed under Album Reviews, Best of 2009

Shania Twain Starter Kit

shania-twainThere were two solo artists who changed the course of country music history in the nineties. The first was Garth Brooks, who ushered in the boom years with his mega-selling albums No Fences and Ropin’ the Wind.  The second was Shania Twain, who permanently altered the female point of view in country music with her mega-selling albums The Woman in Me and Come On Over.

Twain’s debut album was decent enough, with some charming singles like “What Made You Say That” and the Gretchen Peters-penned “Dance With the One That Brought You” being among the highlights. But it was the combination of Twain’s pen and Mutt Lange’s production that made her a superstar.  Throughout her career, she’s been a champion of mutual monogamy and carefree independence. She didn’t protest for women to be treated with equality and respect so much as write from the assumption that no other option had ever existed.

In truth, all three of her self-written albums are essential listening, but if none of the 60 million albums that Twain has sold are in your personal collection, here are some tracks to help you get started:

Ten Essential Tracks

“Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?”
From the 1995 album The Woman in Me

For all the heat Twain gets for being too pop, it’s hard to imagine anything this country getting played on even country radio today, let alone pop radio.

“Any Man of Mine”
From the 1995 album The Woman in Me

There were two songs from this album that essentially powered it toward becoming the best-selling female country album up until that point.  I’ve always preferred this one over “I’m Outta Here!”

“No One Needs to Know”
From the 1995 album The Woman in Me

A charming record about falling in love but not letting anybody know about it yet. It was the fourth #1 single from the album.

“You’re Still the One”
From the 1997 album Come On Over

Her first big pop hit won her two country Grammys, and was her first of two songs to be nominated for overall Song of the Year.

“That Don’t Impress Me Much”
From the 1997 album Come On Over

Three men are summarily dismissed for putting their looks, their brains, and their car before showing love and affection to Shania Twain. Such men are unlikely to exist in the real world.

“Man! I  Feel Like a Woman!”
From the 1997 album Come On Over

Arguably the most iconic single from Come On Over, it won her another Grammy and was a worldwide hit to boot, helping the album reach international sales in excess of 35 million.

“You’ve Got a Way”
From the 1997 album Come On Over

Shania unplugs with a quiet, acoustic love song.

“Up!”
From the 2002 album Up!

The title track from her epic fourth album is best heard in its country mix, with irresistible banjo and fiddle combos accompanying her frantic performance.

“Forever and For Always”
From the 2002 album Up!

Quite possibly her most beautiful ballad showcased how much she’d grown as a vocalist in the five years between Come On Over and Up!

“Ka-Ching!”
From the 2002 album Up!

This was the biggest pop hit from this album overseas, and it features a riveting video that skewers the banality of  her own celebrity as it questions society’s focus on materialism. That it was originally intended for her Christmas album is too cool for words.

Two Hidden Treasures

“Amneris’ Letter”
From the 1999 album Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida

Of all the places to find Twain’s finest vocal performance, its home is on the concept album for Aida. Just a piano and Twain singing her heart out.

“Nah!”
From the 2002 album Up!

Sure, there are countless witty rave-ups and quite a few heartbreaking ballads that never made it to radio and remained album cuts. But I don’t think there’s a more enjoyable track among her lesser-known songs than this kiss-off anthem that has some “na na na’s” thrown in to boot.

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Filed under Back to the Nineties, Starter Kits

Classic Country Singles: Martina McBride, “Independence Day”

“Independence Day”
Martina McBride
1994

Written by Gretchen Peters

In 1993, Martina McBride chose to include a powerful song penned by Gretchen Peters on her second collection The Way That I Am, despite resistance from her record label. Even with their hesitance to discuss such difficult subject manner, McBride was determined to shed light on the hard truths of domestic violence. When selected as the fourth single from the album, the song, titled “Independence Day,” many radio stations were uncertain whether they wished to play the controversial anthem. Its story of a woman’s struggle against spousal abuse is powerful and purposeful in content, lending a realistic view of how such treatment can torment its victims.

