At an Iowa State Fair performance, he sang one of his latest songs, “We Don’t Apologize for America.” He followed the performance with this statement:
“We’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the U.S., and we hate him.”
I don’t really care much what Hank Jr.’s politics are, and I don’t really care if he espouses his views from the stage. Obviously, the feelings of hate he projects on to the president and on this audience are a matter of opinion. I believe they are misguided and poorly supported opinions, at least regarding how the president feels about farming, the military, and the U.S., but they are opinions nonetheless.
In truth, his words are a fairly typical caricature of what a person on the left believes, made doubly unbelievable when describing a man who is actually the Commander in Chief of the military and has dedicated his life to public service. But I think only the most ideologically blinded person would believe otherwise anyway.
I want to talk about the factual error he makes in describing President Obama as a Muslim president, an oft-repeated lie that one must be completely misinformed and/or terminally naive to believe. Still, it’s not the factual error that’s bothering me. It’s the othering that is deeply embedded in it.
Frankly, I am sick and tired of “Muslims” and “lovers of America” being treated as mutually exclusive groups. It disgusts me to see the faith practiced by more than 2.5 million Americans as an epithet. I’m not even going to bother qualifying that statement by noting that there’s a good chance Hank Jr. has never met a Muslim person or is simply unaware about the actual tenets of the religion and the Americans who follow it.
I’m not going to bother because there is no excuse for being so ignorant. Not in the globalized world we live in. Not in the richly diverse country that we live in. Not when we have so many thousands of years of recorded history where dividing a nation’s population into “us” vs. “them” has resulted in so many horrific acts of violence, genocide, and oppression. Not when there are so many other marginalized groups that are dismissed, devalued, and degraded because they are “them” and not “us.”
From the Iowa State Fair stage on Friday night, Hank Williams Jr. made a blatant appeal to the most base and vile instinct that lurks in the darkest parts of us: “You are not like me. You do not believe what I believe. You are the enemy.”
I’m sure Hank would be quick to profess his deep and unwavering love for America. How tragic that he has so much contempt and vitriol for millions of his fellow Americans.
Even among the new traditionalists of the early nineties, Mark Chesnutt stood out as a traditionalist, bringing pure country to the radio dial for more than a decade.
Chesnutt was born into a musical family, as the son of singer Bob Chesnutt. Born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, he quickly became a fixture on the local country music scene. His dad encouraged the music bug, and while still in his early twenties, he was already recording for local independent labels. His debut album, Doing My Country Thing, was released in 1988 on Axbar Records.
Chesnutt headlined at the Beaumont club Cutter’s, a joint that would also launch the career of Tracy Byrd. His growing popularity garnered buzz in Nashville, and he landed a recording contract with MCA. He was a big hit right out of the gate, scoring a top five hit with the now-classic weeper, “Too Cold at Home.”
Chesnutt’s album of the same title went platinum, and featured an additional four top ten hits. His next two releases extended his streak to twelve consecutive top ten hits, including several #1 singles. One of those chart-toppers was a cover of the fairly obscure Hank Wililams Jr. single, “I’ll Think of Something.” Chesnutt’s musical knowledge helped him flesh out many of his studio albums with lesser-known tracks from classic country artists.
The industry recognized Chesnutt’s talent with the CMA Horizon Award in 1993, and radio remained firmly on board throughout the next few years. As the genre moved toward a more crossover sound, Chesnutt remained firmly planted in traditional country music, releasing classic singles like “Almost Goodbye”, “Thank God For Believers”, and “Goin’ Through the Big D.”
His last big hit was a surprising one: a cover of the Aerosmith pop hit, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” Even with strings, however, the end result was more classic Nashville sound than anything close to pop.
After departing MCA, Chesnutt had a brief stint on Columbia. Since the mid-2000′s, he’s scored a handful of radio hits on independent labels, the most recent being a top thirty cover of Charlie Rich’s “Rollin’ With the Flow.” He received astonishing critical acclaim for his 2004 set, Savin’ the Honky Tonk, and has earned good notices for his 2010 cover album, Outlaw.
Chesnutt is still touring actively, and his most recent release is Live From the Big “D”, a concert set recorded in Dallas.
Besides the fact that Wilson has once again turned out a country pride anthem in the vein of “Redneck Woman”, she name drops several legends of Southern Rock while appropriating their style for her own.
