Tag Archives: Johnny Cash

100 Greatest Men: #48. Kris Kristofferson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Though his Hall of Fame career has now stretched several decades, Kris Kristofferson will forever be defined by his legendary songwriting in the late sixties and early seventies.

An intellectual of Swedish descent, Kristofferson’s father was in the U.S. military, and as a result, he moved around quite a bit while growing up.   His twin passions were writing and rugby, and he pursued both vigorously while completing his undergraduate studies in California.   He earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, and while studying there, he gained distinction in boxing, and more importantly, he began writing songs.

He briefly pursued a performing career while in England, with hopes that success could help him toward his real goal of publishing a novel.   When this was unsuccessful, he succumbed to family pressure and joined the army in 1960.   Five years later, he left the army, which resulted in estrangement from his family, and he arrived in Nashville to pursue his songwriting craft full time.

The cuts came slowly, but after having a few chart hits by artists like Dave Dudley and Roger Miller, he became established around town.   As the sixties turned into the seventies, Kristofferson’s pen became legendary, thanks to a string of hits for other artists.   Sammi Smith’s recording of “Help Me  Make it Through the Night” won him a Grammy for Song of the Year, while he earned the CMA trophy for “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (Johnny Cash) and the ACM trophy for “For the Good Times” (Ray Price.)  Janis Joplin, who Kristofferson had dated for some time, found her greatest success after her death, as her recording of Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” topped the pop singles chart for several weeks.

Kristofferson’s notoriety as a writer piqued enough interest in him to lead to a successful singing career of his own.  He had several well-received albums for Monument, two of which sold gold.   Radio was mostly indifferent to the projects, with the glaring exception of his stunning #1 hit, “Why Me”, in 1973.

While he continued to sing and write songs, Kristofferson’s career took a surprising turn toward Hollywood, and he became a legitimate film star, winning a Golden Globe for Best Actor starring opposite Barbra Streisand in A Star is Born.   He also had successful musical collaborations with his wife, Rita Coolidge.   Meanwhile, Nashville stars continued to record his songs, with friend Willie Nelson even recording a platinum-selling tribute album in 1979.

His last major success as a recording artist came in 1985 as part of the supergroup The Highwaymen with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson.   That same year, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, while the Country Music Hall of Fame elected him in 2004.

Over the past two decades, he has continued to release albums of self-written material, while continuing to tour and appear in various films, including a prominent role in the Blade trilogy.
Essential Singles:

  • For the Good Times (Ray Price), 1970
  • Sunday Morning Coming Down (Johnny Cash), 1970
  • Me and Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin), 1971
  • Help Me Make it Through the Night (Sammi Smith), 1971
  • Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends (Bobby Bare), 1971
  • Why Me, 1973
  • The Highwayman (with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson), 1985

Essential Albums:

  • Kristofferson, 1970
  • Me and Bobby McGee, 1971
  • The Silver Tongued Devil and I, 1971
  • Jesus Was a Capricorn, 1972
  • To the Bone, 1981
  • Broken Freedom Song: Live From San Francisco, 2003

Next: #47. Rodney Crowell

Previous: #49. Toby Keith

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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100 Greatest Men: #64. Jerry Reed

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

A first class singer, songwriter, and musician, Jerry Reed’s talents ran far deeper than his tongue-in-cheek persona might have indicated.

Born and raised in Georgia, Reed played guitar from an early age. Music brought him comfort and structure during a childhood of instability. By the time he was out of high school, he was already signed to Capitol Records.   Though he released several singles over the next few years, it was his songwriting and guitar playing that first earned him notice.

Throughout the late fifties and the sixties, his songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, and others.  He also became an in-demand session guitarist, with a career highlight being the sessions he played with Presley, who feel in love with Reed when he heard his 1967 single, “Guitar Man.”

