Later this month, I’ll be seeing Kathy Mattea in concert. I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen her live more often than anybody else – at least six times, going back to the Summer of 1994.
One of the things that I like about her is that she mixes up the set list. There is a very small group of songs that she always plays: “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”, “Where’ve You Been”, “Love at the Five & Dime”, and “Come From the Heart.” Nearly every show includes “Mary, Did You Know” and “Walking Away a Winner” as well.
But the rest of the concert is a balanced mix of the best cuts from her current album, other hits from the past, and an unorthodox cover or two. I keep going back because she keeps it fresh.
Still, if I had my way, I’d get to hear “Love Travels” and “God Ain’t No Stained Glass Window” every time out. But no matter how good the performer is, and how much they mix it up, you never get to hear all of the songs that you want to hear.
Which leads to tonight’s discussion topic:
If you could choose the set list for one of your favorite artists, what would it look like?
You can make the list as short or as long as you like, so long as the artist wouldn’t pass out from exhaustion halfway through!
The Country Music Association, mere weeks after inducting its 2009 class, has announced a change in the Hall of Fame criteria. Per the CMA website:
Three inductees will continue to be announced as new members of the Country Music Hall of Fame annually, each selected from a different category. Beginning in 2010, the categories will be renamed and defined as follows:
Veterans Era – This category will be for professionals that have been in the industry longer than 25 years. It combines the former “Career Achieved National Prominence Between World War II and 1975″ (which was voted on annually) and “Career Achieved National Prominence Prior to World War II” (which was voted on every third year in rotation) categories into one.
Modern Era – This category will be for professionals that have been in the industry at least 20 years, but no more than 25 years, and takes the place of the former annual “Career Achieved National Prominence Between 1975-Present” slot.
Rotating Categories – The third slot will continue to be a rotating category, with each group in the spotlight every third year. The Recording and/or Touring Musician and Non Performer slots will remain, joined by a new Songwriter category.
The Modern Era category seems far too limiting, especially given the numerous artists and industry insiders that are fully deserving of this honor. The change does present Randy Travis, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson the opportunity to be inducted within the next two to three years, but also leaves legends such as Connie Smith, Jean Shepard and the Oak Ridge Boys to ”compete” with newer acts such as Reba McEntire and Hank Williams, Jr. for one solitary spot each year.
Eventually, all of those artists appear to be locks for the Hall of Fame, but, as My Kind of Country alluded to earlier in the week, very few artists in modern-day country music will truly be remembered. Here’s a list of ten contemporary artists who could make the Hall of Fame one day. Although their careers aren’t complete, they have the potential to be lauded for their talent in the coming years. Sound off in the comments with your opinions on who is in, who is out and who could still make a case for induction. Feel free to add any other artists you’d deem worthy. This is not my judgment of who should/should not be included, but a random listing of ten artists who could at least present interesting cases in, say, 2020. Feedback it up. (For a glance at near-future candidates, see Six Pack: Hall of Fame Inductees. Barbara Mandrell, Roy Clark and Charlie McCoy are the 2009 honorees.)
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?
The second article in our Grammy Awards series, our personal favorites in the country categories at this year’s ceremony.
Best Country Album
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights (Blake, Leeann)
George Strait, Troubadour
Randy Travis, Around the Bend
Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love (Dan, Kevin, Lynn)
Blake: Strait’s collection is a mixed bag of middlebrow art with the occasional glimpse at his right-as-rain Texas style. Excepting Troubadour, these discs are highwater marks for the genre. Johnson and Loveless finished one-two on my 2008 list, but I’ll root for Loveless to win a long-awaited solo Grammy.
Dan: I actually think Johnson made the best album, but Yearwood’s is my second-favorite, and she’s long overdue.
Kevin: It’s a strong field overall, but Yearwood’s album is the most cohesive. She’s the greatest female album artist since Emmylou Harris, yet she’s never won an album award. It’s time.
Leeann: My choice is Patty Loveless’ album, though Trisha Yearwood’s is a very close second. While Loveless’ is an album of covers, it’s the one I find myself putting in without skipping a track more than Yearwood’s. I really would be happy for either choice, however.
Lynn: Loveless put together my favorite album as a whole, but Yearwood is long overdue and her wonderful album was shamefully ignored. I hope she wins.
