He broke through to stardom singing love ballads in the style of Vince Gill, but it was his turn toward more adventurous topical material that cemented the musical legacy of Collin Raye.
Born Floyd Collin Wray in Arkansas, he is the son of Lois Wray, a professional musician who often opened for the big acts of the fifties, including legends like Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Growing up, Collin and his brother Scott would often perform on stage with their mother. As the boys got older, they struck out on their own, forming the Wrays Brothers Band. They soon became popular local performers across Texas, and also had success performing in Reno, Nevada.
The band, now performing as The Wrays, signed with Mercury Records in the mid-eighties, after a few independent label releases raised their profile. But their major label releases were not successful, and the band broke up after losing that deal. At this point, Raye adopted his stage name and embarked on a solo career, signing with Epic Records in 1990.
His first single, “All I Can Be (Is a Sweet Memory)”, did reasonably well, peaking at #29. It set the stage for the big breakthrough, “Love, Me.” A heartbreaking ballad about a grieving grandfather, it was an instant classic, and began an impressive streak of hits that would make Raye one of the most dominant radio acts of the nineties.
Though he had some mid-tempo hits scattered among them, it was a string of ballads that kept him on the charts. Mostly love songs, some became wedding hall staples, like “In This Life” and “That Was a River.” Raye’s first two albums sold well and produced many hits, but he was not satisfied with them. Thinking himself capable of more meaningful music, he set out to make an album for the ages. The result was extremes, his 1994 album that found him singing up-tempo material convincingly for the first time (“That’s My Story”, “My Kind of Girl.”)
But the standout hit was “Little Rock”, a powerful monologue from a recovering alcoholic that remains one of Raye’s finest moments on record. The success of this song encouraged Raye to tackle more socially relevant material. On his fourth album, I Think About You, the title track explored the exploitation of women in the media and society at large; “Not That Different” made the case for the universality of the human experience outweighing surface differences; and “What If Jesus Comes Back Like That” put the social justice inherent in Christ’s teachings front and center.
The depth of these hits elevated Raye into the Male Vocalist races at the country award shows, and gave the fuel for his run of hits to continue throughout the nineties. Though those hits would return to being more conventional in theme, they were still quite popular. Highlights of this run include “I Can Still Feel You”, “On the Verge”, “Someone I Used to Know” and “Couldn’t Last a Moment.” Raye also scored a major Adult Contemporary hit with “The Gift”, his 1997 collaboration with Jim Brickman.
As with so many other nineties stars, the new century brought a decline in fortunes. While his first four studio albums had gone platinum, nothing beyond a hits collection would sell gold in the years to come. After his 2001 set Can’t Back Down failed to produce a hit, he left Epic Records. He’s since resurfaced on various independent labels, releasing 2005′s Twenty Years and Change to warm reviews and having a top 40 country album with 2009′s Never Going Back. He had a minor chart hit with “A Soldier’s Prayer” in 2007, and continues to record new music and tour across North America.
There was a lot of good music out there in 2010, provided you knew where to look. Sometimes, you could even find it on the radio. Here are the top ten albums of 2010, according to our staff:
#10 Easton Corbin Easton Corbin
With the charisma of Clay Walker and the chops of George Strait, Easton Corbin sauntered onto the mainstream country music scene with a hit song that –refreshingly– name-checked “country” in all the right ways. He needs no such affirmation, though, as his debut album is a collection of effortlessly neo-traditionalist songs, ripe with sincerity. It’s fair to compare Corbin to his obvious influences, but there’s something about the natural, youthful effervescence he brings to his music that makes it sparkle all on its own. – Tara Seetharam
#9 Freight Train Alan Jackson
Like an old, trusted friend, Freight Train is easy to take for granted – and that’s a shame, because it’s as rousing as any of the boundary-pushing albums released this year. Jackson returns to his signature sound on this album, sinking comfortably into the set of twelve songs but never skimping on emotional investment. From the smoking “Freight Train” to the exquisite “Till the End” to the shuffling “I Could Get Used To This Loving Thing,” Jackson reminds us that his formula of bare-bones authenticity and quiet charm is as relevant and rewarding as ever. – TS
The entire story of recorded country music can be traced back to a fiddle player named Eck Robertson, “World’s Champion Fiddler.”