A strong working relationship with Chet Atkins led to a contract with RCA and further raised Reed’s profile.  By the late sixties, Reed was getting critical notice for his own records.   He had his big breakthrough in 1970, when “Amos Moses” became a gold-selling pop and country hit.   In 1971, ‘When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” became his first #1 country single and another big pop hit.

Throughout the seventies, Reed matched popular singles and albums with high profile media exposure.  He was a regular on Glen Campbell’s television show, and he appeared in several films.   His greatest notoriety came as Cledus Snow in the wildly popular Smokey and the Bandit film series.   “East Bound and Down” was recorded for the soundtrack of the first film, and became one of his biggest hits.

Reed’s recording career had a second wind when he released the 1982 album The Man with the Golden Thumb.   Often rated as his strongest studio album, it featured the classic hit “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft).”  Reed quickly followed with the hit album, The Bird.  The title track had him mimicking both George Jones and Willie Nelson, and the album also featured a hit cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, “Down on the Corner.”

The nineties brought a fun collaboration with Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare, and Waylon Jennings, a live album dubbed Old Dogs.   Reed also starred as the coach in the box office smash, The Waterboy.    Illness sidelined him as he aged, and he passed away in 2008 due to complications caused by emphyzema.

Essential Singles:

  • Guitar Man, 1967
  • Amos Moses, 1970
  • When You’re Hot, You’re Hot, 1971
  • Lord, Mr. Ford, 1973
  • East Bound and Down, 1977
  • She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft), 1982

Essential Albums:

  • The Unbelievable Guitar and Voice of Jerry Reed, 1967
  • Nashville Underground, 1968
  • Me & Chet (with Chet Atkins), 1972
  • Lord Mr. Ford, 1973
  • The Man with the Golden Thumb, 1982

Next: #63. Clint Black

Previous: #65. Asleep at the Wheel

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Album Review: The Little Willies, For the Good Times

The Little Willies
For the Good Times

After having first formed in 2003, The Little Willies released their self-titled debut album in 2006, four years after pianist and vocalist Norah Jones had found success with her jazz and pop flavored solo album Come Away With Me. 

Six years later, a second Little Willies album finally comes to light, following in the tradition of the first by featuring covers of country classics.  For the Good Times finds The Little Willies covering classics songs by some of country music’s most revered (and most covered) artists, including nods to Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton, among others.

The heart and soul of the project, however, is The Little Willies themselves.  Much like the band’s previous effort, For the Good Times is unmistakably a group effort.  Norah Jones and Richard Julien share lead vocal duties, while generous instrumental breaks give all five members – rounded out by Jim Campilongo on guitar, Lee Alexander on bass, and Dan Rieser on drums – ample room to shine.

If there is a noteworthy complaint to be leveled against the album, it is that its approach to selecting cover material is mostly by the book, in that it often leans on predictable choices that have been covered endlessly.  In particular, Parton’s “Jolene” is one of the most covered songs by an artist whose catalog is ripe with hidden treasures waiting to be discovered, which is not to say that Jones does not sing it beautifully.  Fortunately, the Willies have a strong knack for re-interpreting cover material in a way that feels respectful and reverent, but not overly so, and not to the point of becoming half-hearted re-creations of the originals.  Thanks to creative, organic arrangements, they repeatedly clear the lofty bar of taking a well-known song, and making it seem new again.

One of the album’s best tracks is the surprisingly good cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City.”  Fact:  Loretta Lynn is a hard one to cover.  Her distinct persona and vocal style are so familiar that many artists have fallen into the trap of misguided mimicry – Just ask Sheryl Crow.  But as it turns out, Jones acquits herself nicely by giving a performance that is true to her own vocal style, but that still conveys the sharp sass that the tell-it-like-it-is lyric calls for – She has never sounded feistier.  Likewise, the band reworks the song into a two-stepping arrangement that serves it well, while still retaining its signature instrumental hook.

