As 2014 comes to a close, the Country Universe staff has been collectively impressed by the number of quality albums that were released this year. How many of those albums, however, will we still be listening to in twenty years?
We have that benefit of hindsight for the year 1994, and we’ve compiled our twenty favorite studio sets from that year. At their time of release, some of our favorites were comeback albums from veteran artists, some were from current artists reaching new artistic and commercial peaks, and some were debut sets from artists that went on to become mainstays on country radio or in the Americana music scene that was just coming together twenty years ago.
What they all have in common is that each and every one of them still sounds great today, and they collectively show the wide breadth that the country music landscape was transforming into as the genre reached wider levels of popularity than it had ever seen before.
#20 Randy Travis This is Me
BF #11 | KJC #15 | LW #19
Travis’ legendary status was practically secure by 1994, but This is Me shows an artist neither resting on his laurels nor struggling to keep up with the young new talent of the era. The album serves up one solid song after another, with its best tracks delivering clever new takes on signature country themes, thus further advancing an already respectable legacy. – Ben Foster
Recommended Tracks: “Before You Kill Us All”, “This is Me”, “The Box”
Our Best of 1994 Singles List continues with Part Three, which includes the ten songs that just missed the top ten! This section includes several #1 singles and signature hits, but kicks off with one of those should’ve been hits by a should’ve been star.
#20 “Wild Love”
Joy Lynn White
Written by Dennis Linde
JK #9 | SG #18 | KJC #39
A brash, fiery vocalist with an instantly recognizable timbre and sense of phrasing, White revels in the forthright sexuality of “Wild Love” and has the pipes to match the track’s blistering arrangement. White may never have cracked the top 40 at radio, but the influence of her vocal style is all over Natalie Maines’ singing, and “Wild Love” foretold the hard rock turn the genre would take a decade or so later. – Jonathan Keefe
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 Continue reading →
The hits come from all over the place here. Breakthrough hits from Trace Adkins and Carlene Carter join one-hit wonders Brother Phelps and George Ducas. And alongside crafty covers of songs by sixties rock band The Searchers and nineties country artist Joy Lynn White, you can also find tracks from three diamond-selling country albums.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #200-#176
Carrying Your Love With Me George Strait
1997 | Peak: #1
A traveler gets through his lonely nights on the sheer strength of love. It’s perhaps a little too saccharine for some, but the sweet melody and Strait’s understated vocals make the record work. – Tara Seetharam
A man sits around in a bar “talking ’bout the good old times, bragging on how it used to be.” Standard premise, but Black’s melancholy performance lifts the record to Haggardly heights. – Dan Milliken Continue reading →
New fans of country music in the nineties were hit over the head with the assertion that country music was one big family. Nothing demonstrated this mythos better than the all star jams that cropped up during the boom years.
There were some variants of this approach. A popular one found a veteran star teaming up with one or more of the boom artists to increase their chances of radio airplay. George Jones was big on this approach, with the most high profile attempt being “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.” Seventeen years later, it’s amazing to see how young everyone looks – even Jones himself!
Jones shared the CMA Vocal Event of the Year trophy for that collaboration with Clint Black, Garth Brooks, T. Graham Brown, Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, and Travis Tritt. He’d continue with this approach by teaming up with his vocal chameleon Sammy Kershaw on “Never Bit a Bullet Like This”, and he recorded an entire album of his own songs as duets with mostly younger stars. The Bradley Barn Sessions was represented at radio with “A Good Year For the Roses”, which found him singing one of his best hits with Alan Jackson:
Among the legends, the only other one to be successful with this approach was Dolly Parton, who used collaborations with young stars to score consecutive platinum albums for the first and only time in her career. Her 1991 set Eagle When She Flies was powered by the #1 single “Rockin’ Years”, co-written by her brother and sung with Ricky Van Shelton:
That album also included a duet with Lorrie Morgan on “Best Woman Wins.” She upped the bandwagon ante on Slow Dancing With the Moon, bringing a whole caravan of young stars on board with her line dance cash-in “Romeo.”
That’s Mary Chapin Carpenter, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kathy Mattea, and Tanya Tucker in the video. Pam Tillis isn’t in the clip, but she sings on the record with them. Parton also duets with Billy Dean on that album on “(You Got Me Over a) Heartache Tonight.”
Her next collaboration was with fellow legends Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, but they couldn’t resist the temptation to squeeze in several younger stars in the video for “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” Alongside veterans like Chet Atkins, Bill Anderson, and Little Jimmy Dickens, you’ll catch cameos from Mark Collie, Confederate Railroad, Rodney Crowell, Diamond Rio, Sammy Kershaw, Doug Stone, and Marty Stuart.
