As one of the finest new traditionalists of the eighties and nineties, John Anderson pushed the boundaries of country music without sacrificing its distinctive heritage.
Like many of his contemporaries, Anderson grew up on both country and rock and roll. He was a teenager when Merle Haggard led him to the genre, and what he heard was enough to motivate him to move to Nashville. He did construction work around town, including putting the roof on the new Grand Ole Opry in the early seventies. Over the next few years, he made a name on the club scene, which soon earned him a recording contract with Warner Brothers.
The label patiently worked him as a singles act, and as he gained traction at radio, they released his self-titled debut in 1980. Its honky-tonk, traditional sound stood in stark contrast to the pop-flavored country that dominated the day. With his second album, John Anderson 2, he solidified himself as a leader of the nascent new traditionalist movement, covering Lefty Frizzell and Billy Joe Shaver alongside original songs.
Still, it was the pop-flavored “Swingin’” which earned Anderson his greatest notoriety in the eighties. The million-selling single earned Anderson the CMA award for Single of the Year, and was the peak of his years with Warner Brothers. By the time he left the label in the late eighties, he’d scored twelve top ten hits. But despite the fact that the sound he’d brought back to the forefront was all over country radio, he struggled for airplay and the critical acclaim of his early years faded away.
Then, a stunning second act. Anderson signed with BNA Records in 1991, and staged a major comeback with the #1 hit, “Straight Tequila Night.” It served as the anchor to the 1992 album Seminole Wind, which earned rave reviews and double-platinum sales. Anderson was nominated for every major industry award, with the most attention going to the title track, a poignant environmental plea for the protection of the Florida Everglades.
Anderson maintained momentum with the follow-up album, Solid Ground, which sold gold and included three big hits. For the rest of the nineties, his success at radio was less consistent, and he scored his last significant chart action with “Somebody Slap Me”, a top thirty hit that was his first release for Mercury Records.
The new millenium brought a well-received collaboration with John Rich, with the resulting album, Easy Money, earning Anderson’s strongest reviews since Seminole Wind. More recently, Anderson co-wrote Rich’s single, “Shuttin’ Detroit Down.” In addition to maintaining a hectic touring schedule, Anderson is currently preparing a new studio album, slated to include guest appearances by Haggard and Willie Nelson.
I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday), 1981
McBride has a voice that would have been as relevant in country music fifty years ago as it is today, and her album of cover songs exemplifies this. She doesn’t attempt to move any of the songs to a different level, but instead inhabits the artists’ original style with precision and spirit. The result is a pure, respectful homage to the country greats. – Tara Seetharam
Recommended Tracks: “Make The World Go Away”, “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”
Felice Brothers, Yonder is the Clock
The Felice Brothers are the least-known among the members of ‘The Big Surprise Tour’ headlined by Old Crow Medicine Show and featuring Dave Rawlings Machine with Gillian Welch, and Justin Townes Earle. Melding country-rock and folk-rock, they are roots-influenced and made their start playing in the subway. While it may take an extremely big tent to call them “country,” consistent Dylan comparisons make Yonder is the Clock hard to ignore. – William Ward
Recommended Tracks: “Run, Chicken, Run”, “The Big Surprise”
Big & Rich, Horse of a Different Color
Big Kenny’s and John Rich’s voices and creativity blend to form a richly textured harmony that is only fully realized when they work together, as is most evident on their debut album that took country music by storm in a huge way. While their subsequent projects haven’t even come close to matching the potential of their first, Horse of A Different Coloris an album of refreshing risks and creativity that has been both embraced and criticized as a result of unique production and odd lyrical twists. Songs ranging from ridiculous to philosophical and all points inbetween make this album one of the most memorable, if not controversial, mainstream albums of the decade. – Leeann Ward
Recommended Tracks: “Holy Water”, “Live This Life”
Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
Bentley takes his road theme all the way, crafting a concept album that both celebrates the loneliness of the road and mourns the resting places left behind by those who choose to stay on it. – Kevin Coyne
Recommended Tracks: “Long Trip Alone”, “The Heaven I’m Headed To”
Josh Turner, Everything is Fine