Gretchen, I’ll give you a pass on Hank Jr. and Charlie Daniels, even though you sang about both of them on your first hit. But come on, the Allman Brothers Band? ZZ Top? Are you kidding?
I’d say it’s like she’s not even trying anymore, but she probably is. It just turns out that she’s a one-dimensional character, and that character hasn’t been fresh or interesting since 2004.
Here’s hoping you haven’t gotten completely burned out on countdowns yet. 2009 was hardly a favorite musical year for many of us, but amid each year’s glut of throwaway items, there’s always a good’un or two (or forty). The following is the first installment of our Best Singles of 2009 list, which will conclude tomorrow morning. Best Albums will follow next week.
As with the Singles of the Decade feature, this countdown has been compiled through combination of four equally weighed Top 20 lists by Kevin, Leeann, Tara and myself. An inverted point system was applied to the individual rankings (#1 on a list meant 20 points, while #20 on the list meant 1 point). The songs were then ranked together by number of total points, greatest to least. The final result is another rather stylistically diverse set.
As always, we hope you enjoy the countdown, and welcome all the feedback you can muster. Happy New Year!
Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
The trio puts a country spin on an old school pop sound, but without forsaking raw emotion. The highlight of the song is Hillary Scott’s smoky performance, which draws out all the anguish and regret you’d expect from a desperate, 1 AM lover’s call. – Tara Seetharam
Joey + Rory, “Play the Song”
While Joey + Rory’s image appears to be squeaky-clean, it is fascinating that their songs have displayed some of the most attitude in the mainstream country music world. After releasing the sassy “Cheater, Cheater”, they have appealed to radio (the very people holding part of the duo’s career in their hands) to stop limiting their playlists with safe choices and to just “play the song.” – Leeann Ward (more…)
While Taylor Swift mania continues to grow, there’s another impressive accomplishment being achieved by two veterans of country music on the opposite end of the age spectrum.
Contrary to what is commonly believed, there has always been a ceiling on how old you could be and still get country airplay. This year, both George Strait and Reba McEntire have been working steadily to shatter that ceiling.
Take a look at the age of country legends when they earned their most recent top ten solo hit:
Eddy Arnold, 62
Kenny Rogers, 61*
Conway Twitty, 58
George Strait, 57
George Jones, 57**
Marty Robbins, 57
Willie Nelson, 56**
Ray Price, 56
Reba McEntire, 54
Waylon Jennings, 53
Merle Haggard, 52
Alan Jackson, 50
Charley Pride, 50
Johnny Cash, 49
Ernest Tubb, 49
Ronnie Milsap, 48
Loretta Lynn, 47
Webb Pierce, 46
Garth Brooks, 45
Dolly Parton, 43**
Hank Williams Jr., 41
Tammy Wynette, 40
* Kenny Rogers was the lead singer for his final top ten hit “Buy Me a Rose”, with harmony vocalists Billy Dean and Alison Krauss credited on the single
** George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton returned to the top ten in later years through duets with younger artists
It’s also worth noting that Alan Jackson, at 50, isn’t too far away from passing several legends on the list.
So George Strait remains in heavy rotation at the age of 57, outpacing all but three stars in country music history. Among the ladies, McEntire is a full seven years older than her nearest competitor Loretta Lynn was when she enjoyed her last top ten hit.
Back to the Nineties continues with a look at Mark Chesnutt, one of the strongest traditionalists to break through in 1990. He won the Horizon Award in 1993 while he was riding a streak of three consecutive #1 singles.
Chesnutt’s greatest commercial and radio successes came early on. His first three studio albums went platinum and his fourth went gold. He’d earn an additional platinum record with a hits collection assembled from those sets.
While he remained a consistent presence on radio for the entire decade, his sales tapered off. His last big hit was his 1999 cover of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” which went to #1. In more recent years, he’s limited his covers to The Marshall Tucker Band and Charlie Rich.
Ten Essential Tracks:
“Too Cold at Home”
from the 1990 album Too Cold at Home
Chesnutt’s first twelve singles reached the top ten, starting with this pure country hit that finds him hiding out in a bar on a sweltering summer day. “It’s too hot to fish, too hot for golf, and too cold at home.”
from the 1990 album Too Cold at Home
He’s still at the bar for this hit, his first to top the charts. This time, the woman has left him, and his only family left are the jukebox, wine, freedom, and time.