Parton scored a CMA award when she resurrected “I Will Always Love You” as a duet with Vince Gill:
And while it didn’t burn up the charts, her version of “Just When I Needed You Most” with Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski:
Tammy Wynette made an attempt to connect with the new country audience with her own album of duets, Without Walls. Her pairing with Wynonna on “Girl Thang” earned some unsolicited airplay:
Perhaps the most endearing project in this vein came from Roy Rogers. How cool is it to hear him singing with Clint Black?
The new stars liked pairing up with each other, too. A popular trend was to have other stars pop up in music videos. There’s the classic “Women of Country” version of “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”, for starters. Mary Chapin Carpenter sounds pretty darn good with Suzy Bogguss, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, and Trisha Yearwood on backup:
That’s a live collaboration, so at least you hear the voices of the other stars. But Vince Gill put together an all-star band for his “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” video without getting them to actually play. That’s Little Jimmy Dickens, Kentucky Headhunters, Patty Loveless, Lee Roy Parnell, Carl Perkins, Pam Tillis, and Kelly Willis behind him, with Reba McEntire reprising her waitress role from her own “Is There Life Out There” clip.
My personal favorite was Tracy Lawrence’s slightly less A-list spin on the above, with “My Second Home” featuring the future superstars Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, and Shania Twain, along with John Anderson, Holly Dunn, Hank Flamingo, Johnny Rodriguez, Tanya Tucker, Clay Walker, and a few people that I just can’t identify.
For pure star wattage, it took the bright lights of Hollywood to get a truly amazing group together. The Maverick Choir assembled to cover “Amazing Grace”, and it doesn’t get much better than country gospel delivered in a barn by John Anderson, Clint Black, Suzy Bogguss, Billy Dean, Radney Foster, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Waylon Jennings, Tracy Lawrence, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, John Michael Montgomery, Restless Heart, Ricky Van Shelton, Joy Lynn White, and Tammy Wynette.
What’s your favorite of the bunch? Any good ones I missed?
“Just Some Girl” by Joy Lynn White
From the 2005 album One More Time.
When Brad Paisley released the single “Online” earlier this year, I had a visceral reaction to it. A good friend of mine shared my distaste for the song, but noted that she had expected it to turn out differently the first time she heard it. She assumed that by the third verse, the character would end up a computer mogul or such, and would become the ladies man he was pretending to be.
Of course, that didn’t happen, but when “Just Some Girl” popped up on shuffle one day, comparisons to “Online” immediately came to me. The Joy Lynn White track also talks about a character living on the margins of society, not quite fitting in, but the portrait painted is far more sympathetic, even as it is made clear that this is not the kind of girl that the world embraces wholeheartedly:
She was just some girl
She was plain and stout
She was nobody’s dreamboat
Nothin’ to write home about
Her hair was not like silk
Her skin was not like milk
To the civilized world
She was just some girl
White then contrasts this with the girls who seem to have everything going for them from the start:
Some girls are born holding the aces Ya never see tears Rolling down their faces And some girls have dreams And some girls get choices Encouraging voices Assure their place in the world
That was the line that got my attention: “Encouraging voices assure their place in the world.” It is so easy for young people to slip through the cracks, to skate by unnoticed. As a teacher, I am fully aware of how dangerous that can be. As White sings, it can result in this:
She was just some girl
She was painfully shy
Sometimes for no reason
She’d sit at home and cry
With no one to touch her
And no one to tell her
I’ll see ya tomorrow
I love ya, sleep tight
As the character’s isolation builds, hope begins to fade for a happy ending. After a small instrumental break, the fate of just some girl is revealed:
Face down in the shadows
Of a willow
They found her
So wasted away
No one could say
What it was
It was just some girl
Someone no one would kiss
Somebody no one would cry for
Someone no one would miss
And with that, she’s gone. Just as the listener is feeling weighed down by the cruelty of this poor girl’s entire life having no value or meaning to anyone, a girl who is “someone no one would miss”, the final lines reveal there’s more to the story than we suspected:
But her mama’s gonna cry some though
Her papa’s gonna miss her so
There’s a hole in their world
She was just some girl
“Just Some Girl” raises many questions for me. Was the isolation this girl felt real, or was most of it imagined in her head? Was she surrounded by love but unable to feel it? Or did the people who loved her just fail to make that a little more clear? It’s a challenging song, one that resonates long after hearing it. For me, it’s a reminder to pay closer attention. It makes me remember back to what one of my teachers said when I was in junior high school: “The cruelest way to hurt someone is not to make fun of them, it’s to ignore them completely.”