Elsewhere, there’s hardly a dull spot to be found on the record.  Jones’ spirited performance of Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time” is unshakably joyful, as is Julien’s take on Cash’s “Wide Open Road.”   On a much different note, Jones’ and Julien’s half-singing, half-whispering performance of “Foul Owl On the Prowl” makes for a deliciously haunting mood-breaker.  A slowed-down rendering of Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues,” as well as a hushed performance of the Kristofferson-penned Ray Price hit that serves as the title track, demonstrate the band’s wise focus on putting the songs themselves above all else.  No matter which creative direction the band goes in with the songs they cover, their treatments never come across as gaudy or misguided, nor do they place the singer ahead of the song, but they consistently retain the emotional aspects of the originals.

The instrumental “Tommy Rockwood,” written by Campilongo, is a welcome addition, demonstrating that the The Little Willies are just as competent when cutting loose on an original song as when delivering a well-thought-out cover.  Ultimately, it’s the band’s palpable, infectious enthusiasm for these tunes that makes the record tick.  Despite some missed opportunities with regard to song selection, there is still no denying that what’s here is consistently well-executed, such that any lover of traditional country music will find Good Times to be a highly enjoyable listen.

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iPod Playlist: Originals And Covers

As I’m sure the rest of you do, I make playlists all the time. Many of them are lists of individual artists, but some of them have a concept.

My latest playlist is of covers. First, I have the original version (or the one that’s famous for being the original) followed by my favorite cover of it. My only rule is that I have to like both versions. So, songs where I like the cover but not the original won’t make the list.

I’ll share a sampling of what I have so far, as long as you share your latest or greatest concept playlist in the comments:

1. Buddy Miller, “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go” (Miranda Lambert)
2. Hank Williams, “Hey, Good Lookin’” (The Mavericks)
3. Elvis Presley, “Suspicious Minds (Dwight Yoakam)
4. Dolly Parton, “Coat of Many Colors (Shania Twain/Alison Krauss)
5. Waylon Jennings, “Dreaming My Dreams with You” (Alison Krauss and Union Station)
6. Johnny Cash, “Understand Your Man” (Dwight Yoakam)
7. Merle Haggard, “The Way I Am” (Alan Jackson)
8. John Prine, “That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round” (Miranda Lambert)
9. John Anderson, “Swingin’” (LeAnn Rimes)
10. Buddy Miller, “Don’t Tell Me” (Alicia Nugent)
11. Kasey Chambers, “Pony” (Ashley Monroe)
12. Tammy Wynette, “Stand by Your Man” (Dixie Chicks)
13. Bill Monroe, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (John Fogerty)
14. Conway Twitty, “Goodbye Time” (Blake Shelton)
15. Hank Williams, “I Saw the Light” (Blind Boys of Alabama/ Hank Williams Jr.)
16. Bob Dylan, “Shelter from the Storm” (Rodney Crowell/Emmylou Harris)
17. Merle Haggard, “Today I Started Loving You Again” (Buddy Jewell/Miranda Lambert)
18. Nitty Gritty Dirtband, “Fishing in the Dark” (Garth Brooks)
19. The White Stripes, “Dead Leaves in the Dirty Ground” (Chris Thile)
20. Al Green, “Lets Stay Together” (John Berry)
21. David Allan Coe, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” (Doug Supernaw)
22. The Decemberists, “Shankill Butchers” (Sarah Jarosz
23. Steve Earle, “My Old Friend the Blues” (Patty Loveless)
24. Eric Clapton, “Lay Down Sally” (Delbert McClinton)
25. Fred Eaglesmith, “Time to Get a Gun” (Miranda Lambert)
26. Dolly Parton, “Jolene” (The White Stripes)
27. Johnny Cash, “I Still Miss Someone” (Suzy Bogguss)
28. Pearl Jam, “Better Man” (Sugarland)
29. Kris Kristofferson, “From the Bottle to the Bottom” (Dierks Bentley/Kris Kristofferson)
30. Don Williams, “Lord, I hope this Day is Good” (Lee Ann Womack)
31. Bob Dylan, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s all right” (Randy Travis)

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Rodney Crowell

As most of my favorite artists tend to be, Rodney is talented in multiple ways. Not only does he have a charismatic voice, he’s an accomplished musician, songwriter and producer. He has used these talents for himself, but has also shared them with many other artists. In fact, high-profile artists like Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Johnny Cash, Chely Wright, among many others, have benefited from his musicianship, compositions and producing abilities.