In a nod towards diversity, the General Field nominees for the 51st annual Grammy Awards include a shepherd’s pie of musical genres, with Brit soul ingenues (Adele, Duffy) against American pop trios (Jonas Bros., Lady A), Brit pop bands (Coldplay, Radiohead) against American rappers (Ne-Yo, Lil’ Wayne), all with a Brit rock legend (Robert Plant) lording over them. While it’s hard to argue the breadth of recent nominees in these categories, their depth is always up for discussion (see: Herbie Hancock, 2008 Album of the Year; Ray Charles, 2005 Record of the Year).
The country field is filled with critical faves. George Strait enjoys the strongest across-the-board success in his estimable career, newcomer Jamey Johnson is lauded for his neo-outlaw soul, and Randy Travis, Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood continue Grammy’s trend of nominating veterans alongside newer artists.
The staff of Country Universe have chosen their personal favorites and predictions for this year’s Grammy ceremony. First up on the docket: our predictions in the country categories.
Best Country Album
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song (Blake, Leeann, Lynn)
Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
George Strait, Troubadour (Dan, Kevin)
Randy Travis, Around the Bend
Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love
Blake: Is Jamey Johnson the savior of modern-day country music? I think by placing his name next to four of the format’s legends, the Grammy voters have already voiced their opinion on the matter. The vociferous critical support surrounding this release suggests that Johnson will surpass the veterans in this race.
Dan: I was totally thinking Johnson until just this morning, but I’m having last-minute doubts about his widespread support – he’s still very new to lots of voters, and I’m not confident that his hype will be sufficient to summon confidence from everyone voting in this category. So I’m siding with Kevin’s prediction on Strait.
Kevin: The only proven vote-getter here is Randy Travis, but I’m doubtful that he’ll be able to triumph with Johnson and Loveless garnering so many of the traditionalist’s votes. Grammy loves its women, which could give Yearwood and Loveless an advantage, but I’m not sure there’s a clear favorite between them. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict George Strait. He’s long overdue for a Grammy, and he has the most commercially successful album of the five. With three of the album’s songs represented in other categories (“Troubadour”, “I Saw God Today, “House of Cash”), this might be his year.
Leeann: I really think Johnson will grab this one. The critics love him and he’s had the most hype in the last year.
Lynn: I agree this will be a tough one for Grammy voters. Yearwood and Loveless both have the sheer talent Grammy voters appreciate and they produced quality albums. However, I think the voters’ penchant and love for multi-talented newcomers with musical integrity will give Johnson his first Grammy.
In one of last summer’s discussion threads, Matt B., from Roughstock, mentioned a great place to buy music. As a compulsive music buyer, I was easily compelled to check it out.
For those who aren’t aware of it, E-music has a wide variety of independent digital music, including plenty of our favorite kind, country music. However, as an independent digital retailer, they don’t necessarily have the big, recognizable names. For me, this is refreshing because it forces me to do some serious searching on their site in order to purchase music from artists that I might otherwise inadvertently overlook.
I’ve found a ton of great music so far, including albums from Darrell Scott, Jason Boland, Reckless Kelly, The Be Good Tanyas, Chris Knight, etc. My favorite find, however, was the two bonus tracks on Kathy Mattea’s Coal.
My question to you tonight is in every way self-serving, but I’d like to have your help so that I can continue to expand my independent music collection. So, I come to you, our wise readers, with this question:
What lesser-known artists would you suggest who can be found on E-music or other independent outlets?
While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories.
This is a look back at the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. It was first awarded in 1965, an included single competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.
I’ve often made the case that female artists were making the best music in the 1990s, and the Grammys did a great job nominating songs and albums that were ignored at the CMA and ACM awards, which is not surprising, given that those shows have so few categories that are actually for songs and albums.
As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back.
Martina McBride, “For These Times”
LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change”
Carrie Underwood, “Last Name”
Lee Ann Womack, “Last Call”
Trisha Yearwood, “This is Me You’re Talking To”
This year’s lineup includes three former winners and two women looking for their first victory in this category. Martina McBride is in the running for the eighth time in fifteen years, and with one of her more understated performances. Lee Ann Womack returns for a fifth time, having received a nomination for the lead single of her five most recent albums. Both ladies turned in good performances here, but they’ve been overlooked for records bigger and better, so they’re not likely to snap their losing streaks this time around.
As for the previous winners, LeAnn Rimes earned her third consecutive nod, bringing her total to five in this category. She hasn’t won since 1997, when she took home the award for “Blue.” If enough voters hear “What I Cannot Change,” she might have a shot, though the only version of the song that’s been a legitimate hit has been the dance remix.
