Country music is famous for its three chords and the truth strategy or at least for the tagline. The straightforward and simple lyrics that cut into our souls are what ultimately draw us to this genre.
Country music, however, is also rife with songs that contain metaphors. Many times, the metaphors are easy to comprehend, but there are times when they seem almost out of reach. They are the songs that can be interpreted in different ways, which are often the most fun.
Fore me, one such song is Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson’s “Monkey on A Wire.” In my mind, at least, it’s somewhat of a challenge to pinpoint the exact symbolism of the monkey on a wire. In my review of their album, I give it a respectable try, but I’m still not convinced of my interpretation. My guess was:
“The unshakably catchy “Monkey On A Wire” explores the tenuous act of attempting to resist the desires of temptation, but ultimately recognizing the futility of the exercise. With us as flawed humans playing the part of the symbolic monkey on a wire who’s attempting to evade the devil, they sing: ‘Oh, here I go/Me and my desire/Everyone’s got their own monkey on a wire/Oh, down below/Leader of the choir/He’s waiting for the next monkey on a wire.’”
So, my question is:
What are your favorite songs with metaphors or symbolism? Explain.
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson cleaned up at the 37th CMAA Country Music Awards of Australia this past week. The couple acquired five Golden Guitar trophies, winning Album of the Year (Rattlin’ Bones), APRA Song of the Year, Video Clip of the Year, Single of the Year (“Rattlin’ Bones”) and Top Selling Album of the Year.
Other winners include Melinda Schneider & Paul Kelly for Vocal Collaboration of the Year (“Still Here”), the sisterly trio The McClymonts for Group or Duo of the Year, Adam Brand for Male Vocalist of the Year and Catherine Britt for Female Vocalist of the Year.
Video of the Year, “Rattlin’ Bones”
Carrie Underwood is the top winner of the inaugural Country Universe Reader’s Choice Awards, earning first place in all four of the races in which she was eligible. In addition to being named Artist of the Year and Female Vocalist, her #1 hit “Just a Dream” won for Single and Music Video.
Also popular with readers this past year were:
– Sugarland, who won Vocal Duo/Group by the widest margin of any of the winners, and placed second for Artist and Album. Additionally, lead singer Jennifer Nettles placed second for Songwriter.
– Jamey Johnson, who won for Songwriter, and placed second in the Male Vocalist race. His hit “In Color” came in third in both the Single and Music Video races, and he also placed third in the Artist race.
– Brad Paisley, who won easily for Male Vocalist and came in second for Music Video with “Waitin’ on a Woman.”
– Patty Loveless, who topped both Sugarland and Lee Ann Womack to finish first in the Album race.
Among up-and-comers, Lady Antebellum and Joey+ Rory proved most popular, finishing first and second in the Rising Star race and second and third in the Vocal Duo/Group Race. Lee Ann Womack and Trisha Yearwood also did well, with both women placing behind Underwood in the Female Vocalist race. Yearwood’s hit “This is Me You’re Talking To” placed second for Single, and Womack’s Call Me Crazy finished third behind Loveless and Sugarland for Album. And with wide disagreement in the Songwriter race beyond Johnson and Nettles, the red-hot Taylor Swift makes her only appearance on the list, placing third.
Our five winners of the Album Giveaway each received an Amazon Mp3 Gift Certificate for the cost of the album they chose from the various top ten lists of our writers. The winners, and the albums they selected:
Araceli Pinto Corrales – Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy
Andrew Lacy – Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
Zachary Jodlowski – Joey + Rory, The Life of a Song
Michael Kattman – Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof
Laura Britton – Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones
Thanks to all of you who voted, and everyone else for your loyal readership! Read on for the winners, along with the editors’ choices in each category. Percentages reflect the total amount of points received, with the maximum possible percentage of 50%, which would require a first-place vote on every ballot.
If you didn’t submit a ballot this time around, share your preferences in the comments!
It’s always fun to learn a bit more about the tastes of our fellow country music fans from time to time. So, I’m asking you to enter my imaginary world for a little while.