In this feature, we will focus on some of the best Rodney Crowell songs–whether they were big hits, minor hits or unreleased album tracks—but these twenty-five songs certainly do not do enough justice to this man’s contribution to country music. As a result, look for an accompanying Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters feature on Rodney Crowell to come soon.

#25
“You’ve Been on My Mind”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

The lyrics are a little ambiguous, but it’s clear that this is a lonesome song about love lost. Crowell can do a lonesome song with the best of them and he does just that here.

#24
“Telephone Road”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

With an infectious, driving production, “Telephone Road” depicts Crowell’s childhood with fondness (an ice cream from the ice cream truck was only 5 cents), but without the irresponsible nostalgia that seems to afflict many such songs of today (I’m looking at you Bucky Covington). To be totally shallow, this is one to blast on some good speakers.

#23
“Adam’s Song”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

Anyone who has experienced the passing of a loved one knows the reality that Crowell sings about. As he knowingly observes, “We’ll keep learning how to live with a lifelong broken heart.”

#22
“Many A Long and Lonesome Highway”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

This is the first song I’d ever heard by Rodney Crowell. At the time, I had just gotten into country music and the song was already four or five years old, but I had no idea of his history. I simply thought it was a great, melodic song. I still do.

#21
“Song for the Life”

from the 1978 album Ain’t Living Long Like This

To me, this song sounds mature and reflective, from a man who has lived and learned. However, in a 2005 20 Questions interview with CMT, Rodney reveals that he wrote this song when he was a mere twenty-one years old. And, is that Willie Nelson I hear singing background vocals? Yes, it is.

#20
“Fate’s Right Hand”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

The title track of the critically acclaimed Fate’s Right Hand explores changing times and injustices much better than Toby Keith’s “American Ride” does.

#19
“Topsy Turvy”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

This song vividly paints the picture of Crowell’s parents’ abusive relationship. It’s from his perspective as the fully aware child who witnesses the turbulence. He doesn’t mince words throughout the song, but especially when he admits, “I cross my heart and tell myself ‘I hope they die’”. He also details the lack of meaningful response from neighbors and police officers.

#18
“Beautiful Despair

from the 2005 album The Outsider

It’s not a feeling that one wants to embrace often, but there are times when leaning into that feeling of despair propels one to action or at least some needed introspection. From this song, it’s likely that despair has played a beautiful function in his life.

#17
“Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”

from the 1978 album Ain’t Living Long Like This

Emmylou Harris was one of the first people to record a Rodney Crowell song and what a gem it is. While Harris’ recording of it is the strongest and most exuberant version, Crowell’s version is great too.

#16
“This Too Will Pass”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

What I like about a Rodney Crowell penned inspirational song is that it’s not embarrassing to listen to. It’s inspiring without sounding like a page from Chicken Soup for the Soul.

#15
“My Baby’s Gone” (with Emmylou Harris)

from the 2003 album Livin’ Lovin’ Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers

From the excellent Louvin Brothers tribute album, one of the many shining moments is this duet from Rodney and Emmylou Harris. It just cements the fact that they need to do a duets album. Stat!

#14
“The Rock of My Soul”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

While this song is not strictly autobiographical, it is a chilling representation of Crowell’s tumultuous experiences with his father.

#13
“Dancin’ Circles Round the Sun (Epictetus Speaks)”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

Here’s another example of Rodney Crowell inspiring without sickening.

#12
“After All This Time”

from the 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt

If you’re not listening carefully, you might think this is a pretty love song. It, however, is a wistful love song to a relationship that no longer exists.