Robertson was the son of a Confederate soldier, born in Arkansas in 1887 and raised in Texas. His father made a living as a farmer and a preacher, but also taught his son how to play the fiddle. Robertson carried on the family tradition of playing fiddle, learning the instrument at the age of five years old. Once grown, he joined the traveling band of a medicine show.
Robertson married his wife Nettie, also a musician, in 1906. He became a piano tuner by trade, but Eck and Nettie would still perform in the Texas area, competing in fiddling contests and providing the musical accompaniment in silent movie theaters. It was in 1916, while playing at an Old Confederate Soldiers reunion, that he met Henry C. Gilliland, a veteran fiddler in his mid-seventies. The two became a powerful team, touring similar reunions across the south, with Robertson serving as lead fiddler and Gilliland playing second fiddle.
As the duo was gaining popularity, so was the recording industry. Records were being made as early as the 1890s, but their popularity truly soared during the economic boom following World War I. By that point, Columbia, RCA, and Victor were major players in the market, but by the early twenties, there still hadn’t been any hillbilly sides of note.
In walked Robertson and Gilliland. Quite literally. They walked right into the label offices of Victor in June, 1922 and requested an audition. Expectations were low, as fiddlers were high in number and not considered anything special. But they had the right combination of moxie and talent, and Victor saw their fiddle playing as an opportunity to make records for country dances.
So the next day, Robertson was asked to come into the studio and make a test record. A successful session led to Robertson’s debut 78, “Sallie Gooden”/”Arkansas Traveler”, the very first release in the genre that would eventually be called country music.
Robertson laid down several tracks with Victor Records, most of which were released in 78 form, the most significant being “Turkey in the Straw” and “Ragtime Annie.” Not much commercial success was found, and Robertson was soon eclipsed by newer artists and better recording technology. But Robertson remained a forceful presence on the road and returned to the recording studio again, putting down another set of tracks for Victor in 1929 and 1930.
He played barn dances and fairs throughout the next few decades, and the folk revival movement brought him overdue recognition. County Records visited him at home in 1963, and recorded the tracks that became his first LP, Eck Robertson, Famous Cowboy Fiddler. He was featured in the 1968 documentary Newport Festival, alongside Johnny Cash and Cousin Emmy.
Robertson passed away in 1975, but his music lives on. His recordings for Victor remain widely available on compact disc and through digital download, while his County LP is a highly prized collector’s item for country music historians and enthusiasts.
I am not one who typically embraces extremes, but I must make an exception for Johnny Cash’s recording of “Ring of Fire.” It’s the definitive version; it’s an untouchable. Sure, some people have made valiant attempts, even changing things up so as not to try to mimic Cash, but make it their own, and I even like some of these other versions. None of these other efforts, however, has surpassed or even come close to touching Cash.
So, I implore, why even try when any other version will only be runners up at best, especially when recording it for a tribute album isn’t the excuse? Although only in my head, I’ve asked this question of excellent artists such as Pam Tillis, Dwight Yoakam, Ray Charles, along with odder choices like Social Distortion and Blondie. Alas, now, I must ask the same of Alan Jackson and his somewhat superfluous (meaning she doesn’t add to or detract from the recording) accomplice, Lee Ann Womack.
While Alan Jackson’s version is technically easy on the ears, therein lies the major problem with the recording. It’s too mellow, devoid of passion. Instead of the imperative fiery recording that Cash seamlessly gave us, his is frustratingly lackadaisical, even amidst a bouncy, though uninspired, production. Ultimately, he seems to miss the point of the song altogether, which is a shame because it’s the only previously unreleased song on his 34 Number Ones Hits package that is supposed to hold us over until his next studio album.
Growing up, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, and it’s still pretty high up there today. When I was younger, I loved it because it was the one day out of the year that the extended family was all in one place, gathered around what seemed like an endless table. Those days are long gone, so now I appreciate the concept as much as the actual day.
For one day a year, people actually take the time to reflect on what they’re thankful for and verbalize it. I wish we could make it a semi-annual event, maybe add another three or four day weekend. Who wouldn’t be grateful for that?
So before you dust off those Christmas records and put them in rotation – or in Leann’s case, just put them to the side for a few minutes – share with us your favorite song that expresses gratitude.