Pretend that you’re trapped on a desert island and can have one of each item listed in the categories below. Of course, my imaginary existence somehow allows for you to, somehow, manage to have electricity, a stereo and a DVD player.
Complete works of one Country Music Artist/Band:
One Album by another Country Music Artist/Band:
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones
One Bluegrass Album:
Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul
One “big tent” country album:
Old Crow Medicine Show, OCMS
One Album by a Non-Country Artist:
Nirvana, Nirvana Unplugged
One Country Music Artist Box Set (that does not include all the works of that artist):
Hank Williams, Unreleased Recordings
Complete Works of one Author:
One Novel: To Kill A Mockingbird
One Collection of Short Stories: Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver
One Book of Poetry: Where The Side Walk Ends by Shel Silverstein
One Miscellaneous Book: Rabbit Angstrom: Four Novels by John Updike
FILM AND TELEVISION
Complete works of one Filmmaker:
My English Lit professor brother-in-law’s music tastes are typically very refined. To give you an idea, while he appreciates country artists like Emmylou Harris and Kasey Chambers, folky singer/songwriters such as Ani DiFranco, Jazz musicians like Miles Davis and so on, his biggest music passion is classical music, Mahler in particular. In fact, classical music is an integral part of his life. He grew up with it, his father sent my nephew about 50 classical music CDs to get his classical library started when he was only five-years-old and that same poor nephew is required to alternate between his preferred music and classical music every other night as he falls asleep.
Sometime, over the holidays, we were talking about how I write for a country music blog. The conversation led to him saying, “Oh, I just read a review in the New Yorker about a teen country artist who is supposed to be a brilliant songwriter.” I was like, “really? Who?” After he couldn’t retrieve the name, I kind of jokingly asked, “Taylor Swift?”, You can imagine my surprise when he enthusiastically answered, “Yeah, that’s her name!” I asked, “Did they at least mention that she can’t sing very well”, which was answered with a “No, I don’t think so. I think they said she had a good voice too.”
I happened to have an external hard drive full of all of my digital music with me, which includes Swift’s two albums (Don’t ask!). So, after trying to convince him that while Taylor is good at what she does, she’s neither a good singer nor a brilliant songwriter to no avail, I gave in and burned him a CD of her music. We listened to it a little that night and ribbed him for allowing the New Yorker (his favorite magazine) to influence him so much.
Now, at this point, I don’t know if he actually truly agrees that Taylor Swift is a gifted singer and brilliant songwriter, but my sister did inform me that he took the CD with him on their trip to visit his mom in Massachusetts the next day.
Alrighty then! If The New Yorker says so…
So, the point of this pointlessly long anecdote is this:
Historically, it’s uncharacteristic of both The New Yorker and my brother-in-law to praise an artist like Taylor Swift.
What artist or song do you find that you enjoy despite the fact that it’s outside of your typical music taste?
This is my fifth such list in as many years, and I have to say that I was mostly underwhelmed by the albums of 2008. If it wasn’t for the contributions of the other writers, who made me aware of some fine albums I might have otherwise missed, it would’ve been difficult to compile a list at all. That being said, there were at least ten albums from 2008 that I will be listening to in 2009 and beyond.
Jim Lauderdale & The Dream Players, Honey Songs
No matter how much honey you put in the mix, the ragged words and vocals of Jim Lauderdale will cut through. The glorious contrast between Lauderdale and his sonic surroundings make for a fascinating listen.
Joey + Rory, The Life of a Song
It’s rare for any act to make a debut album without compromise, let alone one that hails from a reality competition show. This is pure, straight off the back porch joy.
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones
A pure roots album with a progressive edge, the best of its kind since the Dixie Chicks moved to L.A.
Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy
While it doesn’t reach the heights of There’s More Where That Came From, there are some fine moments here that are on par with Womack’s best work, especially the passive-aggressive “Either Way” and the Wynette-worthy “If These Walls Could Talk.”
Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
Effortlessly excellent. Loveless is so in her element here that it’s a wonder that it took more than two decades to record this in the first place. A wonderful treat to feast on while we wait for her next proper studio album.
