#20 “Not Ready to Make Nice”
It’s easy to label this as a transitory response of a song, whose quality is stamped by context and time, but to do so is to undermine its carefully crafted layers of universal emotion. Anger is only the outer coating of the song – beneath it lies a tender-to-the-touch complex of feelings: pain and disgust, confusion and resolve, stubbornness and defeat. “Not Ready to Make Nice” may always recall a certain unfortunate episode in country music history, but its theme – that sometimes there’s a price to pay for standing up for what you believe – is timeless. – Tara Seetharam
#19 “Probably Wouldn’t Be this Way”
A striking portrait of grief that alternates between phases of desolation, disillusionment and gratitude. Rimes’ interpretation of the lyrics is chillingly precise. – TS (more…)
Country Universe contributor and reader Cory DeStein flagged this rundown from Billboard regarding women on the charts this decade:
PERFECT 10: On Country Songs, Carrie Underwood ropes her 10th top 10, as “Cowboy Casanova” climbs 11-8. With the advance, Underwood now stands alone in first-place for most top 10s on the chart among solo women this decade.
Here are the solo females with the most top 10s on Country Songs since 2000:
10, Carrie Underwood
9, Faith Hill
9, Martina McBride
8, Taylor Swift
7, Sara Evans
7, Reba McEntire
6, Jo Dee Messina
5, LeAnn Rimes
5, Gretchen Wilson
4, Shania Twain
Notably, the artist who led the category among women last decade did so with almost three times as many top 10s. Reba McEntire ranked first among solo women in the ’90s with 27 top 10s on Country Songs. Trisha Yearwood placed second with 18 between 1990 and 1999, and Faith Hill, Patty Loveless and Tanya Tucker each posted 14 in that span.
The decline in fortune for women at radio this decade is even more pronounced when you compare the above top ten to the previous decade:
Most Top Ten Singles by a Female Artist – 1990-1999:
Reba McEntire (27)
Trisha Yearwood (18)
Faith Hill (14)
Patty Loveless (14)
Tanya Tucker (14)
Pam Tillis (13)
Lorrie Morgan (12)
Shania Twain (12)
Martina McBride (10)
That’s ten women who matched Underwood’s total for this decade. That Underwood didn’t even hit the top ten for the first time until late 2005 shows how bleak it was at radio for female artists this year.
But this comparison doesn’t even tell the whole story. Take a look at the list of women with the most top ten singles two decades ago:
Most Top Ten Singles by a Female Artist – 1980-1989:
Reba McEntire (23)
Crystal Gayle (22)
Dolly Parton (21)
Janie Fricke (17)
Barbara Mandrell (17)
Rosanne Cash (16)
Emmylou Harris (16)
Anne Murray (14)
Tanya Tucker (12)
Kathy Mattea (10)
Notice the trend? This decade, the top ten women combined for a total of 70 top ten hits. In the 90′s, the top ten women enjoyed a total of 145 top ten hits. In the eighties, a total of 168 top ten hits. Even the nineties list is dominated by women who were played heavily in the earlier part of the decade.
What’s strange is that it was in the mid-nineties that female artists became the dominant commercial force in country music. Janie Fricke never had a gold album. Shania Twain has sold 48 million albums. Yet Fricke had more top ten hits in just the eighties than Shania Twain has earned in her entire career. Record buyers have wholeheartedly embraced Alison Krauss and Miranda Lambert, but despite their strong sales, they’ve each enjoyed only one solo top ten hit.
So what to make of all of this? Is the recent success of Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood an indication that things are improving for women on the radio dial? Is it worth noting that Sugarland and Jennifer Nettles (11 top ten hits) and the Dixie Chicks (14 top ten hits) have done their part to compensate for this lack of gender parity? Does it even matter that radio is playing women less often each decade, especially if record buyers are finding their music anyway?
Yesterday marked the end of the eligibility period for the 2010 Grammy Awards, which will be presented in January. To accommodate the earlier award ceremony, this year’s period lasted one month shy of a year: October 1, 2008 – August 31, 2009.
It’s been something of an underwhelming year musically from my perspective, but I have a few nominations that I’d like to see:
Best Male Country Vocal Performance: “El Rey”
Best Country Album: Twang
Strait’s been on a roll since It Just Comes Natural, releasing his most consistent string of albums since the mid-nineties trifecta of Easy Come Easy Go, Lead On and Blue Clear Sky. It’s often been said that Strait could sing the phone book and make it sound great, and “El Rey” proved that he’d do just as well with la guía telefónica.
Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album: The Excitement Plan
This category has been great at acknowledging artists who essentially make acoustic music that isn’t particularly commercial, with previous winners including Nickel Creek and Emmylou Harris. Snider put out one of his strongest albums this year, and he’s long overdue for some Grammy love.
Best Country Album: American Saturday Night
Best Male Country Vocal Performance: “Welcome to the Future”
Best Country Instrumental Performance: “Back to the Future”
Paisley has reaffirmed himself as a creative force to be reckoned with and deserves to be amply rewarded with multiple Grammy nominations this year. The rock edge to his token instrumental track is a refreshing new take on his guitar-playing virtuosity.
Best Female Country Vocal Performance: “Just a Dream”
Best Country Vocal Collaboration: “I Told You So” (with Randy Travis)
Even though Underwood won the ACM Entertainer of the Year trophy this past spring, it’s felt like it’s been all quiet on the Carrie front lately. That’s interesting, since I think that the two best singles from her Carnival Ride album were the ones saved for last. She won over a tough lineup with a weaker single last year, so I suspect a win for “Just a Dream” will be even easier to pull off.
2009 had nominations for strong singles from Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes, none of whom are likely to be contenders this year. Perhaps Taylor Swift will finally get a nomination in her gender genre race this time around.
Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal: “Already Gone”
Best Country Album: Live on the Inside
It’s been an very weak year for mainstream country albums, so Sugarland’s collection of legitimized bootlegs might actually get a nomination. It’s not quite as good as Love on the Inside, but it’s still a lot better than most of their mates at country radio have been turning in lately.
That’s about all I can think about right now, though I’m sure there are some great things I’ve missed. Who do you think deserves some Grammy love this year?
What do you know? Coming off of their invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry, Montgomery Gentry release their most country-sounding single in some time. The sound is a nice blend of Alabama, Hank Jr., and 70′s folk-rock, with a chorus ready-made for barroom singalongs and a colorful set of dobro fills.
It’s a credit to the songwriting that it manages to breathe life into a fairly tired theme. This whole “I’m proud of my broken family, gosh darn it” shtick has been done a good deal in recent years, and it’s been done well, with tracks like LeAnn Rimes’ “Family” and Eric Church’s “Sinners Like Me” providing some of the most memorable moments in those artists’ catalogs.
As with those examples, what elevates Montgomery Gentry’s take on the idea is its candor. Rather than try to falsely glamorize the relatives’ imperfections, as so many would-be Redneck Anthems would do, this song just throws them all out on the table, acknowledging them as they really are – not necessarily desirable, yet inescapable. Granted, the family does sound a little bit sensationalized, but the details are at least interesting enough to warrant a momentary suspension of disbelief.
I think a lot of people – particularly in the South – can relate to the social stigma of having so-called “bad stock” in their family, and I suspect they’ll really latch onto the humorous, “so what?” style of self-acceptance “Long Line of Losers” extols. I have to say that I’d like it a little more if the narrator gave a concrete example of what makes him such a loser – no fair spilling all his family’s beans and none of his own – but all in all, this is a good example of the Montgomery Gentry formula done right.
I blame Adam Lambert for what I am about to reveal to you all: I’m headed to a Taylor Swift concert tonight. That’s right, Taylor Swift. Insidious curiosity got the better of me.
But why do I blame Lambert, you ask? Because I haven’t been listening to a whole lot of country music recently. Instead, thanks to my new, bizarre obsession with Lambert, in the past month I’ve pulled out old Queen, Bowie, Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin. And I’ve listened to more My Chemical Romance, Pink and even Def Leppard than anything resembling country. So, of course I thought of Swift. Because, when you think of hard rock, isn’t Swift the first person who comes to mind?
(Save your ears, don’t listen)
I’ve also been tuning into rock radio, a rarity for me, to see what’s popular these days. Lo and behold, wouldn’t you know, Taylor Swift is also a rock artist (in addition to being a country, pop and heavy metal artist). She’s regularly squeezed in between All American Rejects and Green Day on my local station. And let me tell you, nothing sounds more rock than a re-mix of Love Story. Don’t you agree?
But you have to give credit where credit is due. This girl has everyone fooled. Re-mix, re-package, throw in a few guest appearances with John Mayer and Def Leppard, form a friendship with Miley Cyrus, and suddenly, wow, you appeal to every demographic (under the age of 20). I gotta admit, I’m impressed. I’m also curious how a tall, gangly misfit, with a precocious attitude, who can’t sing, has made it work. So, I’m headed to a concert tonight and will report back here because I actually know that many of you consider Swift a guilty pleasure. Wish me luck.
