The death of Merle Haggard, a legend among legends, casts a pall over this week.
For the second year in a row, our seven writers – Kevin Coyne, Leeann Ward, Dan Milliken, Tara Seetharam, Ben Foster, Jonathan Keefe, and Sam Gazdziak – individually listed our twenty favorite albums and singles of the year. It’s a diverse crop of singles, some of which dominated country radio, while others were primarily heard in the Americana, bluegrass, and alternative country worlds. Today, we present the first half of our singles list, with the conclusion to follow tomorrow. Share your favorites in the comments!
“Someone Somewhere Tonight”
Individual rankings: #16 – Ben; #19 – Tara
A sweeping power ballad anchored by an intimate chorus and Pickler’s pleading sincerity. – Tara Seetharam
I concluded my previous Kellie Pickler review with the conjecture that “Someone Somewhere Tonight” “would seem to confirm that Pickler’s pandering days are indeed over.” Now, with the aforementioned single having missed the Top 40 entirely, here comes her new single “Little Bit Gypsy” to make me eat my words.
As reflected by the title of our web site, our choices for Top 40 Albums of 2012 span the farthest reaches of the country music universe. In previous years, the Country Universe staff has counted down twenty albums and forty singles, but this year our album picks included such a wide variety that we were able to stretch our Top Albums countdown to a full forty slots. What did we miss? That’s where you, our readers, come in. Please join in the discussion, and share which albums you had in heavy rotation over the past year.
The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake
Martha Redbone Roots Project
Here’s a kooky little love song. It lilts by so sweetly that you kind of miss the verse lyrics at first. After another listen, you realize that the night of marital bliss in the chorus apparently stems from that couple feeling smug compared to another, less successful couple from earlier that night. And the other couple are their friends! You’re cold, Kellie and Kyle.
From early on, it was announced that Pickler’s third album would more closely reflect the sound of the traditional country music that is closest to her heart, with Pickler claiming to have made the album “as country as I was allowed to make it.” The bouncy steel guitars chords of opening track “Where’s Tammy Wynette,” and opening lyrics “While I’m torn between killin’ him and lovin’ him/ He stays torn between neon lights and home” quickly announce that Pickler is not kidding.
Does that mean that the album is a retro effort? Not necessarily. Rather, Pickler and her producers Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten effectively craft a sound that gives a respectful nod to country music’s past while simultaneously making tasteful use of modern sounds. Thus, the album carries a strong traditionalist bent, but sounds vintage without sounding dated, demonstrating that it is indeed possible to create a fresh and modern contemporary country album while still maintaining a strong connection to the traditions of the past.
In the Entertainer and Male Vocalist races, I’ve been making the case for fresh blood. In those categories, the routine nominees are mostly past their peaks, and there’s room to let some rising stars in on the action.
Oh, to be able to make the same case for the Female Vocalist race. Let’s take a look at last year’s nominees:
- Miranda Lambert
- Martina McBride
- Reba McEntire
- Taylor Swift
- Carrie Underwood
For the first time in this category’s history, I believe voters are facing a dilemma that plagued the Vocal Duo category for most of the nineties: there just aren’t enough worthy nominees to finish out the category.