Tag Archives: Kathy Mattea

Patty Loveless, Stone Mountain Arts Center (Brownfield, Maine)

patty_lovelessThe following is a guest contribution from frequent commenter and devoted Patty Loveless fan, Stephen Fales, who is better known to Country Universe readers as Steve from Boston.

Country Universe is a site where timeless artists like Patty Loveless are not merely acknowledged, but embraced and celebrated. So when Leeann invited me to review my favorite artist’s Brownfield Maine concert as a guest contributor, I jumped at the chance. Thank you so much Leeann, Kevin and Country Universe for giving me this opportunity. And Leeann and Bill, it was a joy and an honor to join you folks for dinner and watch the concert with you. You both made this already memorable concert experience even more unforgettable for me, along with patty-loveless.net associates Nicole, Richard and Patti, and the following day Bob and Barbara, Kevin. And also, Marcia Ramirez from Patty’s band. Many, many thanks to all.

Patty Loveless at the Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield Maine

July 3, 2009

Nestled in the northern reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, Brownfield Maine’s Stone Mountain Arts Center is a beautiful and intimate 200 seat converted barn turned listening room. It has a warm and rustic ambiance, and a very helpful staff. The wood beam framed building makes for a rich acoustical setting, almost like a giant, wooden resonator box. It is a hard place to find out there in the Maine wilderness, but well worth the effort, especially to enjoy artists and legends like Patty Loveless, Ralph Stanley, Marty Stuart, Suzy Bogguss and Kathy Mattea. Think of it as a quest.

This beautiful mountain setting was a perfect match for Patty Loveless, the celebrated neo-traditional Country artist with the warmly expressive Appalachian alto. The Queen of Mountain Soul seemed right at home in the northernmost reaches of her domain, and seemed to absolutely love the venue.

Patty Loveless is a warmhearted and humble lady, she is a true artist with a good sense of humor and down-to-earth personality, the “anti-diva” as her drummer, Martin Parker, calls her. She takes the stage with very little fanfare, no high tech video introduction or ostentatious stagecraft, no bells, no whistles. She just quietly joins her band and begins to sing. It is all about the music with Loveless, and she lets the music speak for itself.

Still, there was plenty of excitement in the air at Maine’s Stone Mountain Arts Center, but the magic emanated entirely from Patty’s empathetic heart and her crystalline Mountain-bred voice. She sings from a place even deeper than the heart, Patty Loveless sings from the very depths of her Appalachian soul. No smoke or mirrors needed, indeed, they would have been out of their league competing with such natural, God given talent. Patty Loveless sings without a net, and her performance on July 3rd, 2009 was inspired and virtually flawless.

Loveless is the prototypical Country artist. She has refined and perfected her inherent gifts through years of hard work and perseverance, and has become a living link to Country’s Golden age. The artistic (but not the chronological) scope of her work reaches all the way back to the works of the Carter family and Bill Monroe, and forward to the finest modern Country and Bluegrass artists. Folks like Jim Lauderdale who penned two of the 18 songs in Patty’s concert lineup. She is a master interpreter of their work, and a keeper of America’s rich Country and Bluegrass cultural heritage. Patty Loveless is herself, a national treasure.

All that’s good and great about Country music is embodied in the voice of Patty Loveless, and she brings it all to bear on her first rate, soul-nourishing material. Her mentors and musical heroes, her east Kentucky upbringing and authentic Coal-miner’s daughter heritage can be heard in the soulful Mountain timbre of each and every note that she sings.

Her amazing repertoire consists of songs that have been carefully selected over many years by Patty herself and her husband/producer (and genuine musical genius) Emory Gordy Jr. And this they have done with little regard to what is trendy, and with every regard to what is timeless, or potentially so. Patty and Emory choose and write their material with a profound understanding and appreciation of the heritage and traditions of authentic Country and Bluegrass, a heritage she often speaks of with great reverence between her songs. And by following her heart in all of her musical choices, Patty Loveless connects deeply with the hearts of her listeners.

Loveless’ song lineup at SMAC was a mix of real, hard-core Country, and the finest contemporary Country. But the lack of any Mountain/Bluegrass songs that she could have included from her catalog kept this generous sampling from being truly representative of who she is as an artist. Still, a generous lineup of her always high-quality hit songs, and her featured Sleepless Nights mini-set of classic Country covers was fine compensation, and is the stuff of legend in the making.