“I’ll Think of Something”
from the 1992 album Longnecks & Short Stories
A bone-chilling cover of a very old Hank Williams Jr. single. His nuanced vocal digs deeper than Williams did on the 1974 original.
“Bubba Shot the Jukebox”
from the 1992 album Longnecks & Short Stories
This was one of the first singles forced by radio, as unsolicited airplay pushed it on to the charts while MCA was still working “I’ll Think of Something.” Songwriter Dennis Linde also penned Chesnutt’s #1 hit “It Sure is Monday.”
from the 1993 album Almost Goodbye
It begins like a domestic epic worthy of George Jones, complete with the swelling of the strings for heightened emotional effect. But cooler heads prevail as they realize how much they’d have to lose if they said the word goodbye. After all, “Sometimes the most important words are the ones that you leave unspoken.”
“I Just Wanted You to Know”
from the 1993 album Almost Goodbye
One side of what must be an incredibly awkward telephone conversation, with the woman’s implied silence at the other end of the line making things just a little more uncomfortable.
“Goin’ Through the Big D”
from the 1994 album What a Way to Live
The nineties equivalent of “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft.)”
from the 1995 album Wings
Covering Todd Snider. The coolest thing that Mark Chesnutt has ever done. “A woman like you walks in a place like this and you can almost hear the promises break.”
“It Wouldn’t Hurt to Have Wings”
from the 1995 album Wings
Essentially the title track to Chesnutt’s finest major label album, it was also the set’s only big hit.
“Thank God For Believers”
from the 1997 album Thank God For Believers
In a decade that brought several powerful new perspectives on alcoholism, this was one of the best, as the man who struggles with his addiction can’t believe the strength and the faith of the woman who stays beside him.
Two Hidden Treasures:
from the 1995 album Wings
Take your pick from this album – perhaps you’d prefer “As the Honky Tonk Turns” or “King of Broken Hearts” – but my favorite is the closing track, where strangers that meet in the evening will be strangers again the next morning.
“A Hard Secret to Keep”
from the 2004 album Savin’ the Honky Tonk
This is the best moment of Chesnutt’s strongest album, the independent release Savin’ the Honky Tonk. It’s an album that more than lives up to its title, especially on this tale of cheater’s paranoia.
It’s time for an album sales update, our first since May 23. Brad Paisley is off to a strong start with American Saturday Night, selling 130k in its first week. That’s about 70k less than his previous two studio albums – Time Well Wasted and 5th Gear – opened with, but not a terrible drop-off, considering the state of the music market.
Meanwhile, the new studio albums by Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban are slowing down considerably, now being outpaced on a weekly basis by 2008 releases by Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum.
Among younger acts with a new album in 2009, the most impressive sales are coming from Jason Aldean, while 2008 releases from Kellie Pickler, Billy Currington, and Randy Houser are showing new signs of life.
Biggest disappointments? It’s hard not to look in the direction of Martina McBride, who has barely cleared the 100k mark on her new studio set. Lee Ann Womack’s 2008 set just made it over that mark, too. Then again, one only needs to have sold 455 copies to make the chart this week, with the anchor position going to Wynonna with that total. Her covers album Sing – Chapter 1 has sold 41k to date.
