Posts Tagged ‘Lee Ann Womack’

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 4: #70-#61

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

    The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 4

    70 Tillis

    #70
    Pam Tillis, It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

    By the time she released a tribute to her father Mel, she’d become something of a legend in her own right. So it’s no surprise that she approached Mel’s stellar songwriting catalog as if she was recording any other studio album, taking the best of the bunch and making them her own. Bonus points for preserving the original fiddle breakdown from “Heart Over Mind” while making that classic shuffle a forlorn ballad, and a few more for hitting the archives of the Country Music Hall of Fame until she found a forgotten gem that should’ve been a hit back in the day (“Not Like it Was With You.”) – Kevin Coyne

    Recommended Tracks: “Mental Revenge”, “Detroit City”

    69 Dwight

    #69
    Dwight Yoakam, dwightyoakamacoustic.net

    Yoakam takes a new, inspired spin on the greatest hits album concept, presenting us with a hearty sampling (over 20 songs) of his catalog served acoustic style. It simply works for the country legend. He introduces some delightful new twists and turns to his old classics, and as it should go with acoustic music, the album is driven by unadulterated, raw vocals, coupled with honest storytelling – the purest form of country music. – Tara Seetharam

    Recommended Tracks: “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere”, “Things Change”

    68 Gillian

    #68
    Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)

    Time (The Revelator) is Gillian Welch and David Rawlings with much of their typical production stripped away. Accompanied by acoustic guitar and banjo, Gillian sings with emotions as much as she sings notes that create a surprisingly full sound. – William Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll”, “Red Clay Halo”

    67 Reba

    #67
    Reba McEntire, Reba Duets

    That McEntire is able to smoothly and effortlessly wrap her voice around eleven other distinctive voices is a tribute to her sheer talent as an artist. With duet partners stretching from Justin Timberlake to Ronnie Dunn, McEntire presents a stunning, layered mix of sounds and styles, demonstrating that when gifted artists come together, no perceived boundaries can stop them from making good music. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “The Only Promise That Remains”, “When You Love Someone Like That”

    law call me

    #66
    Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy

    Very few country artists can express pain more poignantly than Womack, who taps into a place of tender desperation with her highly-acclaimed 2008 album. The stories are deep and reflective, the sorrow palpable, and the production adeptly sparse – a potent combination. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Solitary Thinkin’”, “Either Way”

    65 Nickel

    #65
    Nickel Creek, Nickel Creek

    Nickel Creek has been nominated for Best Bluegrass Album and Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammys and won Best Contemporary Folk Album, yet the group does not easily fit into any of those categories. Produced by Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek’s self-titled album is their most bluegrass-influenced album. – WW

    Recommended Tracks: “The Fox”, “The Hand Song”

    64 Watkins

    #64
    Sara Watkins, Sara Watkins

    Sara Watkins’ self-titled debut holds more than a few surprises, including more country influence than you will hear from any of her former Nickel Creek bandmates’ solo work. Produced by John Paul Jones, pedal steel is prominent on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Any Old Time,” performed as western swing, “All this Time,” and Tom Waits’ “Pony.” – WW

    Recommended Tracks: “All This Time”, “Give Me Jesus”

    63 Dierks

    #63
    Dierks Bentley, Modern Day Drifter

    Rife with accessible melodies, solid lyrics and a penchant for traditional sounds, Dierks Bentley’s sophomore project, Modern Day Drifter, confirmed the promise that was only hinted at on his first album. The title of the album rightly suggests that Bentley will explore the components of breaking the chains of domesticity, which include the freedom (“Lotta Leavin’ Left to Do”, “Modern Day Drifter”, “Domestic Light and Cold”, “the Cab of My Truck”) and the ultimate consequences (“Settle for a Slowdown”, “Down on Easy Street”). Nevertheless, Bentley does not stop with those themes. He also finds room for common themes as love and loss, as demonstrated in the pretty “Good Things Happen”, the smoldering “Come A Little Closer” and heartbreaking “Gonna Get There Someday.” – Leeann Ward

    Recommended Tracks:

    62 Todd

    #62
    Todd Snider, The Devil You Know

    An explosion of righteous anger over poverty with an undercurrent of joyous celebration of America’s underclass. You can never tell for sure if he sees himself as their advocate or their peer, but the songs are so powerful, it doesn’t really matter. – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “Just Like Old Times”, “The Devil You Know”

    61 Rodney

    #61
    Rodney Crowell, The Houston Kid

    After a string of somewhat underwhelming major-label releases in the 90′s, Rodney Crowell rebounded in a big way with this remarkably deep set on celebrated indie label Sugar Hill. Childhood joys and adult insights stand side-by-side in The Houston Kid, producing an emotionally rich and complicated survey of the album’s world. Such is the detail and soul of Crowell’s writing that every second comes across as autobiographical, even the ones that probably aren’t. – Dan Milliken

    Recommended Tracks: “The Rock Of My Soul”, “I Walk The Line (Revisited)”

    - – -

    100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 2: #90-#81

    Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

      The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 2

      90 Miranda

      #90
      Miranda Lambert, Kerosene

      On her first major-label album, Lambert reveals herself as a fiery, spirited artist with a lot to say, and a clever voice with which to speak. Her sharp songwriting skills, though a work in progress as we’d later learn, take her naturally from aggression to desolation and back again. But most notably, through Kerosene, Lambert got the traditionalists to pay a little more attention to mainstream country music and its more promising artists. – Tara Seetharam

      Recommended Tracks: “Kerosene”, “I Can’t Be Bothered”

      89 Kris

      #89
      Kris Kristofferson, This Old Road
      This Old Road has not have received as much mainstream attention as Kristofferson’s recent appearance in Ethan Hawke’s Rolling Stone article; an unfortunate fact, given it was the legendary writer’s first album of new material in 11 years. With This Old Road, Kristofferson shines a spotlight on the world much in the same his earlier writing shined a spotlight on himself. The result is an overtly political album with more depth than most modern attempts have been able to produce. – William Ward

      Recommended Tracks: “The Last Thing to Go”, “Pilgrim’s Progress”

      88 Guy

      #88
      Guy Clark, Workbench Songs

      The recordings  of the songs that Guy Clark, one of country music’s most respected modern songwriters, has written for the most popular artists in country music are typically polished by the best Nashville musicians and slick producers. But Clark’s own albums tend to be more organic, with spare instrumentation that somehow manages to avoid sounding anemic as a result. His well worn voice sings these eleven melodically and lyrically strong songs with warmth and the kind of emotion that easily captures the listener. It’s one of the best albums of his deep catalog that spans over thirty years. – Leeann Ward

      Recommended Tracks: “Walkin’ Man”, “Expose”

      87 Wynonna

      #87
      Wynonna, What the World Needs Now is Love

      It’s hard to believe that it’s been six years since Wynonna’s last proper studio album. This collection is easily one of her best, with effective covers like “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Flies On the Butter”, along with socially conscious material that provokes thought instead of pandering to already held beliefs (“It All Comes Down to Love”). – Kevin Coyne