#11
“I Walk the Line Revisited” (With Johnny Cash)

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

This is a joyful account of the first time Crowell heard Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” on the radio as a kid. It’s an obvious full circle moment when Cash sings an altered melody of the classic on Crowell’s song about it.

#10
“We Can’t Turn Back”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

In his gentle but no nonsense way, Crowell explores the notion that we can’t change the past, which means that we can only focus on the present and what we can do to make it better.

#9
“Artemis and Orion”

from the 2003 digital release Lost Tracks

Supported by a delightfully simple production and memorable tune, Rodney sings a version of the story of Artemis and Orion from Greek Mythology. I’m not sure of the origins of the song, since it seems to have been randomly recorded by Crowell, but it is fun to listen to.

#8
“’Til I Gain Control Again”

from the 1981 album Rodney Crowell

Crowell has written several songs that have become classics for him and for others. “’Til I Gain Control Again” was first recorded by Emmylou Harris in the mid-seventies, then made famous by Crystal Gayle in the early eighties and subsequently recorded by many artists over the years. Crowell’s own version is beautifully sung with just the right air of forlornness.

#7
“Things that Go Bump in the Day”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

I hardly even know what this song means, but I still love it for its bouncy production, unshakable melody and Crowell’s energy while singing it. I dare you not to get it stuck in your head.

#6
“The Outsider”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

The effective use of horns in this bluesy soul infused song is enough to hook me, but the theme of being okay with being different is something to embrace too.

#5
“Things I Wish I Said”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

Much has been written and said about Rodney Crowell’s difficult relationship with his violent father, but the end of that story is that they found a way to heal their relationship and turn it into something healthy and tender. This song is personal to Crowell as it describes the relief that he feels that he has no regrets with the passing of his father. Likewise, it is a universal sentiment that most of us can relate to as well.

#4
“She’s Crazy for Leaving”

from the 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt

I love this song because both the melody and the song’s vividly painted story are equally funky. The scene that’s created for the song is fodder for a hilarious and ridiculous comedy sketch.

#3
“Riding Out the Storm”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

A not so beautiful picture is underscored by a beautiful melody and poetic lyrics. That’s one of Rodney Crowell’s effortless songwriting talents.

#2
“Making Memories of Us”

from the 2004 album The Notorious Cherry Bombs

Keith Urban is who made this song famous and Crowell a little richer, but Rodney Crowell, backed by Vince Gill, is who makes it a fine treasure. Written for his wife as a last minute Valentine’s Day gift, it’s a tender love song that rivals most modern songs of its ilk. It’s one of those “action” songs that I especially love. He’s not just promising to love her, but also pledging to be an active part of their relationship in order to create meaningful memories.

#1
“Shelter from the Storm” (with Emmylou Harris)

from the 2005 album The Outsider

Again, there’s no reason that Emmylou and Rodney shouldn’t make a duets album together. With sublime vocal chemistry, they turn this Bob Dylan song into something entirely different than what it once was. Instead of having to dig for the gem, they put it out there front and center for us. It’s gorgeous and it’s their interpretation that makes it so.

In “Beautiful Despair”, Crowell acknowledges the depth of Bob Dylan’s songwriting and his feelings of inadequacy when compared to Dylan’s ability. He sings: “Beautiful despair is hearing Dylan/ When you’re drunk at 3 a.m. / Knowing that the chances are/ No matter what you’ll never write like him.”

As a Dylan fan, it may be heresy to think it, but methinks Rodney Crowell is being too hard on himself. It is not a knock on Rodney Crowell’s incredible songwriting that I chose a song that he did not write as my top Crowell song, but rather, a testament to his ability to interpret a legendary song well enough to make it his own.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 30

And so it comes to a close, with the final category:

A Song That Makes You Want to Be a Better Person.

Here are the staff picks:

Tara Seetharam: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Aretha Franklin

Maybe it’s the way the gospel arrangement evokes a guttural reaction or the way the lyrics are shamelessly selfless. As with the best songs, I can’t quite put my finger on why it moves me – but this song makes me want to live for others.