Patty blazed into her set list with passion and precision, leaving her audience awestruck and breathless. In a very real and literal sense, this was a breathtaking performance from start to finish. At 52, Loveless is still very much an artist on an upward trajectory, and her voice just keeps getting even better with the years.

Some notable highlights: Her heart wrenching rendition of the Jim Lauderdale penned “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me”, for which she won a Vocal Event of the Year award with the legendary George Jones. Loveless has collaborated with some of Country music’s absolute finest male singers, including Jones and Vince Gill, and for live performances she needs a strong male voice to fill the void on a few of those songs. Thankfully, she has found the perfect vocal partner in her band member, Garry Murray, who sang the tricky Jones harmony with feeling and finesse.

“Nothing But the Wheel” is the perfect Country song, by the perfect Country singer. It moves with a forlorn tempo, like the car the protagonist drives away from her heartbreak: ” And 41 goes on and on, and the lights go winding in the dawn, and the sky’s the color now of polished steel…and the only thing I know for sure, is if you don’t want me any-more then I’m holding on to nothing but the wheel.” With Patty Loveless at the wheel, it just doesn’t get any better or more Country.

Patty’s interpretation of the George Jones gem, “If My Heart Had Windows”, is a song of deep gratitude for love gone right, and she sings this slow lover’s waltz with a torch style intensity that warms the heart and burns to the soul.

Patty’s knockout rockabilly rendition of “Why Baby Why” kicks off her Sleepless Nights classics set with high octane energy…Patty describes it as “George Jones meets Tina Turner” But it’s all Patty Loveless…Patty is far too humble to admit this, but she very often surpasses her musical heroes with her own interpretations, and her version and performance here was no exception.

Ray Price’s original version of “Crazy Arms” was charming, but the Loveless version is nothing less than enchanting. It is pure music magic. Pete Finney begins and ends the song with a palpable sting from his expressive steel guitar, but it’s Loveless’ soulful and soaring vocal that really penetrates the heart. When Patty and Emory recorded their version “Crazy Arms” they slowed down the tempo from a moderate shuffle to a torchy ballad. This serves Patty very well in concert by giving her the opportunity to find and wring out every last drop of emotion hiding in the potential of the original.

Some inspired phrasing enables Patty to put great emotional emphasis on the lyric “crazy dream” as in “this ain’t no cra-zy dream I know that it’s real” whereas Price’s original stressed the first word “This” instead. This subtle yet dramatic difference is but one example of the interpretive genius of Patty Loveless.

The title song of Patty’s Grammy nominated classic country covers album, Sleepless Nights, features Vince Gill, and once again Garry Murray came through with flying colors. Vocally flying with Patty Loveless cannot be easy, “why did you go, why did you go? Don’t you know, dont you know? I need you”, But Murray keeps right up and they both soar to the heights. There was lightning in the area during this concert, and there was a single crackle that seemed to come from the amplifiers during this song. But Patty never missed a beat, and the whole song came off perfectly. Patty Loveless is a force of nature, and she positively electrifies her audience.

Lead guitarist Tom Britt took his opportunity to shine during an extended and exciting slide guitar introduction to another Lauderdale song, “Halfway Down” He wailed away like a true rock star, building anticipation before the familiar opening chords of this Loveless hit. Likewise, Patty kept the excitement going full boil throughout this rip-roaring Mountain Rock song.

The set closer was “Blame It on Your Heart”, perhaps Patty’s most performed song of all. She sings it with an energetic enthusiasm that makes the song fresh for singer and listener, every single time. Indeed, this is the way that she approaches every performance, embracing each and every note like it was her first and only chance to shine and share her gift. This Harlan Howard song is just plain fun and children seem to love it as well, as they try to sing the tongue-twister chorus. Loveless is artist and entertainer in equal measure. No other singer on the scene today balances the two quite as well as Patty Loveless does, with the exception perhaps of Dolly Parton.

Patty’s stage presence is confident as one would expect from a seasoned veteran, but also warm, easy going, and playful. She has a natural Country charisma and even her speaking voice, her relaxed east Kentucky drawl is music to the ears of her audience. The stories of her musical heroes, and her accounts of her formative years as a young artist under the tutelage of the late great Porter Wagoner, and her 21 year membership in the Grand Ole Opry, are informative and entertaining.