      Recommended Tracks: “Sometimes I Feel Like Elvis”, “Rescue Me”

      86 Lee Ann

      #86
      Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance

      The massively successful title track powered this album to triple platinum, but it also overshadowed the excellent songs surrounding it. For those who explored the album beyond track two, there were some of Womack’s finest moments on record, as she had the good taste to plunder the catalogs of Bruce Robison (“Lonely Too”), Bobbie Cryner (“Stronger Than I Am”), Julie Miller (“I Know Why the River Runs”), and Rodney Crowell (“Ashes By Now”). – KC

      Recommended Tracks: “Lonely Too”, “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger”

      85 Chris

      #85
      Chris Thile, How to Grow a Woman From the Ground

      This is the first album from the band that would eventually become Punch Brothers. Garnering a Grammy Award Nomination in 2006, How to Grow a Woman From the Ground is a solid bluegrass album with classical sensibilities and extraordinary instrumentation. – WW

      Recommended Tracks: “Wayside (Back in Time)”, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”

      84 Ralph

      #84
      Ralph Stanley II, This One Is Two

      Hyperbole alert, but it’s hard to think of a more beautiful-sounding traditional country album from this decade, or one which more comfortably merges old school aesthetics with modern production polish. Stanley corralled a number of meaty story songs here, but it’s the combination of his warm baritone and the lush instrumentation that gives this gem its quiet strength. – Dan Milliken

      Recommended Tracks: “Cold Shoulder”, “They Say I’ll Never Go Home”

      83 Louvin

      #83
      Various Artists, Livin’ Lovin’ Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers

      Tribute albums too often feel redundant, as well-meaning artists deliver nice but forgettable imitations of classic records. Not so with the Louvins’, which sticks veteran and current artists alike on the Bros’ close harmonies and sees each intriguing combination (Pam Tillis and Johnny Cash? Why not!) triumph. I daresay it’s as good an introduction to the duo’s work as any compilation of their own recordings. – DM

      Recommended Tracks: “How’s the World Treating You?”, “Are You Teasing Me”

      82 Todd

      #82
      Todd Snider, The Excitement Plan

      Snider mostly avoids both political themes and complex arrangements on his latest record, emphasizing his greatest strength as a writer instead: his uncanny ability to make the most specifically personal have universal resonance. Listen out for a wonderful cameo from Loretta Lynn on “Don’t Tempt Me.” – KC

      Recommended Tracks: “Barefoot Champagne”, “Money, Compliments, Publicity (Song Number 10)”

      81 O'Connor

      #81
      Mark O’Connor, Thirty-Year Retrospective (Live)

      Mark O’Connor’s Thirty Year Retrospective is a double instrumental album of his live performance with Chris Thile, Bryan Sutton and Byron House.  The album covers a wide range of Mark O’Connor’s career, presenting a range of instrumental country, bluegrass, new grass and jazz with the detail and care often only applied to classical music. – WW

      Recommended Tracks: “Caprice No. 4 in D Major”, “Macedonia”

      - – -

      CMA Awards: Predictions and Personal Picks

      Sunday, November 8th, 2009

      The CMA Awards are upon us again, and I must say that this is the most underwhelming lineup I’ve ever seen, and I started watching the show back in 1991. We’ll be back to live blog the festivities on Wednesday night. In the meantime, enjoy our personal picks in each category, along with who we think will actually win.

      brad-paisleyEntertainer of the Year

      Should Win:
      • Kenny Chesney
      • Brad Paisley – Leeann, Tara
      • George Strait
      • Taylor Swift – Kevin, Dan
      • Keith Urban
      Will Win:
      • Kenny Chesney
      • Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
      • George Strait
      • Taylor Swift – Dan
      • Keith Urban

      Kevin: Much like the field finally cleared for him in the Male Vocalist race two years ago, I expect that this is Paisley’s year to win with his sixth nomination. I think Taylor Swift deserves to win, though. There’s no getting around the fact that she’s the biggest thing out there right now.

      Leeann: I won’t be shocked (or really even disappointed) if Taylor Swift picks it up, but I really feel it’s finally Brad’s year.

      Dan: Swift is the face of the genre right now, and she’s putting out better-written material than many of the veterans in this category. It looks like a race between her and Paisley, and I think she may actually get it.

      Tara: It wouldn’t be inappropriate for Swift to take this award, and I would much (understatement) prefer her to win this over the vocalist award. But to me, Paisley is the all-around entertainer, and I think it’s his year to be recognized.

      brad-paisleyMale Vocalist of the Year

      Should Win:
      • Kenny Chesney
      • Brad Paisley – Leeann, Tara
      • Darius Rucker
      • George Strait – Dan
      • Keith Urban – Kevin
      Will Win:
      • Kenny Chesney
      • Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
      • Darius Rucker
      • George Strait
      • Keith Urban

      Leeann: I have no doubt that Paisley will win again, as he  has had a strong year and the CMAs tend to prefer him for this award.  While I think Urban is technically a very worthy opponent, the combination of Paisley’s warm voice and stronger album makes me continue to root for him.  I’d also be just as happy if Strait won, however, and feel that his and Paisley’s albums were the strongest of the year.

      Dan: Looks like an easy Paisley win, but I’ll give Strait the nod for all-around strength this past year.

      Tara: I don’t anticipate that Paisley’s winning streak will be broken. I’m pulling for him on the strength of his material, but wouldn’t mind one bit if Urban took the award. Just please, CMAs, don’t give it to Rucker!

      Kevin: Paisley’s poised to pick up his third trophy, with his only real competition being five-time winner George Strait. I’d give a fourth trophy to previous winner Keith Urban over the rest of the field. He really sang rings around the rest of ‘em when comparing their latest albums.

      Carrie Underwood 09Female Vocalist of the Year

      Should Win:
      • Miranda Lambert - Leeann
      • Martina McBride
      • Reba McEntire
      • Taylor Swift
      • Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Dan, Tara
      Will Win:
      • Miranda Lambert
      • Martina McBride
      • Reba McEntire
      • Taylor Swift
      • Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

      Dan: I tend to find Underwood boring, but I do think she released some of her better singles this past year. Swift just isn’t a strong enough vocalist to merit this prize, and I’d rather see Lambert win in a year where she has more momentum going, which could well be next year.

      Tara: It will no doubt spark controversy when Underwood takes her fourth trophy and joins the ranks of Reba McEntire and Martina McBride, and that’s another discussion all together – but looking at the nominees for this year, it’s clear she deserves to win. In terms of sheer vocal talent, few artists in the genre come close to her. I’d love to see Lambert take this award (and Underwood would too!), but like Dan, I don’t think it’s her time just yet.

      Kevin: I won’t believe a different winner in this race until I see it. I was underwhelmed by the latest albums from Lambert, McBride, McEntire, and Swift, and quite frankly, Underwood is the only lady of the five to put out more than one single this year that I actually really liked (“Just a Dream”, “I Told You So.”) I remain in her corner.