Kevin Coyne: “Hell Yeah” – Neil Diamond

This is how I want to look back on my life when it’s all said and done. I’m about halfway there.

Leeann Ward: “Man in Black” – Johnny Cash

This is a tough and weighty category for sure. “Man in Black” could just as easily fit the “worldview” category for me, but then, “What You Give Away” could fit this one too. Somehow, these lyrics, however, make me want to try harder to be better toward those around me: “I wear the black for those who’ve never read/ Or listened to the words that Jesus said/ About the road to happiness through love and charity/ Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.”

Dan Milliken: “Square One” – Tom Petty

My worst vice is that I’m perpetually behind on several things at once. Not just long-term shoulds, like “I’ve been meaning to call my old pal Jan,” but short-term imperatives like “I need to start that paper that was due three weeks ago.” I’ve gotten away with play-first-and-maybe-work-later for most of my life, and while it’s made me less uptight and more understanding of others’ foibles, it also means I’m usually walking under an invisible raincloud of sorts. The burden of something unfinished – let alone several things – is like an awful condom on the fun you can actually experience, the care you can give to other people, the love or joy you can feel – everything good about living, basically.

I want to be Tom Petty in “Square One.” He’s fought his way through his respective “world of trouble” and finally come out clean. “My slate is clear,” he sings, in the sweetest Tom Petty tone ever; “Rest your head on me, my dear.” With his baggage cleared out, he can finally live fully in the present, taking full advantage of the people and experiences he’s blessed with.

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100 Greatest Men: #88. The Oak Ridge Boys

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

They started out as a gospel group in the forties, but it was their country-pop hits of the early eighties that made them superstars.

First formed as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers in 1943, they became the Oak Ridge Quartet when they found that they were performing their gospel songs in that area of Tennessee more than in any other place.

The lineup would change over the next thirty years, but their focus on Southern gospel did not.  Renamed the Oak Ridge Boys in 1961, they slowly gained national prominence.  In 1971, they won the first of four Grammys in the gospel categories, for the song, “Talk About the Good Times.”

Singing backup for Johnny Cash and the Carter Family in 1973, they earned their first country chart appearance with the minor hit, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup.”  That same year, the lineup that would make them country superstars was finalized:  Duane Allen (lead), Joe Bonsall (tenor), William Lee Golden (baritone), and Richard Sterban (bass).  High-profile appearances with Roy Clark and Paul Simon soon followed, but their first major label deal was a bust, as Columbia didn’t understand how to market them to the gospel market.

Switching to ABC, they quickly became country stars with their 1977 breakthrough hit, “Y’All Come Back Saloon.”  The song was such a big hit that they were soon country radio staples, winning Vocal Group honors from the CMA in 1978 and the ACM in 1979.

In 1981, “Elvira” launched them into the stratosphere, powering their Fancy Free album to double platinum.  They won a Grammy and Single honors from both the ACM and CMA for that platinum-selling hit.  They remained top-selling artists through 1984, thanks to big hits like “Bobbie Sue” and “American Made.”   And while album sales began to slow in the second half of the decade, they remained in heavy rotation at country radio.

Golden exited the lineup in 1987, replaced by Steve Sanders until 1995.  Album sales weren’t as high during this period, but they did score another pair of signature hits that topped the charts: “Gonna Take a Lot of River” in 1988, and “No Matter How High” in 1989. They enjoyed their last top ten hit in 1991, “Lucky Moon”, their only successful single during a short tenure at RCA.

Personal problems led to Sanders exiting the group, and Golden returned in 1996.  In the years since, their original country lineup now intact, they’ve continued to record and to tour, as they approach the band’s seventieth anniversary in music.