From the narrative standpoint of the woman’s daughter, the song tells of an abusive husband and the destructive effect on his family. The daughter, eight years old and all too aware, recalls how she took a trip to the downtown fair to avoid the conflict and confrontation between her parents. Her father, a drinking, dangerous man inflicts damage on his wife, made very apparent by the “proof on her cheek” and the “worried and weak” look on her face as the innocent girl gets ready to leave the house. All the while, the chorus rings out as a cry for freedom for both a hopeless wife and a helpless daughter who suffer at the hands of a violent man.

The video was equally compelling and provided a disturbing visual to help tell the story. In its final frames, the house is up in flames and the daughter is in the arms of the policemen ready to take her to the county home. The outcome for her parents is much less clear. No resolution is found, but the ending on this “day of reckoning” seems rather dire regardless of interpretation.

What is so terrifying and troubling about both the song and the video is the seeming ambivalence of the bystanders. From the firemen who just “put out the flames and took down some names” to the folks who spread the rumors of abuse like the fire that destroyed the house, those indirectly involved appeared hesitant to confront such a devastating situation. All the more reason for the wounded wife to live out the vows made in the chorus to “make the guilty pay” and take matters into her own hands.

The risks involved with writing and recording “Independence Day” paid off. Although it only reached #12 on Billboard’s singles chart, the song reached a wide audience and received much critical acclaim. McBride, as a Horizon Award nominee, performed the song on the 1994 CMA awards show, and later that evening, accepted the award for Video of the Year (an honor shared with directors Deaton Flanigan). The next year, Gretchen Peters was awarded the Song of the Year trophy, becoming only the second woman to receive the award. Peters acknowledged those who had lived with domestic violence and praised McBride for the best ambassador imaginable for this groundbreaking single.

“Independence Day” was also nominated as Best Country Song at the 1994 Grammys and earned McBride her first nod in the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. Its presence is still greatly felt and is a cornerstone of McBride’s career and a testament for truth and fearlessness in country songwriting. As Peters would later say, “I think Martina would agree that the most gratifying and most humbling thing is when women that have really lived this come up to you with tears in their eyes and say you got the story right.”

“Independence Day” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.

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100 Greatest Women, #26: Martina McBride

100 Greatest Women

#26

Martina McBride

With a big voice and a taste for topical material, Martina McBride has been one of the most consistently successful female country acts of the past fifteen years. She reached her commercial peak when female artists were dominating the genre, but she managed to maintain her popularity when women were all but banished from country radio.

She was raised in small town Kansas, and grew up singing in her family’s country band, The Schiffters. They played at local dances in the area. Once in college, she expanded her horizons, singing with a rock band for a brief period. She soon met sound engineer John McBride, and after a brief courtship, they married in 1988. Two years later, the happy couple moved to Nashville.

John’s career took off first, as his sound engineering job with rising star Garth Brooks ended up a tour job with the biggest superstar in country music history. Martina joined him on the road with Garth, selling t-shirts. Martina recorded some demos, and when John heard that RCA was looking for a new female singer, he dropped off her tape at the label. He’d heard they were only considering solicited material, so they put her demo in a big purple envelope and labeled it “Requested Material.” The ruse worked, as the label was impressed with her tape. They asked her to put on a showcase, and she blew them away, which led to a recording contract.

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100 Greatest Women, #92: Gretchen Peters

100 Greatest Women

#92

Gretchen Peters

There was a brief period in the mid-nineties where it seemed like the women in country music had seized control over the genre, artistically and commercially. When women swept all of the major categories at the 1995 CMA Awards, a songwriter named Gretchen Peters collected Song of the Year. It was only the second time that a woman had won that award, and the first time that a woman won for a song that she hadn’t recorded herself. But that was hardly the most history-making thing about “Independence Day.”

Peters had arrived in Nashville in 1989, drawn to the expanded interest that country music had been showing to offbeat singer-songwriters like Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett. While she would eventually secure the recording contract that was her original goal, it wouldn’t be until 1996, after she had established herself as one of the genre’s most credible songwriters.

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