Here are the latest totals for albums released over the past three years that are still charting:
Rascal Flatts, Unstoppable – 842,000
Keith Urban, Defying Gravity – 452,000
Jason Aldean, Wide Open – 384,000
Kenny Chesney, Greatest Hits II – 281,000
Dierks Bentley, Feel That Fire – 219,000
Martina McBride, Shine – 104,000
John Rich, Son of a Preacher Man – 103,000
Eric Church, Carolina – 94,000
Rodney Atkins, It’s America – 88,000
Jake Owen, Easy Does It – 81,000
Randy Travis, I Told You So: Ultimate Hits – 78,000
Montgomery Gentry, For Our Heroes – 64,000
Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel, Willie & The Wheel – 56,000
Steve Earle, Townes – 47,000
Colt Ford, Ride Through the Country – 45,000
Jason Michael Carroll, Growing Up is Getting Old – 45,000
Wynonna, Sing – Chapter 1 – 41,000
Hank Williams Jr. – 127 Rose Avenue – 34,000
Ryan Bingham, Roadhouse Sun – 15,000
Tracy Lawrence, Rock – 11,000
Darryl Worley, Sounds Like Life – 8,000
Holly Williams, Here With Me – 5,000
Charlie Robison, Beautiful Day – 3,000
Tanya Tucker, My Turn – 3,000
Taylor Swift, Fearless – 3,464,000
Sugarland, Love on the Inside – 1,683,000
George Strait, Troubadour – 914,000
Alan Jackson, Good Time – 869,000
Darius Rucker, Learn to Live – 754,000
Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun – 721,000
Zac Brown Band, Foundation – 681,000
Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Vol. 1 – 680,000
Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum – 674,000
Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits – 652,000
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – 509,000
Toby Keith, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy – 403,000
James Otto, Sunset Man – 374,000
Julianne Hough, Julianne Hough – 314,000
Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler – 261,000
Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits – 255,000
Brad Paisley, Play – 247,000
Dolly Parton, Backwoods Barbie – 208,000
Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 – 206,000
Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything – 191,000
Trace Adkins, X – 185,000
Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew it All – 184,000
Joey + Rory, Life of a Song – 167,000
Blake Shelton, Startin’ Fires – 165,000
Eli Young Band, Jet Black and Jealous – 108,000
Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy – 102,000
Craig Morgan, Greatest Hits – 81,000
Hank Williams III, Damn Right Rebel Proud – 80,000
What do you know? Coming off of their invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry, Montgomery Gentry release their most country-sounding single in some time. The sound is a nice blend of Alabama, Hank Jr., and 70′s folk-rock, with a chorus ready-made for barroom singalongs and a colorful set of dobro fills.
It’s a credit to the songwriting that it manages to breathe life into a fairly tired theme. This whole “I’m proud of my broken family, gosh darn it” shtick has been done a good deal in recent years, and it’s been done well, with tracks like LeAnn Rimes’ “Family” and Eric Church’s “Sinners Like Me” providing some of the most memorable moments in those artists’ catalogs.
As with those examples, what elevates Montgomery Gentry’s take on the idea is its candor. Rather than try to falsely glamorize the relatives’ imperfections, as so many would-be Redneck Anthems would do, this song just throws them all out on the table, acknowledging them as they really are – not necessarily desirable, yet inescapable. Granted, the family does sound a little bit sensationalized, but the details are at least interesting enough to warrant a momentary suspension of disbelief.
I think a lot of people – particularly in the South – can relate to the social stigma of having so-called “bad stock” in their family, and I suspect they’ll really latch onto the humorous, “so what?” style of self-acceptance “Long Line of Losers” extols. I have to say that I’d like it a little more if the narrator gave a concrete example of what makes him such a loser – no fair spilling all his family’s beans and none of his own – but all in all, this is a good example of the Montgomery Gentry formula done right.
Earle, has recently received considerable press regarding his beautiful and classy song that pays tribute to his mother. It’s been reported that before he sings the song at a show, he introduces it by saying that his father gets enough credit, but someone who does not is his mother. This is easily true about most spouses or ex spouses of famous people. So, it’s nice when an adult child takes advantage of his/her platform to rectify the oversight, which is something that Hank Williams Jr’s daughter has done as well.
Holly Williams sings a tribute to her selfless mother, simply titled “Mama.” While the song is as simple as the title, it is sweet and intriguingly revealing about her childhood. In “Mama”, Williams thanks her mom for shielding her from the emotional turmoil that undoubtedly plagued her as a result of a broken marriage to the famously rebel rousing, Hank Williams Jr. Through the sincere lyrics, we learn that while her mother had ample reason to turn her children against their father, she chose to put aside her natural emotional pain to ensure that they had a chance
to enjoy a meaningful relationship with him instead. She sings: “You did more good for me than you will ever know./I’ve seen mothers fill their children’s hearts with hate./But you knew better than to drag me down with you/You let me love my daddy just the same.”
Holly Williams smoky, yet sensitive vocal, is supported by the aid of pleasant and unobtrusive production, which mostly consists of tasteful mandolin, Dobro and light drums. While it’s not as intricate and subtle as Justin Townes Earle’s tribute to his Mama, it is equally as heartfelt and just as emotional.