Essential Singles:

  • Y’all Come Back Saloon, 1977
  • I’ll Be True to You, 1978
  • Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight, 1979
  • Elvira, 1981
  • American Made, 1983
  • Gonna Take a Lot of River, 1988

Essential Albums:

  • Y’all Come Back Saloon, 1977
  • The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived, 1979
  • Fancy Free, 1981
  • American Made, 1983
  • Monongahela, 1988

Next: #87. Billy Walker

Previous: #89. Sawyer Brown

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Single Review: Brantley Gilbert, “Country Must Be Country Wide”

1. There isn’t a country radio station in any city playing Cash, Hank, Willie, or Waylon in 2011, let alone one in every city nationwide.

2. Country as presented here is a lifestyle, not a revolutionary political movement.  No need for all the drama.

3. This song is about as country as “Wanted Dead or Alive” anyway.

4. Oh, and Neal McCoy already did this.

Grade: C

Listen: Country Must Be Country Wide

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Single Review: Emmylou Harris, “The Road”

The story of Emmylou Harris is well established, the stuff of legend at this point.

She could’ve been Gram Parsons’ harmony singer for the rest of her career and been happy, but she ended up carrying on his legacy instead, becoming a Hall of Famer with the most consistently excellent catalog in country music history.

She’s addressed Parsons in song before, most directly with the grief-stricken classic “Boulder to Birmingham” from her 1975 classic Pieces of the Sky. Whereas that was a statement of heartbreak to a lost friend, “The Road” is a letter of gratitude, thanking him for starting her on a journey that she never would have embarked upon alone.

For future music historians, this song will be a goldmine.  For listeners, it’s pretty good, too.  Harris is a solid songwriter and her lyrics are closer to poetry than standard Nashville writing.  Her voice is showing signs of wear, but much like on the later work of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, that works to her advantage.

Is it as good as the best tracks on All I Intended to Be or Stumble Into Grace?  Not quite, especially if you don’t know the back story and can’t fill in the gaps. But even very good Emmylou Harris is better than most of what’s out there today.  Still, I hope the rest of her upcoming album is more than just very good Emmylou Harris.

Written by Emmylou Harris

Grade: B+

Listen: The Road

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Classic Country Singles: Rosanne Cash featuring Johnny Cash, “September When it Comes”

September When it Comes
Rosanne Cash featuring Johnny Cash
2003

Written by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal

In her memoir Composed, Rosanne Cash describes a handful of prophetic songs that she has written as being “Postcards From the Future”, describing life events in detail before they happen. The most haunting example of this is “September When it Comes.”

She had written the lyrics in the nineties, scribbled quickly on a piece of paper while she was on the Long Island Expressway. At the time, her father Johnny was suffering through a health crisis. The lyrics describe her preparing for the impending death of her father, the time of reckoning described as September, a beautiful metaphor for the autumn years of life.

Her husband, John Leventhal, discovered the lyrics and wrote the music to go along with it. He suggested that it would be a perfect duet for her to do with her father. She struggled with the idea for months, before finally calling her father up to ask him to sing on the record.  After a few moments thought, he responded, “I’ll have to read the lyrics first.”

She flew down to Nashville and delivered them in person.  He quickly agreed to sing on the song about his own impending mortality.  Though he was in poor health and struggled during the recording session, he insisted on completing three takes. As he sang the lyrics, Rosanne cried quietly on the other side of the recording glass.

“September When it Comes” was released in the spring of 2003, the centerpiece of Rules of Travel, Rosanne’s first studio album in eight years.  A few months later, the song’s prophecy came to fruition. Johnny Cash died in the early morning hours of  September 12, 2003.

The eerie accuracy of the timing aside, the song is a quiet masterpiece in its own right.  It captures the pain of losing a parent to a crippling illness, but also the peace that comes with the knowledge that they have a reached a place that they can rest, and fall into the loving arms of those who wait for them. 

More so than any of the work that Johnny Cash recorded in his final year or that Rosanne Cash has recorded since his death, “September When it Comes” is the most beautiful swan song for both Johnny’s musical career and this father-daughter relationship.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4twUdSO0oY

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