      Leeann: Carrie will deserve to win this award when she wins it this year.  I, however, still prefer Lambert’s voice and feel that her output (album) is the most interesting of the nominees.

      Sugarland JoeyVocal Duo of the Year

      Should Win:

      • Big & Rich
      • Brooks & Dunn
      • Joey + Rory
      • Montgomery Gentry
      • Sugarland – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
      Will Win:
      • Big & Rich
      • Brooks & Dunn
      • Joey + Rory
      • Montgomery Gentry
      • Sugarland – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

      Tara: Sugarland continues to excite me, and I think they deserve this award again.

      Kevin: I love Joey + Rory, but Sugarland have really been blowing me away lately.  I’d pick them for Entertainer if they’d been nominated.

      Leeann: I’d technically love for Joey + Rory to win, but I know full well that Sugarland is the duo that truly deserves to win based upon their impact this year.

      Dan: Sugarland. But I want to talk to whoever is picking their singles.

      lady-antebellum-and-a-chairVocal Group of the Year

      Should Win:

      • Eagles
      • Lady Antebellum – Tara
      • Little Big Town
      • Rascal Flatts
      • Zac Brown Band – Kevin, Leeann, Dan

      Will Win:

      • Eagles
      • Lady Antebellum – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
      • Little Big Town
      • Rascal Flatts
      • Zac Brown Band

      Kevin: I find Zac Brown Band more interesting, and I think they have a real shot at winning this. I suspect Lady Antebellum has a bit more industry support, though, so I’ll give them the edge.

      Leeann: Lady A will win because they’ve got more industry support and popularity with radio, but the Zac Brown Band has certainly put out more interesting music and have a refreshingly unique sound that deserves to be rewarded.

      Dan: Pretty much what Kevin and Leeann said. “Chicken Fried” notwithstanding.

      Tara: It’s definitely a race between Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum, and I can understand why my co-bloggers are rooting for the former. But even if Lady Antebellum’s talent needs a little cultivating, their music strikes a very personal chord with me, and I’ll be thrilled when they take this award. Can you believe Rascal Flatts might actually walk away from an awards show empty-handed?

      zac-bbNew Artist of the Year

      Should Win:
      • Randy Houser
      • Jamey Johnson – Dan
      • Jake Owen
      • Darius Rucker
      • Zac Brown Band – Kevin, Leeann, Tara

      Will Win:

      • Randy Houser
      • Jamey Johnson – Kevin
      • Jake Owen
      • Darius Rucker – Dan, Leeann, Tara
      • Zac Brown Band

      Kevin: A weak lineup that speaks volumes about why country music is where it is today. I think Zac Brown Band should win. They’ve really been the real breakthrough act of the five. But I suspect in this battle of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” co-writers, Jamey Johnson will emerge victorious.

      Leeann: While I’m tempted to root for Jamey Johnson, I think Zac Brown Band has a chance of keeping me intrigued over the next few years (even if they fall out of the mainstream), though I don’t think they’ve reached their potential  just yet.  I predict that Darius Rucker will actually win, however, as he’s been the most successful in the last year.

      Dan: Time will tell whether Johnson is able to remain a strong artistic force, but I’d say he has as good a chance as any of these five if he can keep from getting self-important. Rucker is the biggest star on the ballot, though, and I suspect he’ll squeak the win over Johnson and Zac Brown Band.

      Tara: Johnson and Zac Brown Band are both deserving recipients of this award, but I personally prefer the band’s music. With the commercial success Rucker’s seen in the past year, though, I think it’s his award to lose. Not too sure how I feel about that.  

      thatlonesomesongAlbum of the Year

      Should Win:

      • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – Leeann, Dan
      • Brad Paisley, American Saturday NightTara
      • Sugarland, Love on the InsideKevin
      • Taylor Swift, Fearless
      • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity
      Will Win:
      • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – Kevin, Dan, Tara
      • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
      • Sugarland, Love on the Inside
      • Taylor Swift, Fearless – Leeann
      • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity

      Leeann: While Johnson’s album hasn’t really stuck with me over the past year or so, I still think it’s the best album out of the bunch.  I think Swift will win, however, due to the volume of sales and hit singles.

      Dan: All of these albums have strengths, but That Lonesome Song is the only one that makes me optimistic about country music’s future. I expect it to triumph, though Swift’s has a great shot, too.

      Tara: Paisley’s album, to me, strikes that sweet balance of traditional and contemporary. I think it’s a strong, interesting and relevant album that epitomizes why Paisley is so deservingly successful. But Johnson will deserve this award when he takes it, and I recognize and appreciate his positive influence on mainstream country music.

      Kevin: I expected more nods overall for Jamey Johnson. I think that the eligibility period hurt him, with the project less fresh in voters’ minds. But the CMA values traditional country more than any other awards organization, so I expect him to win this. I enjoy the Sugarland album far more than any of the other four, so I’m rooting for that one.

      Jamey smile 2Single of the Year

      Should Win:

      • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
      • “I Run to You” – Lady Antebellum
      • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
      • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
      • “Then” – Brad Paisley
      Will Win:
      • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
      • “I Run to You” – Lady Antebellum
      • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
      • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington – Dan
      • “Then” – Brad Paisley

      Dan: I’ve just got a bad feeling about that Currington single. “I Run To You” does have some smokin’ production, but “In Color” is the only one of the five I can still stand.

      Tara: Ouch. I’m pleased that “I Run to You” is nominated as it’s a personal favorite, but I don’t think any song other than “In Color” is deserving of this award. Again…ouch.

      Kevin: This is the weakest lineup in the history of this category.

      Leeann: Johnson’s song feels old to me now, but it’s the best song in this underwhelming category, though I’m sure David Letterman disagrees.  While I like the production on “People Are Crazy” the best in this line-up, the hook (not to mention the frustratingly weak story development) is just lame.

      randy-travisSong of the Year

      Should Win:
      • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
      • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
      • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Dan
      • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
      • “Then” – Chris Dubois, Ashley Gorley & Brad Paisley
      Will Win:
      • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
      • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis – Leeann
      • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Dan, Tara
      • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
      • “Then” – Chris Dubois, Ashley Gorley & Brad Paisley

      Tara: I would absolutely love to see Travis take this award; Underwood’s success with the song proves that the best-written country songs are timeless. I think “In Color” has more pull, though.

      Kevin: I think Johnson will win, but kudos to Carrie Underwood for recognizing the value of the Randy Travis-penned gem and making it a hit all over again.

      Leeann: This is not one of my favorite Randy Travis songs, but for nostalgia’s sake, I’m rooting for him to win this one. I even think it has a chance of winning, since it was a hit song for one of today’s country music’s most popular artists. I think the Paisley composition is, by far, the weakest though.

      Dan: I like probable-winner “In Color” marginally more than “I Told You So.” Any of the other three winning would hurt me way down deep.

      randy-travis-and-carrie-underwoodMusical Event of the Year

      Should Win:

      • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
      • “Down the Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
      • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
      • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis – Kevin, Tara
      • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe – Leeann, Dan
      • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
      Will Win:
      • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
      • “Down the Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
      • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
      • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis – Kevin, Dan, Tara
      • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe
      • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban – Leeann

      Kevin: Will the CMA really pass up the chance to give a trophy to Randy Travis for the first time in 21 years? I hope not.

