Let’s be real: to most core readers of this blog, it’s probably old news that Miranda Lambert is releasing this unusually good song to radio. And it’s probably old opinion for me to proclaim that she’s playing a more sophisticated game than just about any mainstream artist out there. You know: “she’s real, everyone else is a phony!”. Is there some amount of truth in that? Sure. But you don’t need another country music Caulfield to tell you. You just have to listen to the song. The difference between this record and most of the others at radio can be felt within seconds.
Country Universe is a site where timeless artists like Patty Loveless are not merely acknowledged, but embraced and celebrated. So when Leeann invited me to review my favorite artist’s Brownfield Maine concert as a guest contributor, I jumped at the chance. Thank you so much Leeann, Kevin and Country Universe for giving me this opportunity. And Leeann and Bill, it was a joy and an honor to join you folks for dinner and watch the concert with you. You both made this already memorable concert experience even more unforgettable for me, along with patty-loveless.net associates Nicole, Richard and Patti, and the following day Bob and Barbara, Kevin. And also, Marcia Ramirez from Patty’s band. Many, many thanks to all.
Patty Loveless at the Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield Maine
July 3, 2009
Nestled in the northern reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, Brownfield Maine’s Stone Mountain Arts Center is a beautiful and intimate 200 seat converted barn turned listening room. It has a warm and rustic ambiance, and a very helpful staff. The wood beam framed building makes for a rich acoustical setting, almost like a giant, wooden resonator box. It is a hard place to find out there in the Maine wilderness, but well worth the effort, especially to enjoy artists and legends like Patty Loveless, Ralph Stanley, Marty Stuart, Suzy Boggus and Kathy Mattea. Think of it as a quest.
The following is a guest contribution from Scott O’Brien.
“But someone killed tradition. And for that someone should hang.” –Larry Cordle & Larry Shell, “Murder on Music Row”
Dan Milliken’s recent post got me thinking: The country music I grew up with is nothing like the music on country radio today. If I turned on today’s country radio in 1988, I might not realize it was a country station and keep right on flipping. Back then, Randy Travis and Keith Whitley’s traditional twang ruled the airwaves. Today, they are dominated by the giggly teeny-bopper ditties of Taylor Swift and the boy band sounds of Rascal Flatts. Did they get away with murder on music row? Well, let’s start by briefly uncovering country’s traditional roots.
What is traditional country music? Is it simply anything from the past? That seems too broad; Shania Twain wasn’t traditional. Anything before 1990? Maybe, but that is still a rather wide net. To me, traditional country music is honky-tonk music. It heavily employs steel guitars, fiddles, and forlorn vocals. It moves at a slow pace. There are no drums or electric guitars. The songs typically deal with heavy topics such as heartbreak, cheating, or drinking, with a ballad here and there. In most cases, the goal is to induce pain. Not bad pain, but the therapeutic empathy that tugs your heart and helps you through your personal struggles. The patron saint of traditional country is Hank Williams. Hank’s first disciple is George Jones. Jones’ first disciple is Alan Jackson. The traditional template is supposed to help us decipher what is country and what is not. After all, what makes country music country if not fiddles and cheatin’ songs?
This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the 2009 International Country Music Conference, conveniently held at a building on my college campus. The three-day event made for quite a mind-feast – so much so, actually, that it’s taking me longer than I had hoped to sort through all my notes and compose a post to do the thing justice. So that’ll be coming through the pipeline sometime within the next few days.
In the meantime, though, one issue raised during the event has really stuck out in my mind, and I thought I’d give it a spin and maybe throw out a taste of what’s to come in the full coverage.
So here’s what happened: in a discussion on Waylon Jennings’ career attitude during his peak Outlaw years, someone mentioned that his label disliked the way he seemed to view himself as a musical descendant of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams (see “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”), as if his only role as a recording artist was to serve as a link in those artists’ musical “chain.” The speaker speculated that this sort of “big picture” attitude toward one’s art would probably worry many labels, simply because it directs the public’s focus away from an artist’s individual “star.”
That struck me as eerily relevant to today’s scene, where it’s become much less simple to hypothesize about which artists the big stars have “descended” from – and heck, which genres, in many cases. Today, more than I’ve yet witnessed in my young life, there seems to be much greater emphasis on building up an artist’s individual importance, rather than carrying a certain “flag.” Concerts are getting bigger and more histrionic; the CMA telecast books any act who might help ratings and basically snubs Hall of Fame inductees; and of course, most shout-outs to country legends of yore by today’s artists are usually just shallow attempts to build cred. The mainstream seems to have spoken its bit loud and clear: it has some progress it needs to carry out without any real help from the past, thank you very much.