Turner’s third album is an outstanding example of a style that is deeply traditional yet still current, assured yet still vulnerable. His distinctive voice is paired with a well-crafted and charming set of songs on this album, which further solidified him as one of the genre’s leading traditionalists. – TS
Recommended Tracks: “Another Try”, “Nowhere Fast”
Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof
Country and power-pop collide in one of Texas’ most memorable albums in years. If Bulletproof has a weakness, it’s that its love songs and road anthems are all so damn hooky that the deeper material has to fight to steal your attention away. – Dan Milliken
Recommended Tracks: “American Blood”, “Mirage”
Chick Corea & Béla Fleck, The Enchantment
The Enchantment is a collaboration between jazz pianist Chick Corea and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck. Full of soaring energy and technical prowess, The Enchantment blends the influences of both Corea and Fleck resulting in jazz compositions infused with bluegrass overtones.- WW
Recommended Tracks: “Mountain”, “Sunset Road”
James Otto, Sunset Man
On his breakthrough sophomore album, Otto’s voice is commanding and rich with soul, proving he has one of the most interesting male voices to come out of country music in the past few years. Sunset Man is a solid contemporary country album that has his voice melting just as effectively with bluesy, mid-tempo numbers as it does with muscular power ballads. – TS
Recommended Tracks: “For You”, “These Are The Good Ole Days”
Jon Randall, Walking Among the Living
Thanks to his very lucrative songwriting collaboration with Bill Anderson that resulted in a smash hit for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss with “Whiskey Lullaby”, Jon Randall received a major label deal with Sony. Unfortunately, Randall’s only album with them was not even a blip on most people’s radars, though not due to lack of quality. Randall’s gorgeous tenor, most closely comparable to Vince Gill’s,tastefully blends with rootsy instrumentation and solid compositions to create a humble work of art. – LW
Recommended Tracks: “I Shouldn’t Do This”, “Lonely for Awhile”
Crooked Still, Shaken By a Low Sound
Crooked Still is an alternate bluegrass group led by vocalist Aoife O’Donovan. With haunting vocals and technical prowess Crooked Still pushes acoustic music in a manner similar to Nickel Creek but with a slightly more recognizable traditional bend. – WW
Recommended Tracks: “Wind and Rain”, “Little Sadie”
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
There is really no new way to pontificate on the fascinating longevity of George Strait’s career. Many, including myself, have speculated regarding the many possible reasons behind his staying power, but it is more than likely that many of the factors that we have already considered could be easily applied to other artists with lesser careers to show for it. Therefore, the consensus that can be agreed upon by most everyone is that George Strait is consistent. In the last three decades, without being loud or splashy in any way, Strait has consistently remained a vibrant country music artist, both on the charts and in concert sales. As a result, he is one of the most respected, if not intriguing, artists in the business.
On May 27, the Academy of Country Music honored George Strait as their Artist of the Decade in a two-hour CBS special. The show consisted of many of today’s biggest artists paying homage to Strait by singing the songs of the Man of Honor.
Unlike most tribute shows, this show moved along at a reasonably fast clip with few over-dramatic or slick moments to weigh it down, which was highly appropriate considering the man who was being honored that night.
The show opened with a rousing version of Strait’s Cajun flavored “Adalida” ably performed by Sugarland. Jennifer Nettle’s exaggerated drawl, while very different from Strait’s laid back vocals, gave the song energy and seemed to be a wise way to invigorate the crowd. Other energetic performances included a rocked-up version of “All My Exes Live in Texas” by Jack Ingram, which was fun but lacked the whimsical charm of Strait’s western swing flavored interpretation. Alan Jackson did a faithful steel laden cover of “The Fireman”, which is always sung at events such as these, though it’s certainly not one of Strait’s most interesting classics.
In probably one of the most disappointing performances of the night, Dierks Bentley, who is typically an intriguing vocalist, offered a weak and strained “Blue Clear Sky”, which, sadly, happens to be one of my favorite Strait songs. John Rich did not fare much better with his lifeless, uninspired rendering of one of Strait’s most revered hits, “Amarillo by Morning.” Instead of sounding like a professional, he more easily fit in with the Nashville Star contestants that he judged last summer who, incidentally, only sounded like decent karaoke singers at their best. In the not-as-bad-as-Rich-or-Bentley-but-still-not-very-memorable category was Brooks & Dunn. Their cover of “The Cowboy Rides Away” was fine, but it also lacked Strait’s easy charisma.