Her audience interaction is often full of surprises. Observing the intimacy of the venue, Patty commented how folks in the front rows were so close, and jokingly suggested they grab an instrument and come on up onstage. “But don’t grab me”, she quipped. “Although on second thought, that may be fun” Then she quickly added, “don’t mind me, I’m just a real cut up and a harmless flirt”.

When she mentioned her husband Emory Gordy Jr., she received some noticeable applause from the audience. Patty responded saying that it was good that Emory had some fans here as well, and “I see a young lady here with an Emory (University) shirt, How many concerts is this now, Nicole?” to which Patty’s (and Emory’s) most devoted fan replied “199”, and Patty said with a smile, “Wow, I owe you one, don’t I?” Patty also said something about how she was glad Nicole was such a huge Emory fan, then added: “but don’t forget now, he’s MY man”, which also brought laughter from the audience.

After “Blame” Patty introduced her incredible band. It is clear that all these folks are friends and fans of each other, and Loveless herself can often be seen warmly grinning, holding her heart and slowly shaking her head from side to side with enraptured appreciation during her band’s various instrumental interludes. And proficiency on multiple instruments almost seems to be a requirement in the Loveless band. Marcia, Deannie and Garry all play at least three instruments, and it seems most everyone is schooled on mandolin in a way reminiscent of Bill Monroe’s old Bluegrass string band. The stage, as wide as it was, could barely contain the scope of this incredible array of talent.

There are only a few criticisms for this otherwise flawless concert. The sound of the drums for the first few songs was much too loud, and competed for volume with Loveless’ strong vocals instead of supporting them. But that sonic imbalance was pretty well corrected by the sound techs before too long.

Also, Loveless seemed pitch perfect all throughout, with only one or two apparent missteps. Just enough to remind us that this is a gifted flesh and blood human being, and not some kind of angelic troubadour.

After the band introductions and some more friendly banter with her audience, Patty eased into her encore performance of the Hank Williams standard “Cold, Cold Heart”. With sparse acoustic instrumentation and a little steel, it was almost a capella, and one could hear a pin drop between the notes. Patty’s version is chill-inducing perfection, tear producing and is especially potent live. And that evening her performance was especially transcendent, almost supernatural. I almost expected to see the ghost of Hank Williams take a seat and tip his hat to the finest female interpreter of his work, bar none. I would love to see what Loveless could do with ole Hank’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. The audience, and even her own band, was transfixed and mesmerized. Band members Marcia and Deannie especially, looked on with smiles of amazement.

With the completion of each song in the lineup, Loveless and her band received enthusiastic applause, which she greeted each time with sweet smiles and a grateful “God Bless You.” And at the end, she received thunderous standing ovations, and seemed genuinely humbled and overwhelmed. She gathered her band with her outstretched arms, and then they all graciously bowed a collective bow.

Patty Loveless is the most authentic voice in Country music today. Her fidelity to tradition, her creative blending of her own brand of mountain and country music, and her artistic integrity have rightly earned her the title of “Queen of Mountain Soul” from the great Ralph Stanley himself. And performances like her Brownfield concert on Friday, and albums like the exquisite Sleepless Nights demonstrate that she has earned the title “Queen of Country Soul” as well.

Patty’s long awaited follow up to her acclaimed 2001 classic Mountain Soul is scheduled for release on September 29th. Mountain Soul II has every essential ingredient to be yet another Loveless-Gordy masterpiece, and should enrich her already exceptional set list considerably. Just in time for the next leg of her tour starting this Fall.

As for a possible return to the Stone Mountain Arts Center? Word has it that Patty loved it so much, and felt so welcome by her gracious hosts Carol Noonan (folk singer and songwriter), and her husband, their staff and her appreciative fans, that she hopes to return twice a year.

Both on record and in concert, the music of Patty Loveless befriends the listener. She may sing “Soul of Constant Sorrow” on her Mountain Soul album, but the music of Patty Loveless is a source of great and constant joy, as well as inspiration, catharsis and consolation for all with attentive, listening hearts.

-Steve from Boston

For more information on Patty Loveless, visit

Patty-loveless.net,
Which is the most comprehensive and up-to-date Patty Loveless fan site.