My country favorite is definitely “Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson, though I’m just as partial to the Johnny Cash version.
But if I’m going to pick overall favorite, this is the one that best captures my perspective. Doesn’t hurt that I never get enough of that voice.
What are your favorite gratitude songs?
Oh, and I’d be remiss not to add that today is the birthday of Tara Seetharam, one of my favorite people in the world and a talent that I know all of us at CU are grateful for, colleagues and community members alike!
UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who entered the contest. The response was impressive. The randomly selected (random.org) winners are:
Jake Kremmel, Lora Purcell, Bradley, Paul Dennis, and Rachel Summit
Congratulations to the winners. Emails will be sent to you shortly. However, if you’d like to make my job easier, feel free to contact me with your email address. Stay tuned for another giveaway very soon.
As a virtuosic instrumentalist in both mandolin and guitar, Marty Stuart was one of the very talented artists whose peak occurred in the early nineties. While his chart success wasn’t as numerically present as many of his counterparts, his reverence for country music and its history has turned him into one of the most respected nineties country artists today.
Stuart has explored several facets of country music over the years, including rockabilly, traditional, and honky tonk. Now, he is paying his respects to traditional country music with his latest release called Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions”, which will be released on August 24th. Along with 12 other quality tracks, the album includes a haunting song that Stuart wrote with Johnny Cash just four days before Cash’s death. From the perspective of a man who hanged people for a living, the song is called “Hangmen.” The other stand out song is called “Porter Wagoner’s Grave.”
As one of the summer releases that I’ve most been looking forward to, I am pleased to report that the album does not disappoint. Therefore, I am excited to announce that courtesy of Sugar Hill Records, Country Universe has five (5) copies of Ghost Train: the Studio B Sessions to give away to five lucky winners.
One of my favorite Marty Stuart projects is the concept album that explores Native American culture, specifically the plains Indians of the Dakota Badlands. To enter the drawing for a copy of Stuart’s new album, leave a comment that tells us about your favorite country concept album. If you don’t have a favorite concept album, tell us your favorite Marty Stuart song. As always, if you can’t comment on either of those topics, but are still interested in hearing the album, feel free to leave a comment anyway. All comments relevant to Marty Stuart will be eligible.
In order to get the album to the winners by release day, the contest will end Wednesday, August 18, at midnight. Good luck.
It’s the catchy fiddle riff that’s so memorable about John Michael Montgomery’s debut, number one, single. He is known for being a balladeer, but this one is an up-tempo motivational song. – Leeann Ward (more…)
A perfect time capsule of the boom times, as Jackson wryly notes all of those genre-hoppers who saw dollar signs in the growing country music scene. Funny how they didn’t arrive on radio until a decade later. – Kevin Coyne
I Want to Be Loved Like That Shenandoah
1993 | Peak: #3
Sometimes the deepest understanding of love comes from what you see around you. The narrator in this song won’t settle for anything less than the unwavering love he’s witnessed in his life, and his examples are stunning in the way they slice straight to the core of love, to the bond that can’t be broken by the physical world. This is one of the purest tributes to love I’ve ever heard. – Tara Seetharam (more…)
My dad was passionate about many things, and in my memory, he’s defined by two of them: c0llecting vintage toys and loving music. Earlier today, my mother and I attended Toy Story 3. He loved the first two films, and it was a way to get closer to him in spirit this Father’s Day.
I couldn’t let this day end without using my humble little corner of the internet to celebrate some of his favorite songs. A love for country music was something that my father shared with my mother, and thanks to long car trips as child, this love eventually rubbed off on me. This morning, my mother put on the country classics Music Choice channel and it was playing their song: “Blanket on the Ground” by Billie Jo Spears.
It’s one of those songs that always seemed to be on the mix tapes that my parents listened to. But there are a wealth of country hits that I associate with just Dad. Some of them I always loved. Some of them I didn’t care for at the time. Some I openly disdained and wished he’d never play again. All of them are now among my favorites because they remind me of him.
So in honor of Father’s Day, here are some of my Dad’s favorite country songs. Share your dad’s favorites in the comments!