While most of this tribute show stuck rather closely to Strait’s own interpretations, there were a couple performances that tried to change things up a bit. As mentioned earlier, Jack Ingram added light rock to “All My Exes Live in Texas” and the other innovator was Jamie Foxx with a soulful cover of “You Look So Good in Love.” As someone who cannot fully appreciate R&B, it was difficult for me to get into his performance, though I could at least tell it was solid. Along with the R&B slant, Foxx changed Strait’s original regret filled monologue to an amusing “what does he got that I don’t?” diatribe. And we won’t even get into Foxx’s insistence that Strait’s singing is “sexy.”
As a diversion to the songs of George Strait, the past Artists of the Decade were honored throughout the show as well. Faith Hill did a respectable cover of Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough”, Martina McBride aptly covered Garth Brook’s “The Dance” and Montgomery Gentry rocked out with Alabama’s “Mountain Music.” One of the best performances of the evening, however, was Keith Urban’s tribute to Marty Robbins, which was in the form of a fabulous medley of three of Robbins’ beloved hits, including “Singing the Blues” (one of my favorite Robbins songs) “El Paso” and “A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation)” (my all time favorite Robbins song). Urban’s performance proved that he is a master at singing country music, which only left me longing even more for hints of country sounds to show up on his most recent albums.
The person who was involved in the best performances of the show was Lee Ann Womack. With Jamey Johnson providing the speaking parts of “Give It Away”, Womack gave the female perspective of the song. The two voices melded perfectly together to reveal a possible duet partnership for the future that would surely be welcomed by many. In addition to her duet with Johnson, Womack sang a surprise song for Strait that was specifically written for the night called “Stand There And Sing.” While it would not necessarily be a standout song in a non-Strait centric environment, it was a moving tribute to George Strait’s simple charismatic entertaining style of “just standing there and singing”, which is something that he’s often criticized for doing.
As is supposedly the tradition of the Academy’s tribute shows, the previous Artist of the Decade passes the torch onto the newly anointed artist, which is what Garth Brooks did for George Strait. Brooks appropriately acknowledged the irony of this act, as he regaled the audience with the story of what inspired him to become a country music singer/entertainer, which just happened to include George Strait. After “the torch” was passed, George Strait showed us all why he so richly deserved the honor. He humbly thanked and praised the show’s participants for their contributions and for giving up their precious time to pay tribute to him. Then he sang “Ocean Front Property” and ended with “Troubadour” with the help of the entire cast of the show.
After a season of awards shows that have been disappointing at best, this tribute show was happily refreshing. Because they had great songs to work with from a man who can’t help but respected, the show was bound to be an easy success. Much like George Strait himself, the show was laid back without feeling stale. Everyone seemed genuinely honored to be there, even if some of their performances missed the mark here and there.
At times, I admittedly take George Strait for granted. I all too often forget what a huge fan of his I was in the nineties when I first entered the world of country music. Fortunately though, I spend more time in awe of his thirty year career and the grace with which he conducts himself. In “Troubadour” Strait concluded by singing, “I was a young troubadour, when I rode in on a song./And I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone“, which he followed by saying, “Not anytime soon, I hope.”
I guess I should say from the outset that this review isn’t being written in the real world, but rather in “that New York City town.” For what it’s worth, here’s the view from New York City: this album stinks.
I’m going to keep this review brief. There’s honestly not much to be said. There are only three types of songs on Son of a Preacher Man anyway:
1. Power ballads, minus the power.
John Rich may be the least convincing love singer in history. He doesn’t sound desperate when he’s trying to sound desperate (“I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love.”) He doesn’t sound head over heels in love when he’s trying to sound head over heels in love (“Another You.”) He doesn’t sound fully committed when he’s trying to sound fully committed (“I Thought You’d Never Ask.”)
2. Loud rockers, minus the rocker.
He may sing that “Everybody Wants to Be Me”, but his timid vocal and anemic backing band suggest that there wasn’t a single person in the studio who believed that line. His ode to the “Trucker Man” has all the potency of an eight year old boy playing with a toy big rig on the living room carpet.
3. Message songs, minus the message.
The album is dominated by messages large and small, personal and political, and every single one of them is garbled and incoherent. Any woman with dignity who believes John Rich’s advice on how to “Turn a Country Boy On” will know that she’s better off alone than lowering herself to do what he suggests.