I really love everything that Daryle Singletary’s approach to country music represents. Sometimes it seems there are only two veins of country traditionalists: the ones who take the Haggard and Jones approach, and the ones who take the Waylon and Willie approach. Singletary is all about the Conway Twitty and Charley Pride, a crooner of romantic ballads awash in steel guitar. There’s only one thing that holds Singletary back from being the Twitty or Pride of his generation. His voice just doesn’t have the ability to pull off these types of songs completely. “Love You With the Lights On” is a solid enough song. It certainly would’ve been a chart-topper in the seventies for one of the aforementioned men. Singletary sings it pleasantly enough, but he’s not entirely convincing as the seducer here. His voice just doesn’t have the depth and nuance to pull it off. God bless him, but Read More
Wynonna Sing – Chapter 1 Wynonna’s music has incorporated so many elements of soul and blues over the years that it’s easy to forget that she got her start singing pure country harmonies with her mother. Some of those elements started creeping into the later Judds records, particularly on the hit “Born to Be Blue.” But when Wynonna went solo, listeners quickly learned where her true musical heart was. With Sing – Chapter 1, she reveals how that heart was shaped. Scanning the track listing, one might expect this collection to run the musical gamut, but the sound is quite a bit more focused than that. There are a few country songs here, but none of them are performed as such. Even the pure pop songs don’t have a glossy sheen. The entire album is done in the blue-eyed soul where Wynonna is most comfortable. For the most part, it Read More
A look back at the previous winners and nominees of the Best Country Album Grammy, updated to include the 2009 contenders. The Grammys have been doing better in the country categories since they reintroduced the Best Country Album category in 1995, which had only been in existence for two years in the 1960s. Prior to 1995, albums and singles were both eligible in the vocalist categories, so full albums would compete against single tracks in Best Male Country Vocal Performance, for example. Looking over the history of this fairly young category, you can see trends emerge, with certain acts clearly being favorites of NARAS. You see the same trend with the CMAs, just with different people. What is clear with the Grammys is that radio and retail success will only carry you so far. For awards that are supposed to be based on artistic merit, that’s how it should be. Read More
It’s always fun to learn a bit more about the tastes of our fellow country music fans from time to time. So, I’m asking you to enter my imaginary world for a little while. Pretend that you’re trapped on a desert island and can have one of each item listed in the categories below. Of course, my imaginary existence somehow allows for you to, somehow, manage to have electricity, a stereo and a DVD player. MUSIC Complete works of one Country Music Artist/Band: Vince Gill One Album by another Country Music Artist/Band: Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones One Bluegrass Album: Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul One “big tent” country album: Old Crow Medicine Show, OCMS One Album by a Non-Country Artist: Nirvana, Nirvana Unplugged One Country Music Artist Box Set (that does not include all the works of that artist): Hank Williams, Unreleased Recordings LITERATURE Complete Works of one Read More
In the most recent edition of Rolling Stone, an esteemed panel of journalists, executives and artists were assembled to name the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. The list is based on a singer’s vocal abilities, along with his or her historic importance. The following country artists were included: #21: Johnny Cash #27: Hank Williams #43: George Jones #45: Patsy Cline #77: Dolly Parton #79: Merle Haggard #88: Willie Nelson Who else deserved to make the roll call? And are six entries enough to represent country music? Comment away!
Although he started his career in front of a microphone, Dean Dillon soon transitioned into one of the finest songwriters in Nashville, notably enhancing the careers of one of its legends and illustrating an uncommon power in melody and verse. Dean Dillon, born on March 26, 1955, in Lake City, TN, was entranced with country music from an early age. At 15, he appeared in a local Knoxville variety show as a songwriter and performer, and that experience stirred his interest in a career of performing. Soon after arriving in Nashville as a teenager, Dillon accepted a job at the Opryland theme park. In 1976, he landed the role of Hank Williams in the Country Music Show at Opryland. While there, a friend introduced him to songwriter John Schweers, who became Dillon’s mentor. Three weeks later, Barbara Mandrell recorded three of Dillon’s songs. In 1979, Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius had a Read More