Friday, May 5, 2006 – The Palace of Auburn Hills, Michigan. For Faith Hill, it was just another stop on her Soul2Soul II tour with her superstar husband Tim McGraw. For young 14-year-old Ben Foster, it was my very first live concert experience (or at least the first that did not entail bringing a picnic blanket), and it was one that I never forgot. (I still have the ticket stub)
I became a Faith Hill fan at a young age, and I became an even bigger fan as I grew older. As I set about acquiring all six of her Warner Bros. studio albums, my admiration for this talented artist only grew. To one who knows Faith Hill only for crossover pop hits like “Breathe,” “This Kiss,” and “The Way You Love Me,” it might come as a bit of a surprise what a strong album artist she was. Besides that, she possessed genuine country sensibilities in addition to the pop diva persona that she became so well known for.
As I continue to eagerly await Faith Hill’s return with her seventh studio album, I’m thrilled to share my 25 personal favorites out of her eclectic catalog of tunes. Many of these songs were substantial hits, but I’ve also left off a few well-known singles in favor of some lesser-known hidden treasures. As always, please feel free to share your favorites in the comments section.
American Folk Songbook
An accompanying press release explains how the idea came about for Suzy Bogguss to record an album of classic American folk songs (some of which sprang from European origins, and were later adopted into American culture): “Suzy Bogguss had a revelation on stage with Garrison Keillor in 2008. Everyone loves to sing along on ‘Red River Valley’ – except the children who somehow don’t know the song.”
Suzy Bogguss has been my favorite female vocalist for about 20 years now. The first time I heard her was on some TV show with Jerry Reed in 1991. She sang “Aces” and “Night Riders Lament” and I was hooked. Since then, I’ve seen her in concert about a dozen times from New York to Nashville and in-between. She still tours on her own in addition to her “Wine, Women and Song” shows with great songwriter friends Matraca Berg and Gretchen Peters. Suzy has done some writing herself having co-written 56 songs, including hits “Hey Cinderella” and “Just Like the Weather”.
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 a climate 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.
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
There 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!”