      Leeann: Paisley’s and Urban’s collaboration was originally accidentally left off the ballot, but the superstar pairing is the most likely to win.  Conversely, I suspect that the inclusion of the collaboration with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe was likely an accident, but I’d still love to see this dark horse nomination win. It’s certainly the most interesting song of the category.  I might have gone for the Underwood/Travis pairing if Travis’ inclusion didn’t seem so random.  I liked Underwood’s original version better, as Vince Gill’s harmony seemed more natural.

      Dan: It’s totally between “I Told You So” and “Start A Band”, but I’m pulling for the underdog Raconteurs record, too. I like my collaborations a little spontaneous like that, and it’s always great to see outsiders included in the CMA fold.

      Tara: While I have a particular soft spot for “Down the Road,” which I thought was one of the best singles of 2008, it should come as no surprise that I’m pulling for the beautiful, rough-and-pure “I Told You So.” I think it will easily win.

      george_straitMusic Video of the Year

      Should Win:
      • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
      • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift
      • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
      • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
      • “Troubadour” – George Strait – Kevin, Dan, Tara
      Will Win:
      • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
      • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift – Kevin, Dan, Tara
      • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
      • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
      • “Troubadour” – George Strait

      Dan: I enjoy the Strait video most, but Swift’s is the flashiest, and that tends to win out.

      Tara: Strait’s video is poignant and tastefully done. I never understood the appeal of Swift’s Shakespearean video, but apparently a whole generation of country music fans does. My money’s on Swift.

      Kevin: I think the Swift fairytale will get the most votes, but the Strait clip hypnotizes me every time it’s on. Who knew a simple slide show could be so powerful and such a perfect fit for a song?

      paul-franklinMusician of the Year
      Should Win:
      • Eddie Bayers (drums)
      • Paul Franklin (steel guitar) – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
      • Dan Huff (guitar)
      • Brent Mason (guitar)
      • Mac McAnally (guitar)

      Will Win:

      • Eddie Bayers (drums)
      • Paul Franklin (steel guitar)
      • Dan Huff (guitar)
      • Brent Mason (guitar)
      • Mac McAnally (guitar) – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

      Dan: I should really start paying more attention to this kind of thing. But I know Paul Franklin’s been doing steel for everyone from Lyle Lovett to Rascal Flatts in the past year. Respek!

      Tara:
      Franklin’s the one I’m most familiar with, and I agree with Kevin and Dan that he deserves it. I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how to gauge who’ll win this year, but I suppose I’d go with McAnally again.

      Kevin: I guess that McAnally will repeat his victory from last year. The other previous winners won quite a bit of time ago – Dann Huff in 2001 and 2004, Brent Mason in 1997 and 1998.  My sympathy goes to Eddie Bayers, who is nominated for the tenth time and has yet to win. I have no choice but to pull for Paul Frankin, though, who has lost this award sixteen times.  Here’s hoping that seventeen’s a charm!

      Leeann: Please don’t let it be Dann Huff! That’s all I ask.  Of course, I’m partial to the steel guitar, not to mention that it’s a shame that a steel guitar player has to work so hard to win a country music award.

      Review: Lee Ann Womack, “There is a God”

      Sunday, October 25th, 2009

      Lee Ann Womack“There is a God” is a thought that often crosses my mind when Lee Ann Womack is singing, so it’s somewhat appropriate that she’s released a song with that title.  Of course, Womack’s more effective when she’s singing about Saturday night than she is about Sunday morning, unless she’s hating herself in the morning after that Saturday night.

      I actually believe that the aesthetic explanation for the existence of God is a powerful one, which is the case that Womack makes here.  She’s just not making the case very well. That’s mostly because of the lyrics, but her tepid performance certainly does a good part of the damage, too. If ever there was a time to sing with some conviction, this was it.

      I also have to say that one line really rubbed me the wrong way and took this from a song that I could tolerate to one that made me too uncomfortable to listen to it again. At one point, she puts up as an example of God’s existence: “Hearing the doctor say, ‘I can’t explain it, but the cancer’s gone.’”  That’s a line I’ve never heard a doctor say, as the disease has claimed one family member of mine after another in recent years. To follow the song to its logical conclusion, I’d have to believe that there is a God, but He’s selective with his miracles. I believe the former but not the latter.

      Thankfully, the song wasn’t grabbing me before that line anyway. I’m sure this will be a big hit with a tie-in Hallmark book and all that, but I’ll sit this one out.  When she’s back to being a honky tonk angel, let me know.

      Grade: B-

      Listen: There is a God

      Bargain Hunter: The Rodney Crowell Collection

      Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

      RC CollectionWhen Rodney Crowell had his gold-selling commercial breakthrough with the album Diamonds & Dirt, his previous label was quick to capitalize on his success. Usually, pre-hit cash-in CDs are little more than a curiosity, but Crowell’s is the exception.

      There is a smorgasbord of great material here, including early versions of songs that Crowell would see other artists have success with the same songs.

      Some of Crowell’s strongest compositions are here, such as:

      • “‘Til I Gain Control Again”, a #1 hit for Crystal Gayle that was recorded earlier by Emmylou Harris
      • “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”, a #1 hit for Waylon Jennings that was recorded earlier by Emmylou Harris
      • “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”, a #1 hit for the Oak Ridge Boys that was recorded earlier by Emmylou Harris
      • “Ashes By Now”, a top five hit for Lee Ann Womack that was recorded earlier by Emmylou Harris
      • “I Don’t Have to Crawl”, a minor hit for Emmylou Harris that was later recorded by Rosanne Cash
      • “Shame on the Moon”, a top fifteen country hit for Bob Seeger
      • “Victim or a Fool”, a top forty hit for Crowell that was also recorded by Crystal Gayle
      • “Stars on the Water”, later covered by George Strait and Jimmy Buffett

      How good was this guy’s ear? Even the songs he didn’t write went on to become hits, with Ricky Skaggs taking “Heartbroke” to #1 and Juice Newton scoring a massive pop hit with “Queen of Hearts.”  The only thing missing here is “Elvira”, which Crowell also recorded first.

      This has always been a budget collection, but now it’s incredibly affordable – twelve tracks for $5.49.  Given that Warner is asking for $9.90 for the far inferior Pam Tillis Collection, which includes only ten tracks, this one’s a steal.


      Grammy Wish List

      Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

      brad-paisleyYesterday 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:

      George Strait

      • 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.

      Todd Snider

      • 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.

      Brad Paisley

      • 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.

      Carrie Underwood

      • 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.

      Sugarland

      • 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?

      Picking the CMA Nominees: Female Vocalist

      Monday, July 27th, 2009

      As I work my way through these categories, it’s becoming apparent to me that this was a very weak year for country music. I’m struggling to come up with a list of five women who actually made a musical impact over the twelve months that make up the eligibility period.