While he’s quick to criticize the government in “Shuttin’ Detroit Down”, he quickly pivots and criticizes those on “T.V. taking shots at Uncle Sam.” His logic: they don’t appreciate the sacrifices made by the greatest generation, and that they kept us from “speaking German living under the flag of Japan.” If that sentence makes sense to you, stop reading this review right now and go buy the album. You’re his target audience.
And the less said about “Why Does Somebody Always Have to Die” the better, unless you’ve been anxiously awaiting a country song about one kid getting killed by a train, another by a drunk driver (a “white-collar” one, natch), and how it all connects to Jesus being crucified.
What the album finally comes to a close with the insufferable big band number – yes, big band number – “Drive Myself to Drink”, I reached an inescapable conclusion. This is is the worst country album that I’ve ever heard.
10:57 Matt and Jamie Foxx should co-host next year.
10:56 Matthew M. was the “Walkaway Joe” in Trisha’s video from 1992.
10:54 The show got better as it went on. I’ve really enjoyed most of the later performances.
10:49 This is the best I’ve heard Rascal Flatts in a very long time. I would buy this song arranged and performed like this.
10:47 Not much in the way of multiple winners tonight, at least in the marquee categories. Brad Paisley has 3 (Male, Video, Vocal Event), Julianne Hough has 2 (New Artist, New Female Artist.)
10:45 ALBUM: Taylor Swift, Fearless (Leeann has to be far ahead by now)
10:42 Blake got Brad Paisley’s slot, I think. Good to hear him. I like this song.
10:36 Who will win Female Vocalist? You need a better teaser than that. Who’s in charge of the clips here?
10:35 SINGLE: “You’re Gonna Miss This” – Trace Adkins (His first industry award since winning ACM Top New Male Vocalist twelve years ago.)
10:34 Anybody else lose sound?
10:33 She’s getting a Crystal Milestone award for winning an award last year? Really?
10:30 I really need to see them live. If they’re this good on award shows, they must be amazing with their own audience.
10:29 Jennifer Nettles attended Keith Urban’s charisma workshop.
10:28 Reba just said “Any-hoo.”
10:22 The contrast in phrasing between Adkins and the choir is jarring. But Good Lord, this is the best song of the night.
10:19 Amazing how war songs are timeless, even when they describe wars from long ago.
10:15 FEMALE VOCALIST: Carrie Underwood
10:13 She’s getting lost in the mix, but from what I can hear, it’s like “For My Broken Heart” with a brighter morning.
10: 12 New Reba. Good so far.
10:07 Little Jimmy Dickens got served.
10:05 MALE VOCALIST: Brad Paisley
10:04 None of these guys are really at the top of their game.
10:02 She really does put everyone else to shame. This is better than the record.
10:01 Carrie saw it in the window and she just had to have it.
9:54 It’s been 34 minutes since the last award. Yeesh.
9:53 “Hell Yeah”, Part II. Among country recycled grooves, I dig MG’s the least.
9:51 Ladies and gentlemen, Anita Cochran on lead guitar!
9:50 Then again, I’m not sure she’s singing live. Anybody heard the record?
9:49 Alright, I’ll say it. She’s got better vocal chops than most of the people on tonight’s show. I’d like to swap teen idols with pop music right about now.
9:47 Perhaps one of the reasons it’s been such a wild ride for both you and Miley is that you won’t get off her horse.
9:45 Random aside: Is anyone else seeing the Gene Simmons commercial for Cherry Dr. Pepper? Why doesn’t Cherry Coke Zero get such a big promotional push???
9:42 Coming up…Miley Cyrus and Carrie Underwood. Why not?
9:41 This live blog brought to you from New York City. We’re not part of the real world, but thankfully the internet can beam us to those of you who live in it.
9:40 Good to know some tools are still made in America.
9:39 A rundown of working class anthems should’ve included Aaron Tippin.
9:37 I didn’t realize LeAnn Rimes did so much humanitarian work. I guess she has nothin’ better to do.
9:35 She dances like Natalie Maines. Heh.
9:34 I like the imagery. She’s quite the songwriter, assuming that she wrote this.