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters: Darrell Scott

darrell-scottI’m pleased to introduce a new feature to Country Universe readers, which is a spin off of Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists called Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters.

While we all appreciate songwriters for their invaluable contributions to our favorite artists, they still often remain unrecognized as the people behind the scenes and, therefore, stand in the shadows of the big name artists who sing their songs. The purpose of this feature is to spotlight those songwriters who had or have aspirations of being stars, but are better known for sharing their craft with the more visible artists.

Therefore, the criteria for this feature is that the spotlighted songwriter has to have both written songs that other artists have recorded and recorded music of his/her own. For instance, Darrell Scott, Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Robison, etc. are eligible songwriters, since they’ve recorded their own music and written songs for other artists. Conversely, people like Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Clint Black etc. won’t be eligible, since they’ve mostly only written songs for themselves and not others.

Finally, Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters will include a mix of songs that the songwriter has recorded, and songs that he/she has written that other artists have recorded, which will obviously depend on our favorite songs by that songwriter and our preferred version of the chosen song.

With this feature, we hope to help readers realize the contributions of individual songwriters and, perhaps, inspire you to explore the artists’ own discographies as a result.

Last summer I kicked off our Songwriters Series with my favorite modern country music songwriter, Darrell Scott. So, I thought it fitting to do the same with this new feature. Since I’ve already taken up considerable space describing this feature, I encourage you all to refer to my aforementioned spotlight to learn more about the man about which this article is written.

A pertinent note, however, is that most of the songs on this list have been recorded by both Scott and other artists. While the majority of the songs on this particular list will specifically refer to other artists, please assume that Scott’s own recordings are more than worth exploring as well.

#15

Darrell Scott, “Banjo Clark”
Aloha From Nashville

One of the things that I marvel the most about Darrell Scott is his ability to write songs that sound like timeless standards. “Banjo Clark” is one such song. In fact, I had to double check to make sure Scott had actually written this song and that it wasn’t a public domain standard that he revived.

#14

Tim McGraw, “Old Town New”
Live Like You Were Dying

Scott wrote “Old Town New” with another superb modern songwriter, Bruce Robison. So, it’s no surprise that this song about a man wishing that he could make his old town feel new again after a failed relationship is good. While it remained just an album cut on McGraw’s signature album, it’s as good as many of the singles that were released from it.

#13

Suzy Bogguss, “No Way Out”
Give Me Some Wheels

“No Way Out” is up-tempo, but is not devoid of life’s realities. The family experiences familiar hardships, but the husband and wife hold themselves accountable by reminding each other that they’ve “fell in love and there’s no way out.”

While Bogguss’ recording is the superior version, both Darrel Scott’s and Julie Roberts’ versions are good as well. Moreover, this is the first song of Scott’s that was recorded by another artist.

#12

Darrell Scott, “When There’s No One Around”

Family Tree

Garth Brooks recorded a version of “When There’s No One Around”, but Scott’s version is more organic and sonically appealing. It’s a poignant look at who we are when there’s no one around, which is inevitably different than our public personas.

#11

Travis Tritt, “It’s A Great Day to Be Alive”
Down the Road I Go

We  all know “It’s A Great Day to Be Alive”, since it was a big hit for Travis Tritt. This song has been recorded by Scott and Cory Morrow. Tritt’s is the definitive version, however. It tries to be hopeful while still somehow managing to feel a little bleak at the same time. While he proclaims that it’s a great day to be alive, there’s a sadness that lurks under the surface that seems to threaten the bright outlook, which is actually more tangible in Scott’s recording.

#10

Darrell Scott, “With A Memory Like Mine”

Real Time

“With A Memory Like Mine” was co-written with his dad, Wayne Scott. Darrell found the beginnings of this song in a notebook of his father’s and encouraged the Elder Scott to finish it with him. Scott’s version, which can be found on a solid project with Tim O’Brien, is darker than the quick paced recording by The John Cowan Band, which is more appropriate for this chillingly sad song. The man sends his son off to war by telling him to “be a good soldier/but return again someday.” His son does return, but in the most devastating way possible for a parent. In a casket.