      Only two women have made any serious commercial impact this year, so I’m filling up the category with the women who put out solid music that also did reasonably well:

      Patty Loveless

      If the Grammys can acknowledge her, I don’t see why the CMA should overlook her. She made an excellent covers album that has sold as well as several major label efforts.  She was a surprise nominee in 2003 on the strength of Mountain Soul, and it would be nice to see the CMA show such good judgment again.

      Dolly Parton

      Also a surprise nominee in 2003, and very worthy of returning to the lineup this year. Not only did she sell out venues across Europe, she also earned a Tony nomination for Best Score.

      Oh, and that independent album she released on her own label last year? It’s sold twice as much as the latest albums from Martina McBride and Lee Ann Womack, and outsold the albums of such radio staples as Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry, and Blake Shelton.

      Taylor Swift

      Let’s just say it now so we can be spared it being said over and over again in the comments:

      Taylor Swift shouldn’t win a vocalist award because she can’t sing!

      I understand this argument. After all, the same is true for Kenny Chesney and Shania Twain, who won Entertainer of the Year but not their respective vocalist awards. But they were still nominated, and rightfully so. You can’t tell the story of women in country music in 2009 without including Taylor Swift.

      Carrie Underwood

      Does she deserve to join the illustrious ranks of four-time winners in this category? You betcha. Given that Underwood’s a happy medium between Reba McEntire’s country-pop and Martina McBride’s power balladeering, she seems to fit in perfectly.

      Oh, and if it seems too soon for Underwood to be in the same league as McEntire, remember that Reba wasn’t a superstar when she won those four trophies. She didn’t even earn a platinum album until two years after her winning streak ended.

      Lee Ann Womack

      Why Lee Ann Womack, and not Miranda Lambert? Each had a moody single go top twenty this year, but Lambert’s was off of an album released during the 2007 eligibility period.

      Why Lee Ann Womack, and not Martina McBride?  Their albums have sold in similar numbers, but Womack’s was a good deal better.

      Why Lee Ann Womack and not Julianne Hough or Kellie Pickler? If you’re asking that question, you must be new to Country Universe.

      What five women do you think should be nominated for Female Vocalist this year?

      Catching Up with Joey + Rory

      Monday, July 20th, 2009

      Jory+RoryThree weeks ago, I had a chance to chat with one of my favorite new acts, Joey +Rory. It has been over a year since their break through on CMT’s Can You Duet and several months since the release of their album The Life of A Song. So, Country Universe thought it would be a perfect time to catch up with them to see what’s been happening since the whirlwind of their recent success.

      Not surprisingly, it was a pleasure to speak with them. They were very honest and down to earth. Along with telling us how they’re handling their new found fame, they didn’t shy away from expressing their feelings on current country music, songwriting and what they are and are not listening to these days.

      How has life been since Can You Duet?

      Joey: Well, in a lot of ways, in last year’s time, our lives have changed tremendously. But, also, in a lot of ways, we’re still the same in terms of our relationship, marriage and closeness. We’ve gone from having the farm out here and the little restaurant and Rory writing songs to being on the road visiting different cities every other night.

      All the TV exposure has obviously heightened people’s awareness of who we are. We literally can hardly go anywhere without people knowing who we are in airports, gas stations and restaurants and places like that. I think in a sense all of a sudden we’re very recognizable and people want our autographs and pictures. So, that’s changed. It’s kind of been different for us to have that.

      But as far as our relationship, we’re very much the same. We’re just as in love as we were a year and half ago. Our marriage is even stronger. There’s no more stress related to this because we get to do this together and travel everywhere together.

      Rory: Our life here at home is just the same. There are more people that know us and when we go to the restaurant (the restaurant that Joey owns with Rory’s sister, Marcie), there are people from out of town that drive in all the time, but we’re the same. Everything’s exactly the same; it’s just expanded a lot.

      Do you ever get frustrated by all the extra attention?

      Joey: We’re really grateful for it. I think there’s times where life on the road can be very draining. Jetlag and everything else kind of comes with that. There are times when we might be completely tired and not want to be somewhere or feel like we just want to go to sleep. Sometimes, it is what it is. But we really appreciate it and we know it won’t always be this way. We just take it a day at a time. The fans are just fantastic. We have an opportunity to do our music, because we have fans. And we have people who want to meet us to tell us how we’ve impacted their lives. You know, if it weren’t for them buying our records and coming to our shows, we wouldn’t be able to be successful and do what we do. It’s all for them.

      Joey, in your bio, you list The Judds as one of your major influences. I can even hear a young Wynona in your voice. What was it like to have Naomi as a judge? Was it more nerve wracking having someone you respect so much critique you?

      Joey: We’d never met the Judds before the show. In fact, the very first concert I ever went to was, I think, when I was nine years old. My dad took me to a Judds concert in Indiana.

      When we went and auditioned for the show, it wasn’t until we walked behind that curtain into the room that we knew who the judges were. You walk in and you’re taken back by it, but you can’t be at the same time, because you have a job to do. But throughout the whole show, Naomi was on our side from day one. She really liked what we did. She liked what we were, what we wore and our style of music. Coming from her, it was so well respected. You know, we all had to kind of critique ourselves and kind of take into account that everybody’s different, everybody has opinions. You just show up the next day and you just try to take it in and make those adjustments.

      But for the most part, it was just a thrill to be around her. She had such an energy and presence in the room. Since the TV show she’s come to the restaurant. She’s featured in our “Cheater, Cheater” video. She’s been very supportive. I just received a letter from her, a card, two days ago, since we were on the CMT Awards. We’ve been to her house several times. I mean, we feel like we’re all just one big family now. It’s been an amazing year.

      My favorite artist is Vince Gill and to have him just hanging out in my living room is just something I can’t even imagine.

      Rory: Our daughter is an aspiring singer-songwriter. So, they had a big event about three nights ago that was sort of like “famous fathers and their daughters.” It was Heidi and me and Vince Gill and his daughter, Jenny and some other people. It was really a thrill. I was just like you. I’m a humongous Vince Gill fan. There’s a lack of realness I see in people. There’s lots of talent and a lot of hard work, but he’s one of those people that always seems like a real, average, everyday guy with extraordinary talent and a real big heart. I just loved seing him and he was wonderful. It was our first time meeting him. He really gushed over Joey and Joey’s voice. So, he was aware of us. Of course, we’re tickled by that. I’m like you, if he was in our living room this evening, having dinner and visiting…that would be a thrill.

      I admit that I didn’t actually watch Can You Duet when it originally aired, because I didn’t really know much about it until after the big hype that surrounded it on some blogs. As you may already know, the world of blogging can be pretty harsh, but you guys managed to be very well liked throughout the run of the show. But it wasn’t really until I read that you had signed with Sugar Hill Records that I took a sudden interest. How did that marriage come together?