But no worries. I also have a number of saner concerts scheduled later this summer. I’ve already got tickets to see Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith and Buddy Miller; as well as tickets to see Gary Allan and LeAnn Rimes (if she doesn’t cancel, which she’s done on me twice). I’m also still holding out for Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson tickets, but I’m sure that one is going to work out.
Summer concert season is around the corner.
Who are you planning on seeing in concert this summer?
You read that right. This week, the highly praised and Grammy-nominated LeAnn Rimes single “What I Cannot Change” finally reached #1 – on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart.
While the song’s admirers most certainly would have preferred it to be a #1 country single, at least the song’s being heard somewhere. Rimes is the first country artist in the chart’s history to score a #1 single. She breaks Reba McEntire’s 13-year hold on the highest charting country remix in the chart’s history. McEntire scored a #2 hit with a cover of The Supremes classic “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”
Perhaps Johnny Cash will be the next country star to top the chart.
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.
The nominations for this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards will be announced on Wednesday, February 11, and Country Universe will have a preview next week. As announced yesterday, the blond brigade of Julianne Hough, Leann Rimes, Jessica Simpson and Kellie Pickler will read the nominations from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Academy of Country Music, Dick Clark productions and Great American Country (GAC) announced today that for the first time ever, the three newcomer categories for the Academy of Country Music Awards—Top New Female Vocalist, Top New Male Vocalist and Top New Vocal Duo or Group—will be opened up to interactive fan voting through GACTV.com. The 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards will be broadcast LIVE from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 8:00 PM live ET/delayed PT on the CBS Television Network.
Fan voting for these three categories will begin at GACTV.com on Friday, February 13, and will close on Thursday, March 5. The winner in each of the three categories will be announced March 9, and will move on to compete in a brand new Academy of Country Music Awards category, Top New Artist. Voting for the Top New Artist category will begin on March 16, and will close on April 5, with the winner being announced live during the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
The official website is cryptic regarding the validity of voting procedures. Under the Best New Artist categories, the Board of Directors state that winners will be determined by a vote of members and/or viewer voting, so the Academy could possibly have a hand in the voting in case inconsistencies arise.
The Academy’s voting criteria was called into question last year when the Entertainer of the Year award was a fan-voted affair, and today’s announcement continues the questionable practice of allowing the general public to voice their opinions for one of the industry’s highest honors. This year, the rules do explicitly state that Entertainer of the Year will be awarded based on both membership vote and fan participation.
Critics’ fave Jamey Johnson also suffers from the academy’s shortsighted criteria. Due to an absolutely archaic rule, Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song (current sales: 270k at 26 weeks) is ineligible for the Album of the Year category.
The Album must have attained minimum sales of 300,000 units and/or maintained an average of 20,000 unit sales per week since release as reflected by SoundScan during the qualification period. Any album commercially released prior to the preceding calendar year, but achieving its highest charted position in any accepted country music industry publication chart and greatest commercial success during the calendar year, is eligible unless it has appeared on a final ACM ballot in this category.
Conceivably, Johnson can be nominated for Album of the Year next year. By that time, That Lonesome Song will have sold over 300,000 copies and could sneak above its current chart peak in 2009 (it debuted at No.6 in August and now rests at No. 7 on the weekly chart). Understood? With record sales dwindling due to the economy and the current technological shift within the music industry, the criteria must be changed. Unless the rule is amended, only ten albums are eligible (the latest releases from Kenny Chesney,Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Lady Antebellum, James Otto, Darius Rucker, Sugarland, George Strait, Taylor Swift and Zac Brown Band). This is a small pool from which to determine the genre’s best album of the year. The current slate of criteria for the ACM only serves to dilute a meaningful country music milestone and forgo artistic value in favor of commercial prowess and internet savvy.
Fun fact: In its final week of eligibility for last year’s ACM Awards, Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sold 7,894 copies for a total of 304,999 since its May 1, 2007 debut. Lambert’s sophomore set went on to best platinum-selling albums from Kenny Chesney, Rodney Atkins, Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley to claim the ACM award for Album of the Year.As of February 7, 2009, the album has sold 679,391 copies and remains the second-oldest album on the Country Albums chart (Taylor Swift’s Taylor Swift).