#9

Martina McBride, “I’m Trying”

Shine

“I’m Trying” has been recorded by both Diamond Rio as a duet with Chely Wright and Martina McBride, though McBride’s is the stronger version. It explores a struggling relationship that almost seems like more work than it’s worth. Instead of leaving us with a typical happy or tragic ending, we are only given an assurance that they love each other and they are trying to make things work. The melody is tastefully simple with a fitting production that showcases McBride’s atypical restrained vocals, which translates into appropriate empathy for the characters within the song. It is a simple song with a simple production, but still poignant in a quiet way.

#8

Trace Adkins, “Someday”

More

Adkins is the only artist to record this song, as far as I know. It’s a beautiful and hopeful song, with tinges of sadness. As is duly noted about Adkins, he sings these more serious songs the best, even if radio disagrees.

#7

Dixie Chicks, “Heartbreak Town”

Fly

This is an indictment on Nashville, which is one of two songs written by Scott and recorded by The Chicks that tackles the topic. The song portrays Nashville, a place where so many people hope to enjoy success, as a “heartbreak town, which is something that both the Chicks and Scott have surely learned from personal experience.

#6

Kathy Mattea, “Loves Not Through With You Yet”

Right Out of Nowhere

I’m thrilled that one of my favorite Mattea albums includes this thoughtful, gorgeous Celtic flavored song by Darrell Scott: “You may think that love takes two, but loves a gift from you to you.”

#5

Sara Evans, “Born to Fly”

Born to Fly

Scott happened to write one of Sara Evans’ most recognizable and best hits to date. “Born to Fly” is an infectious coming of age song. While her parents are stable and grounded, that’s not the way the songs’ character wishes to live and she asks, “How do you keep your feet on the ground when you know you were born to fly?”

#4

Darryl Worley, “Family Tree”

I Miss My Friend

While many of Scott’s songs can be heavy, this is an example of his sillier side. Scott does a great version, but Worley cuts loose just the right amount. He clearly revels in singing deliciously smarmy lyrics like, “Well, raisin’ up babies is our new sport/You’re one day late and I’m one dollar short/Now, maybe it was planned or maybe it was a goof/But a cat’s got to dance on a hot tin roof.”

#3

Darrell Scott, “Goodle’ USA”

The Invisible Man

A more watered down version of this song can be heard on Faith Hill’s album. If one doesn’t listen closely, it’s easy to miss the probing lyrics that question the state of America. While Scott’s recording is not quite as polished, the political message is much more overt, which includes his original lyrics that were altered for Hill’s version to be less controversial.

#2

Dixie Chicks, “Long Time Gone”

Home

This is the other song that was written by Scott and recorded by The Chicks that takes Nashville to task. Wrapped in an unshakably catchy melody, “Long Time Gone” disregards conventional niceties and tersely critiques the music that’s being played on the radio:

“Now me and Delia singin’ every Sunday
Watchin’ the children and the garden grow
We listen to the radio to hear what’s cookin’
But the music ain’t got no soul

Now they sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard
They got money but they don’t have cash
They got Junior but they don’t have Hank
I think, I think, I think…the rest is…
A long Time Gone”

#1

Patty Loveless, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”

Mountain Soul

Patty Loveless’ recording of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” sounds like a superb arrangement of a forgotten classic, except it isn’t a remake and was written just over ten years ago. While I feel the definitive version was recorded by Patty Loveless, Darrell Scott has recorded two versions that, even if Loveless’ version did not exist, would earn a spot on this list. Through haunting lyrics and melodic structure, “Harlan” tells the tragic story of the bleak existence of coalminers that is just about inevitable:

“But the times got hard and tobacco wasn’t selling
And old granddad knew what he’d do to survive
He went and dug for Harlan coal
And sent the money back to grandma
But he never left Harlan alive

Where the sun comes up about ten in the mornin’
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you’ll fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you’re drinkin’
And you spend your life just thinkin’ of how to get away”

Patty Loveless sings this song with an immense emotional intensity that was likely gathered from personal experience as a daughter of a coalmining father who eventually succumbed to “Black Lung Disease” as a result of coalmining in Kentucky. In fact, each person who has sung this song so far, including Darrell Scott himself, has a personal and deep understanding of the significance of the hopelessness that the lyrics convey, since Brad Paisley, Kathy Mattea and Scott also lived in coalmining towns as children. Consequently, they were all exposed to the horrifying reality of the song’s title that authoritatively proclaims that “you’ll never leave Harlan Alive.”