9:33 Am I the only one who can’t help but think about Mindy McCready’s “Maybe He’ll Notice Her Now” with these lyrics?
9:32 New Miranda Lambert song. Can’t wait to hear it.
9:26 Urban reminds me just how much the new artists lack charisma. He should give workshops on charisma.
9:23 Of all the country superstar recycled grooves, Urban’s is my favorite.
9:21 If Nettles had turned quickly at an angle, this show would be on tape delay next year.
9:20 VOCAL DUO: Sugarland (Finally! First time B&D ever lost a pure Vocal Duo race at the ACM’s!)
9:19 I think we may have peaked for the evening. Sigh.
9:17 So far, this is the only performance of the night that I can say improves on the recorded performance.
9:15 Lee Ann Womack is doing “Solitary Thinkin’.” One of the better tracks from Call Me Crazy.
9:10 Lady Antebellum sounds very generic.
9:06 She gets a crystal milestone award for her incredible record sales? Her albums combined haven’t matched the sales of Underwood’s first album, the first three Dixie Chicks albums, three Shania Twain albums. Why didn’t Rascal Flatts get this award? John Michael Montgomery? Toby Keith? Kenny Chesney? I’m just confused.
9:05 This reminds me of the Brooke White girl from Idol last year.
9:03 David Copperfield did not, in the end, pull an auto-tuner out of his hat.
8:54 Standing O? Wow, the value of those have plummeted. Must be the economy.
8:53 TOP NEW ARTIST: Julianne Hough
8:52 We like to blame the sound mix for less than par performances. But notice how George Strait still sounds great – and mark my words, Carrie Underwood will, too.
8:51 I love this song. “Troubadour” couldn’t be a better fit for him.
8:50 I wonder how many of the new artists knew that was a George Strait song.
8:49 He could do a sketch as Wanda the Ugly Girl trying to out-dress Carrie Underwood.
8:48 Seriously, he’s killing. Please let him host next year.
8:47 Jamie Foxx. I’d love to see him host the show next year.
8:43 Poor Nashville viewers had to deal with storm warnings during the Johnson performance. How cool would it have been if those popped up last year during Taylor Swift’s performance of “Should’ve Said No”?
8:41 As for the actual performance, he sounds good. Still overwhelmed by the backing track, but that seems inevitable on these shows. I’m surprised they didn’t do a stripped-down performance a la “Stay.” Those are the only ones that ever sound good on these shows.
8:40 So I get the whole conceit here, but give me a break. There weren’t huge projection screens in the days of black-and-white photographs. Or TV for that matter. This is way too pretentious for my tastes.
8:39 Oh dear God. It’s in black and white. I didn’t see that coming.
8:38 Here comes Jamey Johnson. I suspect we’ll see it in color.
8:36 I wonder if McGraw’s production differences had something to do with those screens behind the artists?
8:35 Toby Keith’s best recent performance wasn’t on a country music award show. Check out his roast of Larry the Cable Guy.
8:29 I’m excited for Toby Keith, though he always seems to do rave-ups. Shame, since he’s such a great balladeer.
8:27 VOCAL GROUP: Rascal Flatts (There goes my lead)
8:26 I wonder if next year she’ll be back singing “Amy and Vince” or “Tim and Faith.”
8:23 I feel bad that Heidi Newfield has nearly no chance despite five nominations. A bit weird to see her dolled up. She was Gretchen Wilson before Gretchen Wilson was Gretchen Wilson.
8:22 Home Depot has been a big friend to this show. They supply the wooden performances.
8:17 Methinks that Jamey Johnson would look better out of color. Yikes.
8:16 SONG: “In Color” – Jamey Johnson (I called this one, y’all – he’ll repeat at the CMA’s)
8:15 J Love is a huge fan of country music. I’m a huge fan of the Ghost Whisperer. Cool.
8:14 Random pics in the back of young college-age girls partying. Weird.
8:12 Anyone in the comments want to explain the appeal of Chesney playing live? What are his shows like? I’ve never been.
8:11 First time in a long time there’s been a woman in there. I think the Dixie Chicks were the last ones.
8:10 Who’s on the couch with Brad Paisley and Little Jimmy Dickens?
8:09 A gay joke? Really?
8:09 George Strait is indeed the man himself.
8:08 Please say Rascal Flatts from the behind of a cow.