Chris Stapleton’s voice just blows me away. As Lee Ann Womack has recently observed, he sings like a real man. He takes Travis Tritt’s soulfulness to a whole new level. With incredible harmonies and terrific songs not limited to “Blue Side of the Mountain” and “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey”, this is a strong project that certainly stood out in 2008.
Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Comal County Blue
I love Boland’s folk-tinged country voice, which sings these memorable fiddle laden melodies to great affect. While the lyrics can be abstract at times, they still manage to feel meaningful. I’ve come to realize that what ultimately appeals to me about this album is the fact that it reminds me of good nineties country music, which is the era that drew me to this genre in the first place.
Darrell Scott, Modern Hymns
My admiration for Darrell Scott is unending. I, of course, love his voice, but I especially love his thoughtful songwriting. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” just floors me every time I hear it. In this project, however, he chose to cover some of his favorite songs that he classifies as modern hymns. Unsurprisingly, these choices turn out to be as interesting as his own compositions, which simply confirms that his talent is inspired by tasteful writing equal to his own.
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
Admittedly, nothing about this album is warm or pretty. Johnson’s vocals are harsh and the songs are mostly darker than we’re accustomed to hearing in country music these days. Along with the outlaw tinged productions, these factors are the fundamental elements of this great album.
Peter Cooper, Mission Door
While the melodies on his first album, Mission Door, are enough to draw you in, it is Peter Cooper’s provocative and insightful lyrics which catch you by surprise on this folk infused, steel guitar laden album. Cooper either wrote or co-wrote ten out of the twelve tracks that explores such weighty topics as racism and poverty. He enlists the help of Nanci Griffith and Todd Snider, his two favorite singers, on the album’s stand out title track, along with recording his own mellower version of “Thin Wild Mercury”, which he co-wrote with Todd Snider for Snider’s The Devil You Know album.
The best and most powerful song on the album, however, is “715 (For Hank Aaron), a song that discusses the duality of Aaron being a revered baseball player and an oppressed black man. This grossly ignored album that sounds like a mix of Darrell Scott and Todd Snider, with lots of steel guitar thrown in for good measure, is one of the year’s most intriguing albums.
Happy holidays, everybody! I’m back with my personal top ten albums of the year, a list that took a stupid-long time to put together but is very nice to have done. All I would say as a note is that I like all of these albums very much and don’t think the rankings should be scrutinized to death, because my tastes certainly change frequently enough.
Okay, you get it. Let’s do this. Va-VOOM!
Dailey and Vincent,Dailey and Vincent
I typically lean progressive in my bluegrass tastes, but there’s simply no arguing with this dynamic twosome, whose debut finds them ripping into a straight-ahead traditional style with such crazy-polished singing, playing and writing that they practically become the new standard. Excellent.
Kathy Mattea, Coal
Confession: I wasn’t quite sure how to take this one. Although I like Kathy Mattea’s voice and generally love concept albums, I had trouble getting into this set of mining-related songs as a whole, which may be because I personally have trouble digesting so many bare-bones story songs in one sitting, or may be because the album itself becomes a bit monotonous after a while. It’s kind of hard to say, and I finally decided that it’s just the sort of thing I personally have to be in the right mood for. Objectively speaking, though, I think what Mattea and producer Marty Stuart have achieved here is easily one of the most fully realized artistic expressions of 2008, and it’s pretty hard to gripe about on a song-by-song or sonic basis. So #9 feels about right for me.
Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof
Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen and Cody Canada take note: Reckless Kelly’s latest set showcases just how tersely effective the whole “country-nodding Texas rock” shtick can be when you pay the same attention to developing compelling lyrical ideas that you do to ‘tude (and I say that with love, because I enjoy work from all of the acts mentioned above). Bonus points for the year’s best album cover.