      Rory: First off, we had a pretty strong sense that we weren’t going to win, even before the show was over. We just were not a major market act. Actually, we are a mainstream act. But mainstream has turned so far that people who are mainstream acts have to go somewhere else. And people that are rock acts, pop acts, they’re now all of a sudden mainstream acts or what mainstream labels want.

      At the time of the show, we were under contract with RCA and Sony, since the final five were all under contract with them. When we knew we didn’t win, we asked Rene Bell right away if she was going to pick up the option to keep us and she said “No. We’re only going to focus on this one act (winners, Caitlin & Will).” She said, “You guys are free to go and do whatever you want.” So, they released us. American Idol, who also had us under contract because of the show, released us as well.

      I’m an independent guy anyway. We have our own Indy record label that we started a few years ago called Giantslayer Records and we broke anew artist named Blaine Larsen. We created and put up his record, put it out and broke him into mainstream. So, we’ve really been working in that world for a long time. The one thing I knew was that we couldn’t champion ourselves. So, we were immediately thinking about Indy labels. I brought up Vanguard to a very good friend of mine and he had a relationship with the people there. He said that he’d be glad to call them. So, he did and it turns out that Vanguard and Sugar Hill were interested in getting involved in mainstream country. We had had a lot of exposure and they got up to speed on it quickly and they thought that we were authentic at the same time that we were commercial. It seemed like a good marriage and a good step into this mainstream world for them. So, we just sort of shook hands over the phone, cut our single, cut our record, put our record out. Our single was in the top 40 and our album was in stores before we actually had flown to L.A. and signed our record deal with them. They were just that trusting and able to work that part just on our word. So, it’s been a great marriage. We love ‘em; we really, really do.

      When you went in to record, did you already have a vision for the sound of the record or was it highly influenced by the sounds of Vanguard/Sugar Hill’s previous output? Would your record sound the way it does no matter what company you were with?

      Rory: It would have been this way. They really didn’t have any input on our producer or the songs, the sound or anything else. We had met Carl Jackson a long time before and we had wanted Carl to produce Joey anyway. Then we just sort of by accident became a duo for this TV show. So, Carl said, “Well, gosh, I’ll just produce both of you.” He’s a fan of my songwriting and I’m a fan of his. Both Joey and I love Carl’s production. He had done a record on Bradley Walker that’s one of our favorite records in five years—mostly the sounds and songs and everything. You know, we knew what we wanted to do a hundred percent. We’d never recorded with Carl, so the sound happened because of Carl, but he had the particular way of doing it. He’s very vocal heavy and very acoustic instrument heavy and that’s exactly what we wanted and wanted to be a part of. So, it wasn’t the Indy label influence at all for the sound of the album. What it was, I think, is that they recognized that’s what we were going to do. I think they realized that it was going to fit in their world also.

      I was excited about Sugar Hill, but I was also excited about Carl Jackson, knowing of his previous work. Earlier, you mentioned Blaine Larsen. I know that he’s cut some of your songs, Rory. Is there a difference between the songs that you pitch to other people versus the songs that Joey + Rory would record?

      Rory: Well, the only difference is there was never a Joey + Rory and so I’ve always just written songs. A lot of them I’ve put my heart and soul into and our lives into, but those songs are just largely ignored at all times, because they have some personal element or they’re not radio friendly. Whatever that is. The only difference is that we’re much more willing to be honest as artists than artists who would, maybe, cut our songs. No one’s willing to cut “Play the Song.” No one’s going to cut a number of songs that we have, like even “Cheater, Cheater.” So, it’s the same songwriting; it’s just that it’s more like we’re willing to be more honest, I think, and outside the box.

      But now that we are a duo, we all the sudden do want to, not just by chance, write things that have part of our story and our heart and soul in it. Because that’s the way it would have been in the past. I would be writing songs really hoping Tim McGraw or someone else would cut the song and, hopefully, it would have some of what’s important to me in it. But now, all the sudden, we have the opportunity to write a hundred percent of what’s important to you, that you think is relatable to other people. You don’t have to wonder, is it relatable to Tim McGraw or to Sugarland. That’s not even an interest anymore. It’s like, we’ll just write a hundred percent from our perspective. That’s a very, very freeing thing for us.

      Yeah, I imagine… Who are you listening to these days in country music? Assuming that you are listening to anybody in country music.

      Rory: I listened to a bunch of albums here, recently, a bunch of new release albums that I personally thought were okay or not okay, somewhere in there, but okay. Then, the other day, I just got online and I downloaded an album that Carl Jackson had produced on Alecia Nugent. And I’d never even heard an Alecia Nugent record. We’ve met her, but we’ve never heard one. It just blew my mind, because it’s just like our record. It’s got the same kind of sound, same kind of production and it’s got a real focus of great songs on it, and great singing and great harmony. That’s what I’m listening to, because, in my opinion, it’s head and shoulders above all the other production and artistry that I’ve heard in the last six months.

      Mainstream wise, we love Josh Turner and, basically, the really country things like…

      Joey: Lee Ann Womack, Jamey Johnson

      Rory, Yeah, yeah.

      Joey: They’re very acoustic or they’re very country sounding and very traditional. That’s what we kind of lean toward.

      Rory: What do you listen to now, Love?

      Joey: I’d say I listen to Bradley Walker all the time. He’s a nice bluegrass artist that Carl Jackson did a record on.

      We actually heard the new Holly Williams album. It was really, really great.

      Rory: We really liked that.

      Joey: we really did. We’re excited for her.

      I discovered Bradley Walker, because Vince Gill sang on his record. In fact, I’ve discovered a lot of good music that way. So, maybe you guys could invite Vince to sing on your next album…just an unsolicited suggestion…something to think about (laughs).

      Rory: (laughs) Yeah, that’d be great. Carl can probably make it happen. Maybe we’ll also invite Emmylou.

       That would be awesome. That’s actually one of my favorite songs on your album. It’s gorgeous. There’s a lot to choose from, of course, but…

      Rory: Thank You.

      I already think I know the answer judging by our conversation today, but I have to ask: Is Joey + Rory a permanent act now? You’re not going to go back to doing your own things after this record, are you?

      Joey: No…

      Okay, good.

      Joey: No, no. I tried for a long time to be a solo artist, because I never knew that there would be a platform for a married duo, a married couple. You know, it wasn’t something that Rory had wanted in the last twelve years. But now that we’re doing this together and traveling everywhere together, I would not have any desire to do this on my own or just go out in solo. We’re a duo in life because of our marriage and it just carries on into our careers; I think it’s the way it’s supposed to be.

      Rory: I feel the same way. I really feel like this is her career and her opportunity and God has just given me a huge opportunity to be part of it. You know, I’m thrilled to death and having a great time. I think that we do have something special that we didn’t even know that we had. We’re having a good time spinning our wheels out there on the road, playing for people and we’re getting ready to do some more recording soon.

      Well, I suppose it’s time to let you go. I just want to end by saying that I, along with many of the Country Universe readers, am a huge fan. So, I’m really glad that we had a chance to chat today and thank you for your time.