8:07 That was interesting, but I wonder how much cooler it could’ve been if it was done later in the show, and was built around ballads with “Very Last Country Song” being the framework.
8:06 I do not want to hang with you and your gang.
8:05 I think they’ve run through all of country’s multi-platinum acts.
8:04 Love me some Carrie Underwood. Hope she has a big night.
8:03 Sugarland, I wouldn’t mind hearing the full song. At least Leeann got a bit of “It Happens.”
8:02 Wow, George Strait snarled at his reference until he noticed the camera was on.
8:01 Taylor Swift doing “Picture to Burn.” Is this a medley of annoying songs performed poorly?
8:00 We’re starting with some sort of jam beginning with Brooks & Dunn. “Play Something Country” still annoys me. The melody is ripped off from “Shut Up and Kiss Me.”
One of country music’s finest journalist has a new outlet for his talents. Chris Willman has written for Entertainment Weekly for many years and he also wrote the essential book Rednecks and Bluenecks, which explored the history of politics in country music.
One of Willman’s gifts as a writer is his ability to get artists to speak more deeply and more candidly about their craft. Thus, even an interview with an artist like John Rich, who I generally find insufferable, is still interesting. The article closes with tidbits about upcoming Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley songs, too.
The Huffington Post isn’t for everybody, so thankfully I can link directly to Chris Willman’s index page, avoiding the tabloid politics entirely. Since the man wrote my favorite line ever in a music review*, I’ll be checking it regularly for updates.
* His 2002 Shania Twain review -”Up! is like Abba Gold without all the melancholy.”
As one half of Big & Rich, John Rich has certainly demonstrated that he knows how to throw a big, ostentatious party. However, in “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” Rich’s recent solo release, the Nashville Star judge and Gone Country host takes to task those with the audacity to be ostentatious in these tough economic times.
Rich pulls no punches (and rightly so) in lambasting the fat cats on Wall Street who are giving out bonuses and throwing lavish parties with Government bailout money. However, the song falls short of inspiring righteous anger and garnering sympathy. Instead of striking the right emotional chord, the song comes off as vaguely preachy as Rich draws an arbitrary line between those who live in the “real world” and those who don’t.
The failure to truly resonate is primarily the result of a lyrical approach prevalent in country music of late: the lyrics attempt to push a sentiment onto the listener, rather than painting a picture and allowing the listener to relate in his/her own way. Such an approach shortchanges the emotional power of a song. Only when Rich breaks away from this conceit in the second verse, does the song shine: Well that old man’s been working in that plant most all his life / Now his pension plan’s been cut in half and he can’t afford to die.” Now, this is a story I’d be interesting in hearing. A sequel perhaps?
Kathy Mattea’s brilliant album released last year, Coal, reminded me of how much I love themed albums. There is something unique and special about an album that addresses a single topic from varied angles or transports the listener on a purposeful ride. It’s not just a random collection of singles with little to coalesce them together. Rather, like great movies, themed albums demand that you listen from the first note to the last, lest you miss something important in between.
Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger is one of the most famous themed albums in country music history. The entire album is based on the conceptual story of a preacher who shoots his cheating wife and her lover before going on the run. However, the theme doesn’t have to be as concrete as the one in Red Headed Stranger or as narrow as the one in Coal, which endeavors to shine a light on the coal-mining industry, to be included in this category. It can be as amorphous as “love” or “heartache.”
Just for fun, I culled through my musical catalog (and all 5 million or so country songs about love, heartache and partying on Friday night) and put together my own themed album very loosely titled: America 2009:
Filthy Rich (Big Kenny, John Rich, Bill McDavid, Freddy Powers, Sonny Thockmorton)
Workingman’s Blues #2 (Bob Dylan)
If We Make It Through December (Merle Haggard)
Dirt (Chris Knight)
What’s A Simple Man To Do? (Steve Earle)
The Ballad of Salvador & Isabelle (Dave Quanbury)
If You Don’t Love Jesus (Billy Joe Shaver)
Ellis Unit One (Steve Earle)
Dress Blues (Jason Isbell)
It’s a Different World Now (Rodney Crowell)
Everybody Knows (Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison)
Up to the Mountain (Patty Griffin)
Reason to Believe (Bruce Springsteen)
If you were to create your own themed album, what would it look like?