Alan Jackson, “Livin’ On Love”
From my mom’s point of view, K.T. Oslin’s “Hold Me” perfectly encapsulated their marriage. For my dad, it was “Livin’ On Love.”
Clint Black, “Nobody’s Home”
My dad loved Clint Black, especially his first two albums. This was the hit he played to death when Killin’ Time was his album of choice.
Johnny Cash, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”
Sure, my dad loved “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Five Feet High and Rising.” But he also loved Cash’s campier hits, like “One Piece at a Time” and this chestnut.
Dixie Chicks, “Travelin’ Soldier”
No matter what was going on in the room, my dad would stop what he was doing to watch this video. As a Navy veteran, this song really hit home for him.
Dwight Yoakam, “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere”
Another guy that Dad couldn’t get enough of. This was a song that I thought he played too much, never caring for it at the time. Now it’s one of my favorites of his.
John Anderson, “Seminole Wind”
He bought the album for “Straight Tequila Night”, but this quickly emerged as one of his all-time favorite songs.
John Conlee, “Common Man”
I do believe that I’d never have discovered this great vocalist if his greatest hits set wasn’t one of the very first CDs my father purchased. I still remember the “Priceless Music Priced Less” logo on the front.
Johnny Horton, “Sink the Bismarck”
Another hits collection dad played the heck out of. I always thought this was Horton’s biggest hit because Dad played it so much. I remember being shocked to find “Honky Tonk Man”, which I knew as a Dwight Yoakam song, was on there, too.
Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”
He didn’t care for the man’s love songs or most of his pop hits, but he had this album on vinyl and I only remember hearing him play the title track.
Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, “Pancho and Lefty”
Another one of Dad’s first CD purchases. I always thought the opening music sounded like a TV theme song.
Marty Robbins, “Big Iron”
Dad loved the Western subgenre of country music, at least as performed by Marty Robbins.
And finally, it’s not a country song, but it was his favorite song, and I’ll forever associate it with him. Amazing how I used to groan when I heard him playing it on our living room jukebox again, and now I never get tired of it because it’s him.
This edition of iPod Check is all about those great songs that you love which aren’t that well known. Put your iPod or favorite playlist on shuffle, then list the first ten songs that come up which weren’t singles or widely heard album cuts.
Bonus points for a little blurb with each song!
My list is after the jump.
1. Shania Twain, “Whatever You Do! Don’t!”
Only four of the sixteen tracks from Come On Over weren’t released as singles for one market or another. It features the creative use of fiddles that would become so prominent on Up!
2. Todd Snider, “Maybe You Heard”
From the Kris Kristofferson tribute album The Pilgrim, it’s a powerful challenge to friends who aren’t friends in need: “Don’t you condemn him. Leave it to strangers. You oughta know to give him a hand if you can.”
3. Bonnie Tyler, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”
Creedence Clearwater Revival as arranged by Jim Steinman? As the opener of the album that features “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, it’s surprisingly effective.
4. Willie Nelson, “Rainbow Connection”
A lot of his covers don’t work – “Time After Time”, anyone? But this one does, taking a Kermit the Frog standard and elevating it to the league of “Imagine.”
5. Bruce Robison, “Can’t Get There From Here”
Why Tim McGraw or Keith Urban haven’t covered this yet is beyond me: “I’m on a road that’s going nowhere, looking for a place that I belong. The wind’s pushing me in all directions, and none of them look like home.”
6. Tim McGraw, “Tickin’ Away”
Time is running out, and not just because closing time is drawing near.
7. Johnny Cash, “I See a Darkness”
This time the friend in need is there, but that’s not enough to halt his desperation from spiraling out of control.
8. Lorrie Morgan, “Greater Need”
“It seems like I want you around me a little more than you want to be, so I guess I’m the one with a greater need.” Killer.
9. Joe Diffie, “Good Brown Gravy”
They didn’t call him Joe Ditty for nothing. But this one’s a riot!
10. Madonna, “‘Til Death Do Us Part”
From her post-divorce classic Like a Prayer, this is one of the most nakedly revealing songs I’ve heard. “The bruises they will fade away. You hit so hard with the things you say. I will not stay to watch your hate as it grows. You’re not in love with someone else. You don’t even love yourself. Still, I wish you’d ask me not to go.