      Joey: It was really nice to meet you. Hopefully, we’ll be able to come up to your neck of the woods, sometime.

      Rory: It was sure nice to talk with you. Have a great morning.

      Album Sales Update: July 2009

      Saturday, July 11th, 2009

      It’s time for an album sales update, our first since May 23.   Brad Paisley is off to a strong start with American Saturday Night, selling 130k in its first week. That’s about 70k less than his previous two studio albums – Time Well Wasted and 5th Gear – opened with, but not a terrible drop-off, considering the state of the music market.

      Meanwhile, the new studio albums by Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban are slowing down considerably, now being outpaced on a weekly basis by 2008 releases by Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum.

      Among younger acts with a new album in 2009, the most impressive sales are coming from Jason Aldean, while 2008 releases from Kellie Pickler, Billy Currington, and Randy Houser are showing new signs of life.

      Biggest disappointments? It’s hard not to look in the direction of Martina McBride, who has barely cleared the 100k mark on her new studio set.  Lee Ann Womack’s 2008 set just made it over that mark, too.  Then again, one only needs to have sold 455 copies to make the chart this week, with the anchor position going to Wynonna with that total. Her covers album Sing – Chapter 1 has sold 41k to date.

      Here are the latest totals for albums released over the past three years that are still charting:

      2009

      • Rascal Flatts, Unstoppable – 842,000
      • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity – 452,000
      • Jason Aldean, Wide Open – 384,000
      • Kenny Chesney, Greatest Hits II – 281,000
      • Dierks Bentley, Feel That Fire – 219,000
      • Martina McBride, Shine – 104,000
      • John Rich, Son of a Preacher Man – 103,000
      • Eric Church, Carolina – 94,000
      • Rodney Atkins, It’s America – 88,000
      • Jake Owen, Easy Does It – 81,000
      • Randy Travis, I Told You So: Ultimate Hits – 78,000
      • Montgomery Gentry, For Our Heroes – 64,000
      • Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel, Willie & The Wheel – 56,000
      • Steve Earle, Townes – 47,000
      • Colt Ford, Ride Through the Country – 45,000
      • Jason Michael Carroll, Growing Up is Getting Old – 45,000
      • Wynonna, Sing – Chapter 1 – 41,000
      • Hank Williams Jr. – 127 Rose Avenue – 34,000
      • Ryan Bingham, Roadhouse Sun – 15,000
      • Tracy Lawrence, Rock – 11,000
      • Darryl Worley, Sounds Like Life – 8,000
      • Holly Williams, Here With Me – 5,000
      • Charlie Robison, Beautiful Day – 3,000
      • Tanya Tucker, My Turn – 3,000

      2008

      • Taylor Swift, Fearless – 3,464,000
      • Sugarland, Love on the Inside – 1,683,000
      • George Strait, Troubadour – 914,000
      • Alan Jackson, Good Time – 869,000
      • Darius Rucker, Learn to Live – 754,000
      • Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun – 721,000
      • Zac Brown Band, Foundation – 681,000
      • Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Vol. 1 – 680,000
      • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum – 674,000
      • Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits – 652,000
      • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – 509,000
      • Toby Keith, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy – 403,000
      • James Otto, Sunset Man – 374,000
      • Julianne Hough, Julianne Hough – 314,000
      • Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler – 261,000
      • Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits – 255,000
      • Brad Paisley, Play – 247,000
      • Dolly Parton, Backwoods Barbie – 208,000
      • Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 – 206,000
      • Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything – 191,000
      • Trace Adkins, X – 185,000
      • Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew it All – 184,000
      • Joey + Rory, Life of a Song – 167,000
      • Blake Shelton, Startin’ Fires – 165,000
      • Eli Young Band, Jet Black and Jealous – 108,000
      • Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy – 102,000
      • Craig Morgan, Greatest Hits – 81,000
      • Hank Williams III, Damn Right Rebel Proud – 80,000
      • Randy Houser, Anything Goes – 79,000
      • Lost Trailers, Holler Back – 69,000

      2006-2007

      • Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift – 4,129,000
      • Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride – 2,918,000

      Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters: Matraca Berg

      Sunday, June 21st, 2009

      matraca-bergFor a good stretch in the nineties, women were the dominant creative force in country music. Songwriter Matraca Berg was an indispensable component of that dominance, penning many of the biggest hits and best-loved tracks by signature acts like Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, and Martina McBride.

      It’s no surprise that this list of Favorite Songs written by Matraca Berg is almost completely composed of female artists. So distinguished is Berg’s catalog that worthy cuts by the Dixie Chicks, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Gretchen Wilson just missed the list.  Even Berg herself is only present with one performance, despite releasing several outstanding recordings in her own right.

      But the beauty of these lists is that these are my own favorite songs, so I don’t have to force anything on to the list just to make it more well-rounded. Add your own favorites in the comments, and read Matraca’s  100 Greatest Women profile to learn more about this stunning songwriter.

      #25
      “Wild Angels” – Martina McBride
      Wild Angels, 1995

      This was meant to be the title cut of an album that Berg never released. Instead, the cut went to Martina McBride. It was McBride’s first #1 single, and listening to it today, it sounds remarkably rough around the edges for an artist who’d eventually become an AC radio staple.

      #24
      “Fool, I’m a Woman” – Sara Evans
      No Place That Far, 1998

      Berg’s writing can be effortlessly snarky, as evidenced by this breezy Sara Evans track that was a minor hit in 1999. “Did I say that I’d never leave you behind?” she queries. “Well, just keep treating me unkind. ‘Cause fool, I’m a woman, and I’m bound to change my mind.”

      #23
      “When a Love Song Sings the Blues” – Trisha Yearwood
      Real Live Woman, 2000

      Trisha  Yearwood is Berg’s finest vessel, the only voice elegant enough to equal Berg’s words. This melancholy closer to Yearwood’s excellent Real Live Woman set finds the protagonist seeking solace in a dusty old piano, playing “Faded Love” and “Born to Lose” so she doesn’t have to cry alone.

      #22
      “Give Me Some Wheels” – Suzy Bogguss
      Give Me Some Wheels, 1996

      A tense struggle between being herself and living up to an idealized creation formed by her lover leads to choosing the car keys over sticking around. “I’ll never be the angel you see in your dreams. Give me some wheels if I can’t have wings.”

      #21
      “The Last One to Know” – Reba McEntire
      The Last One to Know, 1987

      Berg’s talents came to full fruition in the nineties, but there are a handful of treasures in her catalog from the previous decade. McEntire’s dignified performance is tasteful and understated, as she asks herself, “I believed you really loved me. Why can’t I believe you said goodbye?”

      #20
      “Demolition Angel” – Pam Tillis
      The Collection, 2006

      A variety of CD and MP3 albums have been compiled from the live DVD released by Pam Tillis in 2005. She debuted several new songs in that concert, including “Demolition Angel”, a stellar Berg song that has yet to be included on a studio album. She’s asking God to send down a “demolition angel” to tear down the walls she’s built around her heart, which she describes as a “monument to pride.”