Trisha Yearwood won in 1998 for “How Do I Live,” her only victory to date. But she’s earned her tenth nomination for “This is Me You’re Talking To,” which is arguably her strongest vocal performance of the ten. Like Rimes, the challenge is getting enough voters to listen to it, but she’s never been more deserving of the victory than she is this year.
Still, the favorite remains Carrie Underwood. She’s quickly become a favorite with Grammy voters, having won this category two years running, along with Best New Artist in 2007. She’s the nominee with the highest profile, and while “Last Name” is nowhere near the same league of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” in terms of artistry or impact, it was a big hit, something that the other four entries cannot claim.
If Underwood was nominated for “Just a Dream,” she’d have a mortal lock on this one. But the strength of the other nominees will at least keep this race competitive. If Underwood prevails, Grammy queen Alison Krauss better watch her back.
Alison Krauss, “Simple Love”
Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
LeAnn Rimes, “Nothin’ Better to Do”
Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”
Looking at this lineup, you’d think that it was a golden age of female country artists, something akin to the mid-nineties. In reality, only one of these songs was a big radio hit, though three others managed to go top twenty. In terms of quality, however, this is the most consistent and thoroughly wonderful set of nominees this category has seen this century. You’d have to go back to exactly 1999 to find a better lineup.
In a year when any winner would have been deserving, Underwood won for “Before He Cheats,” her second straight win for a signature mega-hit from her debut album.
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!
Building a music collection used to be a far more difficult thing, a dogged hunt through record stores and mail order catalogs, hoping to find what you were looking for. The advent of the internet made things easier, but it wasn’t until music could be downloaded digitally that a deep music collection could be built with far less effort.
However, all of this available music can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to get a handle on the catalog of an established artist. Country Universe is here to help. Our Buyer’s Guides will walk you through the music that is digitally available for a given artist, starting with the essential purchases for new listeners, and working through the entire digital catalog until even the completist fan will be sated. You can also sample each album in its entirety, and purchase any song or album that you like through Amazon’s MP3 store.
Our first Buyer’s Guide is for our artist of the month, Dolly Parton. Look for many more to come in the new year.
Starting Your Collection
Dolly Parton’s catalog is quite the labyrinth. Thankfully, there are several compilations available that are an excellent value, offering twenty tracks each for less than ten dollars. Casual fans can just pick up the first set, but serious country fans should skip the first and buy the other three.
Ultimate Dolly Parton
This collection is all that the casual fan will ever need, with twenty hits included for just under eight bucks. All of her big crossover hits are here, like “Islands in the Stream”, “9 to 5″ and “Here You Come Again.” Also included are her country classics “Jolene”, “Coat of Many Colors” and the original recording of “I Will Always Love You.” It’s a bit too broad for studious fans of country music, but if you just want the big hits, they’re all here.
The Essential Dolly Parton, Volume Two
RCA has yet to issue a definitive box set for Parton, but their three Essential releases in the nineties are collectively effective in covering her tenure with the label. This is the strongest of the three sets, focusing on her sixties and seventies material. In addition to the big hits, including the original recording of “I Will Always Love You”, you also get lesser-known greats like “Touch Your Woman”, “Mule Skinner Blues” and “The Seeker.” Her transformation from mountain singer to pop sensation is captured here, as the set includes the first wave of her pop hits, too.
The Essential Dolly Parton One: I Will Always Love You
Even though it was released first, this set focuses on the latter years of Parton’s tenure, with nearly all of the cuts being released in the eighties. The rest of the big pop hits are here, like “9 to 5″ and “Islands in the Stream”, along with some forgotten gems, most notably “Single Women”, “God Won’t Get You” and “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Also of note is her recording of “To Daddy”, which she chose not to release when Emmylou Harris expressed interest in recording it instead.
The Essential Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton
Although they both are Hall of Famers, you can’t effectively tell the story of either Porter Wagoner or Dolly Parton without discussing their work together. They are the most successful collaborators in country music history, and nearly all of their hits are collected here. Classics like “Making Plans” and “Just Someone I Used To Know” are essential, as are “Burning the Midnight Oil” and “The Last Thing on My Mind.”
Building Your Collection
For all three women involved – Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris – this was a career landmark, which brought them wide critical acclaim and huge commercial success. The harmonies are exquisite throughout, but the best moments are “The Pain of Loving You”, “Wildflowers” and “Telling Me Lies.”
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.