This list certainly does not exhaust the extent of Darrell Scott’s immeasurable songwriting prowess, but it shows his wide range of capabilities as a diverse composer and lyricist. He can do fun, heartbreak, inspirational, political, social commentary, fast, slow, etc. Moreover, he does it all with poignancy and wit, as it is appropriate.

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Aaron Tippin, In Overdrive

Aaron Tippin
In Overdrive

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Amongst the glut of faux traditionalists that populated the country airwaves during the nineties, there was one voice that cut right through the clutter, such was its raw verve and unabashed authenticity. Aaron Tippin sings with pure country conviction about the invisible Americans, giving voice to the working men and women who seem to have vanished from the collective national consciousness.

In truth, Tippin was their last great champion, scoring radio hits with such anthems as “I Got it Honest”, “I Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way” and “Working Man’s Ph.D.” So it seems fitting that he has returned with a concept album that celebrates the American trucker, collecting most of the high-profile road songs in country music history, but also including some low-profile gems that give In Overdrive greater depth and resonance.

One of the reasons the album works so well is that Tippin sounds like he could conceivably be a truck driver. He restores the “little white pills” to “Six Days on the Road” that Sawyer Brown censored on their hit cover,  the distance between the narrator and the character is completely eliminated on his version of Alabama’s “Roll On”, and all the Urban Cowboy sheen is completely decimated when he tears into “Drivin’ My Life Away.”

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A Conversation with Kathy Mattea

matteaKathy Mattea has long been a favorite for both the writers and readers of Country Universe. Earlier today, we had a chance to speak with Mattea about her current album, Coal, and covered many other topics along the way.

Coyne: I see Coal as the culmination of what you’ve been doing musically, which has always been introspective and focuses on the bigger issues of life. But you’ve also always done a lot of public work for social justice, especially with AIDS and the environment. It seems like it all came together on one album this time around.

Mattea: It’s been an evolving thing. It wasn’t intentionally that way. Interestingly, it came to me to do the album because of the Sago mine disaster.  I had just been torn up by it. My grandfathers were coal miners, and my mom worked for the United Coal Miners and my brother used to work for the coal industry, and I was just so emotionally torn up by that event.

I was asked to sing on Larry King Live on the day of the funerals to close the show. A bunch of musicians came down to work for free, just because there were so moved by the event.  And I thought, “This is a great thing. This is what music is for. I’ll make a record of this story. I’ll go back to the songs and make a record about coal mining.”

That was really my only thought about it, and the journey took me to a place that I could not see on the front end. It threaded together family stories. It led me to people who taught me about mountain top removal, which is a form of strip mining that’s going on in Appalachia right now. It also put me in touch with people so I could see that a lot of these stories are ongoing. A lot of these songs are very much the same today as what was going on in the coal fields forty years ago, sixty years ago, and longer.

You had said a few years ago that you’re now in this period of your career where you’re checking off the list. You wanted to make an acoustic album, which was Right Out of Nowhere, and the Celtic album Roses, and you made another Christmas album and now this coal mining album. What’s next on the list? Have you decided yet?

I have decided, but it’s just coming into focus, so if I tell you now, the thing will evolve in another six months so that it won’t be relevant to what I say . You have a jumping off point, but it always turns out to take you places that you don’t expect. I am starting to look around for songs for the next record, and it’s definitely a roots record.

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Play Something Country

kathy-matteaLater 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!

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Into the Circle: The Country Music Hall of Fame Changes Criteria

halloffamelogoThe 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.)

  • Clint Black
  • Rosanne Cash
  • Faith Hill
  • Kathy Mattea
  • Martina McBride
  • Tim McGraw
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Pam Tillis
  • Shania Twain
  • Dwight Yoakam

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Themed Albums

kathy-mattea-coalKathy 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?

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The 51st Annual Grammy Awards: Keeping It Country (Staff Favorites)

The second article in our Grammy Awards series, our personal favorites in the country categories at this year’s ceremony.

trisha1Best 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.

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The 51st Annual Grammy Awards: Keeping It Country (Staff Predictions)

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.

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Independent Suggestions

emusicIn 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?

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