      #19
      “Everybody Knows” – Trisha Yearwood
      Pure Country, 1992

      I once saw Yearwood remark durin a concert that she had to record this song because it included the words “jerk” and “chocolate.”  She’s growing frustrated with everyone in her life that has a different opinion on how to get over her heartache.  She’s be happy to be left alone with “some chocolate and a magazine.”

      #18
      “You Should’ve Lied” – Lee Ann Womack
      Something Worth Leaving Behind, 2002

      A deliciously bitter rejection of a cheater’s apologetic confession. “You overestimated me,” Womack seethes, “thinking I would understand. Believing that your honesty would make me see a bigger man. Was that all part of your plan?”

      #17
      “You Are the Storm” – Dusty Springfield
      A Very Fine Love, 1995

      Springfield covered this evocative track from Berg’s debut album, a weary goodbye to a man plagued by his own inner demons. “I tried to love you, I tried to keep you from harm,” she rues, “but I can’t give you shelter when you are the storm.”

      #16
      “You’re Still Here”Faith Hill
      Cry, 2002

      This shamefully overlooked gem from Hill’s Cry collection is painfully poignant. A woman sings to her husband who has passed on, but is still everywhere that she goes. My personal favorite moment is when she sings, “I heard you in a stranger’s laugh, and I hung around to hear him laugh again. Just once again.”

      #15
      “Cry on the Shoulder of the Road” – Martina McBride
      Wild Angels, 1995

      Levon Helm provides the killer harmony track as McBride finally leaves a troubled relationship behind, content to find her comfort out on the interstate. “I’d rather break down on the highway with no one to share my load, and cry on the shoulder of the road.” I’ve always thought that the lyrics of Lee Ann Womack’s “A Little Past Little Rock” were heavily influenced by this song.

      #14
      “For a While” – Trisha Yearwood
      Inside Out, 2001

      Another Berg song cut by Yearwood that uses the word “jerk”, though I suspect it was the undercurrent of self-deprecation that truly appealed to the songstress when she cut this song. Watching an old Road Runner cartoon, she notices the “poor old coyote. Someone had a worse day than me for a change.”

      #13
      “Mining for Coal” – Randy Travis
      No Holdin’ Back, 1989

      This deep and moving performance by Randy Travis makes me wish more male artists would cut Berg’s songs. He’s so surprised to have found a true love while he was just looking for someone to ease his loneliness. “It’s like finding a diamond when you’re mining for coal.”

      #12
      “Come Back When it Rainin’” – Trisha Yearwood
      Real Live Woman, 2000

      Here, Yearwood is refusing to indulge her rainy day lover, who only seems to come around when he’s feeling down. “I’m just someone to call when you need a place to fall,” she notes, showing him the door.

      #11
      “You Can Feel Bad” – Patty Loveless
      The Trouble With the Truth, 1996

      Loveless turns the tables on the man who thinks he’s letting her down easy. “Your head is hanging and you look real sad. Maybe you should have called?”  Her heart may be broken but her dignity – and biting wit – remain intact.

      #10
      “Strawberry Wine” – Deana Carter
      Did I Shave My Legs For This?, 1996

      Berg’s signature song of lost innocence is a perfect match for Carter’s sandpaper vocals. For those of us who “still remember when thirty was old”, this remains a beautiful commentary on the passage of time.

      #9
      “Calico Plains” – Pam Tillis
      Sweetheart’s Dance, 1994

      The earliest entry in Berg’s trilogy of songs inspired by her grandfather’s farm. I don’t know if this one is as autobiographical as “Strawberry Wine” and “The Dreaming Fields”, but it’s certainly as beautiful. “Calico Plains” tells the story of an older sister sharing her dreams with her younger sister.  Little sis ends up making that dream her own when the elder Abilena finds herself with child and must marry and stay at home.

      #8
      “Nobody Drinks Alone” – Keith Urban
      Be Here, 2004

      A cautionary tale sung to a man who thinks he is at home by himsef, drowning his sorrows and painful memories with a bottle of wine. “Don’t you know nobody drinks alone?” Urban warns. “Every demon, every ghost from your past, and every memory you’ve held back follows you home.”

      #7
      “Wrong Side of Memphis” – Trisha Yearwood
      Hearts in Armor, 1992

      If there’s a better song out there about chasing the dream of country music stardom, I haven’t heard it. As the opening track of Yearwood’s landmark sophomore set, it announced her arrival as one of country music’s greatest album artists.

      #6
      “On Your Way Home” – Patty Loveless
      On Your Way Home, 2003

      Loveless earned a Grammy nomination for this confrontation of a cheating spouse who isn’t quite as forthcoming as his spurned lover needs him to be. “The truth is gonna set you free,” she sings, wearily promising, “If you keep on lying to me, I might stay right here just to spite you.”

      #5
      “Diamonds and Tears” – Suzy Bogguss
      Something Up My Sleeve, 1993

      Berg’s finest philosophical moment, a reflection on how the journey of life is its own destination.  Even lost love is a form of “higher education”:  “I have said and heard the word ‘goodbye’, felt the blade and turned the knife sideways. But I crossed bridges while they burned, to keep from losing what I’ve learned along the way.”

      #4
      “The Dreaming Fields” – Trisha Yearwood
      Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love, 2007

      A return to the wheat fields of her youth upon the death of her grandfather contains a sprinkle of social commentary, but is mostly a heart-wrenching exploration of grief over “the end of a world I love.”

      #3
      “My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again” – Patty Loveless
      Strong Heart, 2000

      The end of a first love brings not only the death of that romance, but also of the innocence that dies along with it.  “It’s too bad, it’s so sad when your innocence is gone. It’s wasted on the ones that do you wrong.”  Thus is the end result of a love “too blind with trust to know the Judas kiss.”

      #2
      “Back When We Were Beautiful” – Matraca Berg
      Sunday Morning to Saturday Night, 1997

      Berg received a standing ovation when she performed this stunning song on the 1997 CMA Awards, the same night that she won Song of the Year for “Strawberry Wine.” It recounts a conversation between grandmother and granddaughter, with the former confessing to the latter that “I hate it when they say I’m aging gracefully. I fight it every day. I guess they never see.”

      The song is not available digitally and the album is out of print, but you can listen to it here.

      #1
      “Lying to the Moon” – Trisha Yearwood
      The Song Remembers When, 1993

      Berg refused to perform this song for years after Yearwood’s version was released, feeling that she couldn’t do it justice after Yearwood’s flawless rendition. Berg’s poetic style could be too precious in lesser hands, but Yearwood’s ability to be sincere without being schmaltzy makes her the perfect singer for “Lying to the Moon,” a song so breathtakingly beautiful that it’s easy to forget it’s essentially about getting stood up.

      “I told the starry sky to wait for you. I told the wind to sigh to like lovers do.  I even told the night that you were true, and that you would be here soon, and now I’m lying to the moon.”  It’s one of Berg’s finest songs, combined with one of Yearwood’s finest vocal performances, a high-water mark for two of the genre’s greatest talents.

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