Kelly Willis

Introducing Larry Rogowin

August 12, 2015 // 10 Comments

Please join me in welcoming our newest staff writer, Mr. Larry Rogowin.  Welcome aboard, Larry! – KJC I can’t say I grew up listening to country music. Actually, I can’t say I had a very meaningful musical youth. My parents played a lot of Beatles, Motown and Sinatra but I was more interested in what the cool kids played. The first album I begged my parents to buy was Poison’s 1988 magnum opus Open Up and Say…Ahh! (They obliged despite…well, obvious reasons – not the least of which was that original album cover.) So there you go. I fell hard and fast for “Every Rose Has its Thorn,” the greatest and twangiest ’80s glam metal ballad. And that sent me on a path directly to Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. Only kidding. Though I don’t want to discount that this could’ve happened to me and has happened to others. Nonetheless, Read More

The Best Singles of 1993, Part One: #40-#31

July 25, 2015 // 2 Comments

How strong a year for country music was 1993? Well, if our Best Albums list revealed how many great artists were overlooked, our Best Singles list reveals why there is so little room at the inn. Out of the forty singles ranked among our best, all but five reached the top twenty of the Billboard country singles chart.    Ten of them made it all the way to #1, and another nine of them stopped at #2.   Country radio in 1993 was good. Our list kicks off today with the first ten entries of the top forty.  We’ll reveal ten more every day until we get to the top of the list on Tuesday. Under each entry, you’ll see each single’s peak position on the Billboard chart and the individual ranking for each writer who included it on their own top forty list. #40 “On the Road” Lee Roy Parnell Written Read More

The Best Albums of 1993, Part 2: #10-#1

July 12, 2015 // 15 Comments

The combined efforts of nine women and three men form the upper echelon of our Best Albums list from 1993. This embarrassment of riches showcases just how much great music there was to choose from that year, especially given how many of the genre’s biggest and most acclaimed stars – Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Pam Tillis, just to name a few – were between albums that year. It was also a strong and diverse enough year that despite some overall consensus among the lists of all of the writers, each one of us has a different album at #1 on our personal lists. Enjoy the second half of our list, and look for the Singles list to kick off next weekend. #10 Uncle Tupelo Anodyne #1 – JK | #3 – SG In jumping to a major label, Uncle Tupelo was supposed to give Read More

The Best Albums of 2014

December 31, 2014 // 10 Comments

2014 was a banner year for country music albums.   In addition to the predictably solid entries from the Americana, folk, and bluegrass scenes, some excellent albums also surfaced from the unlikeliest of sources: mainstream, radio-friendly contemporary country artists! Here are our twenty favorite albums from 2014.   Fingers crossed that 2015 is as good or better than this year has been. #20 Jennifer Nettles That Girl KJC #8 | LW #16 A confident, intelligent solo project that washes away all of the bitter taste left by Sugarland’s preceding studio album, The Incredible Machine.  Nettles manages to remind us what was so appealing about the trio-turned-duo in the first place, while also staking out her own musical territory that has room for independence anthems alongside wry, humorous commentary on society and, of course, palpably vulnerable heartbreak numbers.  – Kevin John Coyne Recommended Tracks: “Me Without You”, “Know You Wanna Know”, “Jealousy”

Country Universe’s Best Albums of 2013, Part Two: #20-#1

December 31, 2013 // 9 Comments

2013 turned out to be a banner year for new music, full of powerful songwriting, inspired collaborations, and truly cohesive albums that would rank among the best releases in any given year. Many of this year’s top twenty would’ve ranked much higher in other years, and many of us writers couldn’t even include all the works we deeply enjoyed this year on our personal lists, making our collective list worthy of the heartiest endorsement we could ever give.

Here’s to a great 2013, and a greedy wish that 2014 will be just as wonderful on the music front. As always, share your thoughts and personal favorites in the comments.

Charlie Worsham Rubberband

#20
Rubberband
Charlie Worsham

Individual rankings: #7 – Tara; #12 – Leeann

Like Chris Young two years ago, Worsham’s voice is a commodity that instantly elevates the new artist to an orbit above the male radio regulars. His is warm and cleanly expressive, lending itself best to songs that nurture his upper register, like the jaunty “Want Me Too,” haunting “Someone Like You” or those invigorating opening bars of “Could It Be.” If only life imitated “Nashville” and its fictional stars’ uncomplicated brand of pop country, Worsham might just be the next Luke Bryan and “Rubberband” –the album’s finely produced, genre-bending title track– his next big hit. – Tara Seetharam

Recommended Tracks: “Rubberband,” “Someone Like You,” “Young to See,” “Could it Be”

Country Universe’s Best Singles of 2013, Part Two: #20-#1

December 31, 2013 // 14 Comments

If this year’s singles list leaves you with a familiar feeling, it’s not your imagination. For the first time in Country Universe history, an artist has topped the year end list for two years in a row, and there are plenty of repeat appearances from CU favorites. But there are some fresh faces too, including some promising new singer-songwriters and inspired collaborations from artists we already liked an awful lot by themselves.

As always, share your thoughts and personal favorites in the comments!

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell's "Hanging Up My Heart" is popular on XPN2: Singer-Songwriter Radio.

#20
“Hangin’ Up My Heart”
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

Individual rankings: #3 – Leeann; #20 – Kevin

What a way for Emmylou and Rodney to kick off their much anticipated duet project! The bouncy tune shows the power duo in fine form both in voice and spunk and signals what will turn out to be one of the finest albums of the year. – Leeann Ward

Single Review: Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, "9,999,999 Tears"

March 10, 2013 // 3 Comments

kelly-willis-bruce-robison-cheaters-gameWritten by Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.

On their beautiful new album Cheater’s Game, husband and wife Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison get together for the first time to deliver some moving music, including several covers of now-classic country songs. Among them is the Razzy Bailey-penned “9,999,999 Tears.”

Twelve Songs of Christmas: Day 11

December 25, 2011 // 1 Comment

Song #11: Baby It’s Cold Outside

Leeann’s Pick: Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison

Husband and wife Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison turn in an unusually gritty version of this sultry Christmas classic. It’s not the smoothest version that’s out there, but it’s compelling and a little different, which should only be expected by the Robisons.

Twelve Songs of Christmas: Day Five

December 19, 2011 // 2 Comments

Song #5: Away in a Manger

Leeann’s Pick: Kelly Willis and Wylie Gustafson

A search of my iTunes indicates that I like many versions of this song, but the one that stands out the most to me is from a compilation called Christmas Trail by Wylie Gustafson and Kelly Willis. The mix of rootsy production, Willis’ twang and Gustafson’s Orbison-like harmony is impossible to resist.

How Very Nineties: George Jones & Friends, and other All Star Jams

June 13, 2010 // 11 Comments

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!

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