1. “In Color,” Jamey Johnson
2. “Waitin’ on a Woman,” Brad Paisley
3. “This Is Me You’re Talking To,” Trisha Yearwood
4. “She Left Me for Jesus,” Hayes Carll
5. “What I Cannot Change,” Leann Rimes
6. “Last Call,” Lee Ann Womack
7. “Anything Goes,” Randy Houser
8. “Dig Two Graves,” Randy Travis
9. “Please Read the Letter,” Alison Krauss & Robert Plant
10. “Fine Line,” Little Big Town
11. “Mockingbird,” Allison Moorer
12. “Crazy Arms,” Patty Loveless
13. “This Town Needs a Bar,” Jeremy McComb
14. “Just Got Started Loving You,” James Otto
15. “Takin’ off This Pain,” Ashton Shepherd
16. “Gold,” Emmylou Harris
17. “Every Other Weekend,” Reba McEntire & Skip Ewing
18. “You Look Good In My Shirt,” Keith Urban
19. “More Like Her,” Miranda Lambert
20. “Love Don’t Live Here,” Lady Antebellum
In a year where excellent mainstream country albums were few and far between, there were still many wonderful projects waiting to be discovered by listeners willing to look for them. Among all releases, mainstream and alternative, traditional and contemporary, folk and Americana, the Country Universe staff deems these ten the best.
Jim Lauderdale & The Dream Players, Honey Songs
You could forgive Jim Lauderdale if he showed signs of wear on Honey Songs, his fourth release in a span of 18 months. Instead, he’s produced yet another fresh package, this time by cherry-picking the best parts of rock ‘n’ roll’s roots and throwing ’em into his ever-sharp traditional songwriting blender. His tunes have never been more perfectly framed, either, which you can attribute to the aptly-named “Dream Players,” a droolworthy backing line-up consisting of guitarist James Burton and drummer Ron Tutt (both Elvis Presley vets), pianist Glen D. Hardin and pedal steeler Al Perkins (both renowned session players), and bassist Garry Tallent (of Springsteen’s E. Street Band), not to mention Emmylou Harris, Kelly Hogan, Patty Loveless and Buddy Miller on vocals. If it’s been a while since you heard an instrumental part that sounded like it was actually written to complement its song, rather than just create sound, check out the melancholy electric/steel duet in the intro to “Borrow Some Summertime.” – Dan Milliken
Sugarland, Love on the Inside (Deluxe Fan Edition)
There has been no shortage of country acts that incorporate arena rock into their spin on country music, but on their third album, Love on the Inside, Sugarland manages to do so without the sound overwhelming the country identity of the work. At its heart, this is an acoustic country record, with most of the songs beginning with bare-bones instrumentation and more than a few staying that way.
But the clean and fresh production would all be for naught if the material wasn’t so strong, and Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush have collected their strongest batch of songs to date, with “Already Gone”, “Very Last Country Song”, “Keep You” and “We Run” only increasing in charm and power upon repeated listenings. The Deluxe Fan Edition is the version to go for, as the extra songs prove a fascinating listen. They’re almost fully formed and make you wonder why they weren’t deemed worthy of being on the regular album, until you notice that the hook isn’t quite strong enough or the lyric starts to fall apart at the bridge. Such tracks are usually unearthed years later, if at all, so it’s an extra treat to hear the good material that didn’t warrant inclusion on a great album. – Kevin J. Coyne
Peter Cooper, Mission Door
While the melodies on his first album, Mission Door, are enough to draw you in, it’s Peter Cooper’s provocative and insightful lyrics that take you by surprise on this folk infused, steel guitar laden album. Cooper either wrote or co-wrote ten out of the twelve tracks that explores such weighty topics as racism and poverty. He enlists the help of Nanci Griffith and Todd Snider, his two favorite singers, on the album’s stand out title track, along with recording his own mellower version of “Thin Wild Mercury”, which he co-wrote with Todd Snider for Snider’s The Devil You Know album.
The best and most powerful song on the album, however, is “715 (For Hank Aaron), a song that discusses the duality of Aaron being a revered baseball player and an oppressed black man. This mostly ignored album that sounds like a mix of Darrell Scott and Todd Snider, with lots of steel guitar thrown in for good measure, is one of the year’s most intriguing albums. – Leeann Ward